There’s always a woman behind the food on the tables of Mozambique. Women account for the 87.3 percent of the labour force in agriculture. Yet, they have little access to productive resources and education, and represent only 25 percent of landowners.

Gender equality is crucial for the development of a country where about 70 percent of its 28 million population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture as their main source of food and income.

‘In Mozambique the majority of the population are women. … Agriculture is mainly done by women. We cannot ignore [them]. Ignoring women is denying development …’, Carla Honwana, project coordinator for the IFAD Rural Markets Promotion Programme in Mozambique [Promer], told Degrees of Latitude at the International Fund of Agriculture’s headquarters in Rome. Here, IFAD’s Promer programme had just received the IFAD Gender Award for its contribution in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Despite its impressive economic growth, Mozambique is still one of the poorest countries in the world. Roughly 46 percent of its population lives under the national poverty line, agriculture productivity is low and it is prone to natural disasters, droughts, cyclones and floods. It is ranked 181st out of 188 countries both in the Human development index and Gender development index by the of the United Nations Development Programme.

According to the World Bank, ‘Mozambique’s overarching development challenge is to translate its impressive performance in terms of economic growth to poverty reduction and improved development outcomes’. Growth has been in fact driven by capital intensive investments that have benefited few people in urban areas and increased inequality. ‘The challenge is to diversify away from the current focus on capital-intensive projects and low-productivity subsistence agriculture toward a more diverse and competitive economy’, World Bank said.

The central and northern provinces of Mozambique have the greater agricultural potential, but two-thirds of its rural population are poor. ‘Poor returns from sales of their agricultural surpluses have led small-scale farmers in the region to fall back on semi-subsistence agriculture’, according to IFAD.

It is in the North that IFAD has been supporting the Promer programme – which is one of the 12 IFAD’s projects in the country – from 2008 to 2017 with $ 56.1 million of financing.

‘In the Northern part of Mozambique … the business that is related to agriculture is mainly done by men. The role of the women is basically taking care of the family, taking care of the children, making sure there is food on the table. But all the decisions in terms of what to sell, in terms of agricultural produce [or] what to do with the earnings is a man’s responsibility’, Honwana said.

Promer’s objective is to help small farmers make the transition ‘from subsistence to market-oriented agriculture’ by increasing productivity and improving market integration. It benefits 20,000 households, targeting small-scale, semi-subsistence and other poor farmers and paying specific attention to women empowerment and gender equality in a country where reducing the inequality between men and women remains a challenge.

Photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann