Limited access to information about businesses, opportunities, networks, and market access are some of the reasons why women are not thriving, especially in developing countries.
Women are actors in numerous agricultural value chains, offering huge potential for their participation in markets, but very few are involved at the end of the chain.
Promoting women’s agribusinesses is, therefore, a viable route to improving livelihoods and prosperity for rural communities. However, women often lack access to competitive markets, and technical, leadership and management capacities.
Women also experience other gender-related barriers, including access to finance, to help grow their businesses and enable them to compete more effectively in the market.
Various interventions to increase business opportunities for women have often failed to conduct robust market analyses, resulting in market saturation and weaker than expected returns.
According to Ms Sabdiyo Dido, the head of gender and inclusiveness at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), there is need to build a one-stop-shop for women entrepreneurs across the African continent to create a movement and amplify the voice of women in agriculture and agribusiness to address constraints they face in terms of environmental perspective, gender, policy, and legislative perspectives.
To enhance interaction and networking among African women in agribusiness and potential investors and trade partners, a platform dubbed VALUE4HER was launched in 2018 by CTA, a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU).
The networking platform is being implemented by the African Women Agribusiness Network Afrika (AWAN-Afrika) and the Africa Women Entrepreneurship and Innovation Forum (AWIEF). The initiative provides women traders with skills, knowledge, capacities, and linkages to markets to assist them to scale their businesses.
“We are looking at making it possible for women to access more profitable stages of their agricultural value chain. We have so many women operating in agriculture across Africa but they are still at the lower stages of the value chain where you have less profit and benefits,” Ms Dido says.
Mr John Jagwe, the country manager, AGRA, says the platform enables women to interact and network on issues of agribusiness. The platform exposes not only the top-end women but also the grassroots women to opportunities in agribusiness.
“Traditionally, many women are largely retailers but this platform maps women agripreneurs in Africa, and links them to potential investors and buyers,” he says.
He adds, “After interacting with the successful women on the platform and getting skills, women can be able to export agriculture commodities, add value to their products and become high-end processors of agriculture commodities.”
Mr Jagwe says agriculture markets get more complicated as they move further along the value chain. He describes Value4Her as a platform that was initiated to bring women’s businesses to the path of profitability. The platform, he, says, had demonstrated its potential as a go-to platform for women entrepreneurs in Africa to connect with one another and gain access to investments, market information, and intelligence.
“We train women to develop the skills and knowledge to access finance, to know who the financiers are and what are the terms to access finance,” he says, adding that women-led businesses need exposure to global markets, supply chains and investors.
Ms Eva Ndamono Shitaatala, the chief executive officer, Zadeva Fisheries, and a member of the Value4Her platform is one such beneficiary. She describes her experience going digital after losing 80 per cent of her revenue due to the lockdown brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic.
According to the CTA website, through the training that Ms Shitaatala received on the platform, she launched an online marketing campaign that saw her business regain its footing and increase its profit by 20 per cent per month. She spoke of the networks, synergy and accessibility brought about by Value4Her and noted that it felt good to brainstorm and have others listen to you and share solutions.
Ms Victoria Sekitoleko, the board chair of Uganda Agribusiness Alliance, says this platform is important in creating equity and strengthening women’s business networks through facilitated learning and links to buyers.
She gives an example of a grocer, who she normally contacted via a mobile telephone during the lockdown to place her orders and have them delivered. She says if the grocer didn’t embrace technology, her business would have collapsed during the lockdown.
“This is a technology age. Women in agribusiness should be part of this platform to thrive in the digital era. Many women are afraid of technology but I encourage them, especially those in agribusiness to embrace technology,” she says.
Most women who start businesses as sole proprietors in Africa, according to Ms Sekitoleko, do not thrive due to lack of networks, finance, markets, and skills that can enable them to manage their businesses.
“I encourage all women involved in agribusiness to join this platform such that they are linked to markets, finance as well as learning from other successful and well-informed women entrepreneurs,” she says.
Dr Birungi Korutaro, the chief executive officer of Kilimo Trust, says there are many opportunities in agribusiness such as aggregation, input provision, transportation but all can be fully exploited if women can form associations and networks.
She says women should not be thinking of working alone but should work collectively through business associations. The market opportunities for agriculture products, according to Dr Korutaro are huge globally and one woman alone cannot seize them.
“You must be part of a business association or network to benefit from the global opportunities. Belonging to a group enables one to have easy access to markets, capital, training, and land,” she adds.
“Banks find it easier to provide financial assistance to an association which is well established. Most of the women are operating in the informal sector, it is very difficult to track them compared to an association that is registered,”
Ms Stella Marie Biwaga, the programme director of the National Association of Women Organisations, says associations and networks provide a platform through which women can share challenges, solutions and opportunities.
She says most women are still stuck with the old model of agribusiness because they don’t have the tools, can’t afford machinery, finances, and land but through associations, women can progress well.
“Women need to appreciate that they need to register their businesses. People are not going for informal trade anymore, you have to be organised,” Ms Biwaga says.
VALUE4Her is AGRA’s continental programme aimed at assisting women grow their agribusinesses through access to markets, capital, skills and capacities, and business information and intelligence services. The network prepares women-led businesses to become visible through digital networking, and through this financiers come in.