According to ActionAid, if women are given equal access to land and seeds as men, world hunger can be reduced for 140 million people, a significant seventeen percent of the world’s hungry. It claws reason, then, why more governments do not make this a priority. Luckily, we live in a time when women are quietly getting things done. This is where VALUE4HERConnect, Africa’s first online platform for female Agripreneurs comes in.
Already 400-women strong, the network was launched at African Women Agribusiness Network-Afrika’s first continental conference and VALUE4HER B2B fair in Nairobi, a two-day event where women Agripreneurs from 21 African countries gathered for “masterclasses, hackathons and pitching opportunities to showcase their businesses.” Beatrice Gakuba, AWAN’s Executive Director said, “Today, we have this opportunity to accelerate the manufacture and intra- African trade of value-added products, moving from commodity-based economies and exports to economic diversification and high-value exports. The demand is high.”
Similar to Microsoft’s Cloud Accelerator program for women in tech, VALUE4HERConnect will band women entrepreneurs in agriculture together in a virtual community and establish a vibrant business hub for its members. It is an initiative speared by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), to improve African women’s profitability in agriculture. Sabdiyo Dido Bashuna, CTA’s Senior Programme Coordinator, Value Chains and Agribusinesses said, “While women are key players in agriculture, they often face challenges at the business end.
“With VALUE4HERConnect, they now have access to buyers, to market information and intelligence, investment and capacity building opportunities, which will ultimately help them to form strategic partnerships towards accessing global markets for increased incomes.”
VALUE4HER Women in Agribusiness was jointly organized with AWAN and the Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF) under the theme of “Enhancing women inclusion in agribusiness.” Irene Ochem, founder and CEO of AWIEF, said, “We are pleased once again to partner with CTA and AWAN: VALUE4HERConnect will make the difference in how women grow and scale their businesses. The platform bridges the gap in information and data. We connect women to intra-African opportunities, to finance and markets.”
Greater access to support is chain-linked to economic prosperity for women, which, in turn, translates to greater inclusiveness in leadership and decision-making. Between 2011 and 2015, the Global Fund for Women’s initiative, Rural Women Striding Forward, supported 22 rural women groups in Kenya, Uganda, and Burkina Faso. The results were astonishing. In 2015, it reported a forty-five percent increase in crop yield, thirty percent increase in women’s income and about twenty-five women added other businesses with increased profit. More households reported improved meal frequency – more families had three meals per day. Stunningly, a greater number of women became decision-makers at home and outside, “joining village councils.”
The dare, then, is: if barely literate women who are starting from scratch can record such transformation with a little support, how much more can agribusinesses, started in many cases by well-read, technology-aware women, do if they have a sizable support community?
A great place to start will be for governments to remove all barriers limiting women’s access to land. It doesn’t matter what the numbers are for women’s contribution to farming if they’re doing it on other people’s lands.
Monique Villa, CEO Thomson Reuters, told the World Economic Forum in 2017, “Women own less than 20% of the world’s land. A survey of 34 developing nations by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization puts that percentage as low as 10. This is staggering if you consider that half of the world’s population is women. More than 400 million of them farm and produce the majority of the world’s food supply. Yet female farmers lack equal rights to own land in more than 90 countries.” Africa contributes forty of those ninety countries.
Without land, women cannot manage more than the crops they tend, and they are taken less seriously by financial institutions for loans. In most African countries, when widows are accused of infidelity, witchcraft, or giving their husbands diseases that miraculously kill them and leave their wives behind, the land is the first asset taken away from them.
A few women have been ingenious in Kenya. But for everyone’s sake, more governments, especially in North and East Africa, need to step up and deliver on the AU’s promise to put thirty percent of lands in Africa in women’s hands by 2025. We need to reach and surpass that. For now, though, initiatives like VALUE4HERConnect will Band-Aid productivity in African women-led agribusinesses.
AWAN-Afrika was established in 2003 and provides services to African women agribusiness enterprises. It works “through individual membership, agribusiness groups & association and Agribusiness clubs across the continent.” It has reportedly connected 15 million women and youths, as well as providing benefits to 180,000 women.
By Caleb Ajinomoh