Gender and Capacity

Women farmers play a vital role in African agriculture, doing most of the work to produce, process and market food. To better address their priorities and challenges, there is an urgent need to strengthen the voice of African women in the agricultural sciences. Women researchers, professors, and senior managers offer different insights and perspectives that would help research institutes more effectively address the unique and pressing challenges of Africa’s farmers.

Gender-disaggregated data on science capacity in the region are scarce and often lack sufficient detail. Furthermore, datasets are not always comparable due to differing methodologies or coverage, or focus on science and technology in general, rather than agriculture specifically.

The Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (ASTI) initiative and the CGIAR Gender & Diversity Program partnered to address this information gap. A major benchmarking survey was conducted in 2007/2008, covering 125 agricultural research and higher education agencies in 15 Sub-Saharan African countries.

This study was done as part of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) initiative of the Gender & Diversity Program. AWARD offers two-year fellowships to fast-track the careers of talented African women scientists (see AWARD website This survey provided AWARD with baseline data, and was the first study in its kind to present detailed human resources data on African female participation in the agricultural sciences.

The study found that the total capacity of professional agricultural staff employed at the research and higher education agencies included in the study increased by 20 percent between 2000/01 and 2007/08. Of concern, about two-thirds of the total (that is, female and male) capacity increase comprised staff holding only BSc degrees, indicating a decline in the overall quality of agricultural research and higher education staff in some Sub-Saharan African countries.

The share of female professional staff in agricultural research and higher education increased from 18 percent in 2000/01 to 24 percent in 2007/08. This increase occurred across all degree categories (bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral). Female participation in agricultural research and higher education was particularly low in Ethiopia and a number of Francophone countries, such as Togo, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The growing shares of professional women employed in agriculture and female students enrolled in agricultural sciences indicate that the gender gap in African agricultural sciences may be narrowing, especially in southern Africa. This trend is not reflected, however, in a number of West African countries or in certain other countries such as Ethiopia.

The survey results not only provide gender-disaggregated data of agricultural scientists by highest degree and institute type, but also address many other important questions such as the discipline mix of female and male scientists, the exact share of female graduates that drop out after completing their degree or during their career as a scientist, how many female scientists reach leadership positions relative to their male colleagues, and so on.

Main publications

Beintema, N.M.and Di Marcantonio, F. 2010. Female Participation in African Agricultural Research and Higher Education: New Insights.
Synthesis of the ASTI–Award Benchmarking Survey on Gender-Disaggregated Capacity Indicators. IFPRI Discussion Paper 00957. Washington, D.C.: IFPRI and AWARD.
(PDF 2.5M)


Cover of publicationBeintema, N.M.and Di Marcantonio, F. 2009. Women's Participation in Agricultural Research and Higher Education: Key Trends in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington, D.C.: IFPRI and Nairobi: G&D program.
(PDF 334K)


Cover of publicationBeintema, N.M.and Di Marcantonio, F. 2009. La participation des femmes à la recherche et à l'enseignement superieur agricoles : Tendances clés en Afrique Sub Saharienne. Washington, D.C.: IFPRI and Nairobi: G&D program.
(PDF 335K)

Previous ASTI publications on gender

Beintema, N.M. Participation of Female Agricultural Scientists in Developing Countries. Brief prepared for the meeting, Women in Science: Meeting the Challenge, an adjunct to the CGIAR Annual General Meeting, Washington, D.C., December 4, 2006.
(PDF 168K)

Stads, G.J. and N.M. Beintema. Women Scientists In Sub-Saharan African Agricultural R&D. Brief prepared for the USAID meeting on "Women in Science: Meeting the Challenge. Lessons for Agricultural Sciences in Africa", Washington, D.C., June 21, 2006.
(PDF 180K)