Women play a significant role in agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, providing up to 50% of the agricultural labor force by producing food while ensuring family nutrition and food security. But, as has been extensively documented, gender-based inequalities in access to and control of productive and financial resources inhibits their productivity and reduces food security and nutritional outcomes.
Women in Africa are highly entrepreneurial and are driven, largely by necessity, to start small businesses in agriculture. These businesses are mostly microenterprises, largely informal and often trade in saturated local markets, where intense competition drives down eventual benefits. Agriculture, being a mostly rural activity, offers women one of the greatest possibilities to start small enterprises and, with supply chain integration, a chance to grow businesses along value chains.
AGRA's VALUE4HER programme has exactly this purpose. The programme aims to increase the performance of female-led agribusiness enterprises in Africa by facilitating access to high-value markets and trade opportunities, provide access to finance and investments, build women leaders' skills and capacities to grow their businesses and build voice and agency through socio- and collective capital.
The programme VALUE4HER is powered by VALUE4HERConnect, Africa’s first women in agribusiness digital marketplace, offering integrated business solutions to female-led agribusinesses. The platform enhances the visibility of female agribusinesses, helps them build socio- and collective capital and networks across the continent, while facilitating easier connections with buyers, financiers and other business service providers. This digital platform, initially developed under Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA), was transferred to AGRA in October 2020 after CTA’s mandate ended. AGRA has since expanded the programme offerings to build country-level networks and increased platform membership from the initial 600 female-led companies to 750. The platform services are organized alongside key pillars, as shown in the diagram below.
The programme is inspired by past experiences and recent evidence showing that if female-led agricultural enterprises are nurtured along a growth pathway, while having access to the business resources and capabilities they need, they can become profitable businesses, increase incomes for women and boost the wellbeing of families, communities and society as a whole.
Constraints to women’s agribusiness growth go beyond access to business resources, and as such, interventions need to boost the capability and confidence of female business leaders to ensure they have a growth mindset and build their business networks and collective capital to not only surmount gendered market barriers, but also to favourably shape the business environment and to have real-time access to market information and intelligence.
The digital platform, VALUE4HERConnect, enables this real-time access to information and connections to buyers, financiers and investors, and to other female agribusiness leaders across the continent — connections that are crucial for expanding women’s business and social networks. The platform currently hosts 750 female-led agribusinesses.
VALUE4HER runs online programmes such as business-to-business matchmaking, sharing female business leaders’ experiences through monthly TalkCorner discussion sessions and targeted trainings and capacity-building initiatives through webinars. The online programs are complemented by offline activities in the countries and trade regions, to catalyze face-to-face interactions and to build in-country networks and connections with the private sector. Eleven country networking meetings are planned.
Building women’s voices, collective capital and advocacy for a favourable business environment and elimination of gendered barriers to trade are among key initiatives of VALUE4HER. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on women’s agricultural enterprises. According to AGRA's online survey of 71 female agribusiness leaders from Africa, conducted between June and July 2020, over 56% of respondents reported a loss of over 40% of their revenue in this period, while 28% reported temporary business closures to manage their costs and keep their businesses afloat.
In response to this, AGRA, in partnership with RENEW LLC, has launched the African Resilience Investment Series for Women Executives (ARISE) project. ARISE seeks to equip 2,000 female-owned and -led subject matter experts (SMEs) from Africa with the practical management skills needed to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working with female-led companies within AGRAs VALUE4HER network, the project will offer practical tools and advice aimed at increasing female-led companies' access to capital from lenders, investors and donors, while female executives and managers who show readiness will be prepared and matched with appropriate investors.
AGRA, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and other Partnership for Inclusive Agricultural Transformation in Africa (PIATA) partners, will continue to refine the offerings of the platform to transform it into a centre of excellence for women’s agripreneurship that will offer research, knowledge and insights into all aspects of women’s agripreneurship; be a hub of integrated digital resources and solutions required for growing women agripreneurs; offer digital identity and visibility for female agribusinesses to grow their networks; and nurture business graduation pathways from women's small and medium agribusinesses. AGRA is working to make the platform a preferred sourcing hub for gender-intentional market players (buyers, financiers, business development service providers, technical assistance providers) and become the voice for influencing a gender-friendly business environment for women in agribusiness.
This article was originally published by AGRA.