Women play a vital role in Uganda’s agricultural value chain activities ranging from production, post-harvest handling, and agro-processing to marketing. According to a recent report by the European Union, women account for 58 percent and 72 percent of the total labor force at production and post-harvest handling stages respectively in Uganda.
Despite the key role that women play along the value chain, they are among the poorest sections of the population. The 2021 Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) revealed that women earn on average only 53% of what men earn (Shs123,000 versus Shs233,000). In addition, the 2018 FINSCOPE survey suggests that 23% of women are currently financially excluded, of which 87% live in rural areas. Women are financially excluded due to lack of collateral, a perception of high risk, and limited knowledge of the loan application processes, among other barriers.
Relatedly, land ownership is a major barrier to women’s fair engagement in the agriculture value chain. In accordance with cultural norms, women typically do not own land in many parts of the country, especially where the customary tenure system dominates. This affects their ability to access inputs on credit, control production processes and make decisions regarding the proceeds from agricultural sales. Despite different government interventions to make land accessible to women, most women mainly possess use rights with limited ownership rights. Limitations mainly stem from customary and inheritance factors that favour men, resulting in unbalanced power relations within households.
Other constraints to women’s productive engagement in agriculture include high costs of inputs, poor access to financial and extension services and high transportation costs. Women’s participation in unpaid domestic care work such as childcare activities affects their ability to allocate time to financially rewarding work. Also, there aren’t sufficient or appropriate extension services in some places to address women’s information and skills needs. Lack of proper extension services, therefore, limits women’s ability to increase the quality and quantity of agricultural yields. In fact, a study on the gender gap in agricultural productivity indicates that countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Uganda, lose about USD67 million in the annual gross domestic product (GDP) due to gender inequality.
Nationally, the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda (as amended) puts women in the prime light. It makes various provisions aimed at the empowerment of women, children, persons with disabilities (PWDs), and ethnic minorities, among others. Similarly, the national development plan emphasizes the commercialization of agriculture to increase production and productivity, with the intensification of production, agro-processing, and marketing as launch pads. Accordingly, the funding to the agriculture sector value chain over the years has aimed to improve production and productivity. This is done through the distribution of seedlings to farmers and stocking materials; strengthening research and technology development; providing extension services to farmers; improving value addition, agro-processing, post-harvest handling, storage facilities, and market infrastructure; expanding water for production facilities; increasing access to affordable agricultural finance; and enforcing standards and quality assurance to improve market access.
To enhance women's inclusion, there have been several funding initiatives for women entrepreneurs devised by the government of Uganda, financial institutions, religious organizations, NGOs, and the private sector. Much of the government’s efforts have been geared towards the agricultural value chain where women account for 77 percent of the total labour force.
Specifically, Uganda Development Bank, which is mandated with promoting the socio-economic development of Uganda, established Special programs to implement and manage interventions in the categories of Women, SMEs and Youth for both start-ups and existing businesses. Regarding women's economic empowerment, the Bank established Women Prosper Loans to increase access to affordable and appropriate financial services for women-owned and women-led businesses as an enabler to increased participation of women in the development agenda of Uganda. Women in the agricultural value chain continue to benefit from this UDB funding initiative to start and expand their enterprises at various stages of the agriculture value chain. The UDB Women Prosper Loans are utilized for inputs, storage, machinery, or crop and animal finance among other needs along the value chain.
The Bank’s women’s financial products and services address the various short-term and long-term business needs of women's enterprises, support start-ups and expansion of women's businesses, and acquisition of assets. These products come with many advantages in form of low loan interest rates (10-12%), adequate grace period, and patient capital (1-15 years tenor) among others.
Additionally, the Bank provides advisory services to women clients about management best practices, good governance, record keeping, financial management, etc. based on the Bank’s wider knowledge of the business, operating environment, and experience gained from funding, implementing, and monitoring of such projects. This is done by way of training and technical support to develop and implement the required processes in the businesses. The objective is to have professionally run businesses and enterprises.
Economic empowerment of women through development financing remains fundamental for the sustainable socio-economic development of Uganda in the pursuit to improve the livelihood of Ugandans. There is thus a need to gear up efforts towards sectors that employ most women in the country such as the agricultural value chain and sectors key for economic structural transformation like manufacturing to move labor and other resources from low productive to high productive sectors of the economy. As the world celebrates Women’s Day today, empowering women economically remains key for sustainable development and improved livelihood of Ugandans.
The writer is a Senior Economist, Macroeconomics and Trade, with the Uganda Development Bank Ltd