From the guest editor

Small steps towards transformation

Agriculture forms the backbone of the economy in most African countries, with women playing an essential role. Figures vary by source but roughly indicate that women produce around 70% of Africa’s food and constitute over half of the labour force in agriculture. But their role is underacknowledged and inadequately supported. Research indicates women receive only 5% of extension support, they have less access to programme benefits compared to men, own only one fifth of the land and receive less than 10% of financial credit.

But does that make them helpless victims? The themed articles in this DevISSues show an opposite picture, by zooming in on how women use their agency to address inequality.

Donna Andrews and Daniel Chavez highlight the photo exhibition of the Southern Africa Rural Women’s Assembly Seed Guardians. The exhibition is an instrument to demonstrate the contribution of women small-scale farmers, peasants and producers to seed sovereignty. In the face of extreme climate change and commercial practices, the Rural Women’s Assembly’s seed guardians, having saved and passed on local seeds for generations, play an essential role in preserving local seeds and contributing to biodiversity, social reproduction and rural economies.

Maya Krishnan explores the extent to which an inclusive soy agribusiness partnership in Kenya enables deliberative space in the value chain for women farmers and entrepreneurs. She explains how, within the partnership, women entrepreneurs take on roles as soy aggregators, enabling women soy farmers to organize themselves, access bigger markets and strengthen their bargaining position vis-à-vis other value chain players. Krishnan demonstrates the importance of relationships to strengthen women’s position in the value chain.

Also focusing on Kenya, Eunice Wangari Muneri spotlights pastoralist Maasai women. She takes a similar position to Krishnan, further unpacking the importance of relationships. Where conversion of land use has deprived Maasai women of social support systems, women re-establish social networks and use these to pool financial resources to address their needs in the face of climate change and discriminatory social norms. Together, these women assume decision-making roles and engage in income-generating activities to strengthen their financial autonomy and promote gender equality.

Small but meaningful steps

The steps described may only be small, but they can be meaningful to realize the aspired transition of agriculture in Africa.

The remainder of the issue has a similar focus on small steps. In the Staff-student Conversation, Georgina Gomez and Bernarda Coelho jointly explore the outlines of ISS’ search for practice-oriented education. Whereas a radical discourse may encourage alienation and resistance, they discuss how finding a middle ground could help connect with ‘practice’ stakeholders, including private sector, to realize change. Small steps as such, they argue, thus help to connect academics with society and may be a suitable way to connect ISS’ critical attitude with a practice orientation.

Small but simple features furthermore in the Focus article on the International Centre for Frugal Innovation, which recently celebrated its 10-year existence. It is a beautiful example of the value of collaboration, reiterating the importance of relationships for success.

I hope you enjoy reading this issue of DevISSues.

Dr Marijn Faling – DevISSues editorial board

Women agriculturalists in Africa

Ruard Ganzevoort
Blood and Water
Rector's blog
Soy farmer showcasing her soy-based products
Making sense of 'partnerships' in agriculture value chains:
Sudeshna Mukherjee
Where are they now?
People and animals at an outdoor sheep and goat market in Kenay
Maasai pastoralist women's agency in navigating climate variability and gender inequality
Three African women standing in a field with the seeds they've saved
The Southern Africa Rural Women's Seed Guardians exhibition
Mitticool, an earthenware refrigerator that works on the principle of evaporation
Frugality as a virtue and frugal innovation
Focus on the International Centre for Frugal Innovation
Library books
Latest ISS publications
Georgina Gomez and Bernarda Coello
Practice-oriented education at ISS
Staff-student discussion
ISS students sitting on the ice during a trip to De Uithof
What's it like to study at ISS
Student life
ISS students are picked up from Schiphol airport on their arrival in the Netherlands
Top 10 reasons to choose ISS: Your pathway to global success