economic empowerment of women farmers

Zenab for Women Development Organization(ZWD) as a grassroots women' rights  defender realize that women economic empowerment is crucial and comes at  top of its priorities, as strategic objective, women economic empowerment is a key element in order to  reduce poverty and  improve women's living conditions.

Poverty is the main cause of most of the economic/social and political problems facing women, women especially in rural areas are striving on daily basis to secure a source of income to buy food and family needs, they face the hardship of life and have little chance in education, better health services.etc.

Fighting poverty among women through securing a permanent source of income will pave the way for women to up rise from poverty and enable them improve their family living conditions this will allow families' girls & boys attend schools with school uniforms, textbooks and breakfasts. In some rural areas girls & boys are not able to attend school since families are not in position to provide kids with school uniforms or meal. Fighting/reducing or mitigating poverty will set women free to play their role and enhance their participation in debate aiming at strengthening women position and enhance their participation in decision making to achieve some steps towards equality and social and economic justice.

Zenab is targeting large communities of women farmers scattered in villages in rain-fed agricultural sector in Gadaref State – East Sudan,  although women farmers play an active role in sustaining the region’s agricultural economy, they are still largely excluded from access to economic empowerment tools to boost their productivity, they face problems of accessing to credit facility to purchase improved seeds, hand tools,  rent land & equipments, hire labours for cleaning and harvest and lack technical training and agricultural guidance to apply fertilizers & weedicides and  adopt new techniques in agricultural operations to increase their productivity and improve their living conditions.

Gedarif State is located in the eastern part of Sudan at longitudes 33.30 – 36.30 East and latitudes 12.40 – 15.40 north. The total area of the State is estimated to be as 71,000 square Km, with population density of 17 persons per one kilometer.

The state is bordering Ethiopia from the East, Gezira State from the West, Sinar State from South, and Khartoum State from North West.

Administratively, the State is divided into 10 localities.     

As per latest population census, the total population of the State is estimated of 1.4 million persons, of whom 669,817 (49.7%) are males and 678,561(50.3%) are females with annual growth rate of 2.65%.

Around 80 % of the population is engaged in agriculture in an area of 8 million Feddans.

It includes many rural districts and villages such as UM Shagara, AL  Shuwak , AL Gallabat, AL Hamra, and AL Fashaga. The State is well linked to the other parts of Sudan through a net of high ways. AL Gedaref is also connected to some Ethiopian cities by couples of high ways that were built recently.  The population includes many Sudanese tribes from different regions as far as, Darfur, Kordufan, Southern and Northern Sudan. The Shaighiyas, the Beggaras, the Dinkas, the Furs, the Nubas, the Massalits and many other Sudanese tribes are represented in Gedaref. No other city in The Sudan, with exception of Khartoum and Port Sudan has so many citizens of foreign origin among its population, as Gedaref. Kurds, Armenians, Indians, Greeks, Egyptians Copts, Ethiopians, Eritrean, Somalis, Nigerians, Chadians. The main reason for this gathering of foreign and local groups of people in Gedarif can be attributed to the Agricultural boom that swept the city in the past and turned it to a major centre of trade in the area. Also, wars and famines in Ethiopia and Eritrean in the 1980s and 1990s flooded the State with huge numbers of refugees and 10s of refugees’ camps.

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Gadaref State provides the country with large share of seasonal crops such as sorghum, millets, groundnuts and vegetables. Since many years the region has become the destination of the most vulnerable social groups who strive to secure food and shelter and seek to benefit from vast  rain- fed cultivable lands

Gadaref State is boasting a vibrant agricultural economy, driven largely by the contributions of women farmers. While women farmers in these rural areas play an active role in sustaining the region’s agricultural economy, they are still largely excluded  & neglected.

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The main occupations for most women in Gadarif State are in agriculture 97%, other activities of employment livestock, drying vegetables, cookies and dairy by  –product constitute only  3 %.Women are actively involved in farming practices, average women’s farm area  is  ranging between 2-40 feddans. The main crops grown by farmers are sorghum (Feterita and Dabar varieties), bulrush millets and sesame & groundnuts. Those who are raising livestock are responsible for keeping, feeding and milking animals which were kept in their houses’ back yards.

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of women ages working on farm are ranging from 30 -50 years, where only 15% are less than 30 or above 50  years. 

 Household size and  house size generally 1-4 huts per family and average family size is about 7 people . Female headed family are almost equal to male headed families.Women farmers have built, through many years back, small huts as family shelters in and around agriculture areas, these clusters grow into current villages , they use local materials including poles, sticks and grass. The shelter walls are sealed with mud treated with animals dung while the roof is thatched with grass, since they do not have means to accommodate themselves anywhere in towns or urban areas they face sever living conditions and live below poverty line, what income they generate from their hard work in agriculture using very poor and primitive tools they spend in the near markets, they try to cope with their urgent needs, they use animal in agric. Activities.

Farming practice starts by manual cleaning of the land from April to May, and then mechanized ploughing in June, seeding starts, mostly in July; manual tools are used on women’s farm. Manual Weeding when crops have germinated. Harvesting starts in December to January both manual and mechanized methods are used.   

The productivity per feddan(F.=4200SQ.M) of sorghum is ranging from 1.5 sacks/feddan to 3 sacks/feddan depending on the level of the rainfall and the agricultural practices adopted.

Average production of main crops compared to average rainfall.






Average rainfall


1.5 sacks

1 sack

1 sack

4 sacks

601 ml


1 sack

0.5 sack

0.5 sack

2 sacks

480 ml


3 sacks

3 sacks

2.3 sack

5 sacks

863 ml


There are not many working opportunities, for women within their communities, apart from the farming activities, however, the followings are the working opportunity available for them  

1.  Working as agricultural labour (weeding and harvesting)

2.      Cookies, bread making and petty trade (vegetables, wood, roasted ground nut)

3.      Trading on milk by-product.

4.      Vegetables drying .

5.      Tea and coffee making.

6.      Garment making.

Problems facing women farmers:

*     Main problems encountering women farmers are lack of finance which constitute  42%, scarcity of improved seeds 25%, shortage of machineries 25% and marketing plus others 8% . 

*     Due to the lack of agricultural extension services, the agricultural practices adopted by the women small scale farmers are poor, as a result, the soil fertility is deteriorating, the farm productivity is below the standard, and the rain water is not adequately managed.

*     Due to lack of agricultural extension services, Small scale women farmers are not using Good Agricultural Practices to maintain soil fertility; this is manifested by : no crop rotation is practised to maintain or restore soil organic content. In addition to the above, no water harvesting techniques were practiced for maximum use of the rainfall water.

*     Due to the lack of agricultural extension services, the culture of using improved seeds is not available among the small scale women farmers.

*     90.9% of the small scale women farmers used mechanized equipments, only, in land ploughing operations, while weeding, seed sowing and harvesting is done manually.

*     Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, though available in the local markets, are not or scarcely used by the small women farmers because of high cost and lack of technical know-how.



Key threats to small-scale farms productivity:

1.      Dependency on seasonal rain , failure of the rainy season (in terms of amounts and distribution throughout the season) jeopardize farmers productivity.

2.      Heavy rainfall and flooding .

3.      Lack of extension services .

4.      Scarcity of improved seeds.

5.      Decreasing soil fertility.

6.      Pests infestation mainly grasshopper.

7.      Inadequate ploughing mostly due to financial reason and or lack of technical know-how.

8.      Parasite infestation  mainly Striga (Boda).

9.      High cost of labour, for small scale women farmers.

10.  Delay, in good rainy seasons,  caused by the scarcity of agricultural labor and machineries   in agricultural operation particularly land preparation, seeding and weeding. 

Zenab has been working with women farmers communities in Gadaref State  since 2005, Zenab starts work with farmers groups at six villages (Wad-Daief,Wad-Assayed,Wad-Assanosi, AL-Hamra, Abunnaga,Ginan, till end of 2011, Zenab in cooperation with different donors (FAO Telefood– OFID/MADRE-MamaCash )has been able to provide support for over (3,000) women farmers with cultivable land size of 20,000 Feddan, most of targeted women farmers are house-holds heads.

Zenab provides support for women farmers in terms of agricultural inputs: improved seeds, hand tools , weedicides, fertilizers, help in land preparation  and harvest process.

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Zenab use to implement a multi-dimensions program aiming not only at increasing productivity but at raising women farmers awareness & knowledge as well through conduction of  sessions/workshops/forums /symposiums  on best methods of agricultural practices, how to use improved seeds, weedicides, fertilizers and how to adopt new agricultural methods and techniques such as introducing crop rotation to protect the soil and fight pests, water harvest, optimum use of resources and teach them measures to combat draught & desertification and measures to mitigate negative climatic changes.




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