Barriers: Unlocking women participation in food trade

World Food Day is celebrated across 150 countries making it an important day in the calendar of the United Nations.

The event brings together governments, businesses, NGOs, the media, and the general populace to rally worldwide awareness and action for people who suffer from chronic hunger and unhealthy diets.

The theme of this World Food Day 2021 is ‘Our actions are our future -Better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life’.

This year’s day is being celebrated against the backdrop of the increasing number of hungry and malnourished people despite enough food being produced to feed the entire global population.

In 2020, about 811 million (9.9 percent of the total global population, one third of whom live in Africa) people were hungry and 161 million more people became undernourished compared to 2019, a situation circumstanced largely by conflict, climate change, and COVID-19.

Women play a critical role in the food supply chains, especially in the food production, post-harvest, and consumption domains of the global food systems.

In Uganda, 76 per cent of women compared to 62 per cent work in farms. However, women face a myriad of barriers that prevent them from participating in profit- able downstream nodes of food value chains such as trade and ultimately limit their contribution in ensuring that nutritious food gets to the most deserving in our communities.

Conversely, participation in local low-value markets disincentive women from being innovative in diversifying their products and having a wider customer base thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle of low investment in their farms and sub- optimal productivity.

Other barriers that women confront in their quest to move food from farm to folk are limited movement due to cultural norms and family responsibilities, limited access to infrastructure-more importantly, digital infrastructure that negates the need for movement, limited access to networks, and in- formation and poor enabling environment.

Increasing the level of women participation in the food trade starts with recognizing the barriers that disfranchise them and addressing the most critical ones.

For example, experience of intervention of the AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa) in Uganda has shown that with minimum effort and investment in digital platforms such as WhatsApp, women do not have to move over long distances nationally or across borders the source for food products to sell or as raw materials in their businesses.

Through Regional East Africa Community Trade in Staples-II (ReACTS-II) project funded by AGRA, eight women under the auspices of the Network of Producers and Exporters of Uganda (NePEU) in Uganda and the Agro-processors Association of Kenya (APAK) were linked and facilitated to make orders via WhatsApp, transfer funds and receive cargo from Uganda without necessarily traveling across the border.

In a record of nine months since June 2020, the women traders had imported more than 2,000MT (of maize and beans), worth $ 383,562 from Uganda. Women could now procure big volumes of produce without the need to traverse across borders thereby reducing cost and time for aggregation and reducing security concerns.

Another winner with the introduction of the WhatsApp group was that at a click of a button, women could easily access information on quantities and quality of products, prices, and logistical arrangements to guide better decision-making.

Limited access to otherwise readily available trade-related information such as on requirements of quality and standards as well as trade regulation has traditionally constrained women participation in trade.

Yet, targeted and effective net- working platforms can transform women’s entrepreneurial ideas into profitable business ventures specifically in moving healthy and nutritional foods from farms to consumers across and beyond their borders.

To this end, grassroots mobilisation of women to form business-oriented groups to exploit economies of scale and facilitate access to information, and connecting them to national, regional, and international platforms can be a game-changer in exposing women to more diverse food supply chains in which they can sustainably participate.

The VALUE4HER Connect a programme of AGRA is such a plat- form. It is Africa’s first women in agribusiness digital marketplace with a current membership of 1,830, 128 of whom are in Uganda, offering integrated business solutions to women agro-enterprises.

The platform seeks to expand women’s presence in markets where they trade, access new markets nationally, regionally, and internationally, and acquire the capital, business, and technical partners and resources required to support their growing businesses.

Leveraging access to market information by women and empowering them through softer sensitive infrastructure is essential for increased women engagement in the food trade.

The role of the government in promoting policies that removing gender-based barriers in food trade is all-encompassing but most important would be those that re- move inequalities in access to productive assets, information, and infrastructures such as targeted trade promotion policies, export preparedness programs, and other business development services.

These are especially critical because women have disproportionate access to information, networking capital, and technology.

Written by Ms Lilian Githinji, Associate Programme Officer, AGRA – Uganda

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