FAO and International Trade Centre renew commitment to empower women agrifood traders in African Continental Free Trade Area

Phase II of joint programme doubles investment, expands to two new countries and access to finance

Photo: ITC

Many women producers, processors and traders in the agri-food sector in Africa face challenges when working in the informal sector, complying with legal requirements, and accessing market information, training, and finance, among other issues.

This month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Trade Centre (ITC) under its SheTrades Initiative launched the second phase of its programme: Empowering women and boosting livelihoods through agricultural trade: Leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Spanning four countries – Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria and South Africa –, the programme was developed in 2021 to promote women’s participation in the AfCFTA and increase their access to capacity building and higher-productivity activities, capitalizing on the new opportunities in regional trade created by the AfCFTA agreement.

As the programme transitions into its second phase, two new countries will be targeted – Senegal and the United Republic of Tanzania – while a component on women’s access to finance will be piloted in Ghana and Nigeria.

“We are excited to see the programme’s growth and how it is reaching out to more women’s organizations and decision-makers in different countries and at different levels. The programme is a great demonstration of our technical efforts to support inclusive agribusiness development in collaboration with regional partners and the AfCFTA Secretariat,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa at FAO.

“The AfCFTA has the potential to transform African economies and the livelihoods of millions of people – if it is accessible to everyone. To deliver on its promise, the voices of women, particularly those in the agrifood sector, must be reflected in every step of implementation. Now in its second phase, the programme is designed to deliver on this transformational agenda by harnessing the expertise of FAO and ITC,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director, ITC.


Capacity building to make the AfCFTA more inclusive

Throughout its first phase, the programme focused on mapping and analysing priority regional value chains, developing and disseminating policy recommendations and building the capacity of formal and informal women producers, processors, entrepreneurs and traders. Attending three in-person trainings, 160 women from the agrifood sector in Malawi, Ghana and Nigeria gained valuable skills on tools and resources for simpler trade under the AfCFTA, rights of traders when using border posts, gender-based violence, harassment and corruption in cross-border trade.

In Ghana, women in the fisheries sector reported a 45% increase in awareness of the AfCFTA benefits, with 69% and 55% having a better understanding of registering their company for exporting and food safety respectively. Participants also expressed greater confidence in complying with standards and procedures. The second phase will consolidate this learning among participants of the programme.


Applying a gender lens to agrifood trade in the AfCFTA

While there has been a growing body of literature on women’s participation in trade, few studies try to understand the potential challenges and opportunities available to women – particularly those in the agrifood sector – under the AfCFTA.

Under the first phase of the programme, quantitative and qualitative studies were performed on two of Africa’s priority value chains – fisheries and soybean-poultry – to promote inclusiveness. In addition, four policy briefs include recommendations for gender-responsiveness in trade facilitation, non-tariff measures, barriers to trade, and sanitary and phytosanitary standards. Over the next 12 months, FAO and ITC will use these tools to inform its interventions for women in the agrifood sector.


Building on achievements and learning under the first phase

On top of building on the progress made under its first phase of implementation, the second phase aims to increase the competitiveness of women-led micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the agrifood sector through upgraded business plans, improved business readiness and increased access to finance by leveraging gender-responsive financial services in collaboration with selected financial institutions.

The second phase will also capitalize on results achieved and lessons learned in the past 12 months by supporting the engagement of women’s groups and organizations in the upcoming negotiations and implementation of the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade. It will continue working with women entrepreneurs and traders and women business associations in the agrifood sector who have benefitted from trainings during its first phase to further enhance their skills to successfully engage in regional value chain development and trade within the AfCFTA.


About the FAO-ITC programme

The Empowering women and boosting livelihoods through agricultural trade: Leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area programme is part of FAO’s ongoing efforts to mainstream gender equality in regional agricultural sector policies and programmes, while promoting concrete opportunities for boosting women’s livelihoods and capacities in value chains and agribusiness in the continent.

The programme also builds on the ITC SheTrades Initiative and One Trade Africa programme. The SheTrades Initiative works to foster more inclusive business and policy ecosystems and increase the competitiveness of women entrepreneurs and women producers and connect them to markets; the One Trade Africa programme works to empower, enhance and enable small businesses to access business opportunities in Africa.