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Getting women in the driver’s seat of Africa’s agribusiness revolution

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Monica Musonda, CEO Java Foods shares a joke with colleague as they package Supa Cereal Bags (Photo: AfDB)

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast, November 25, 2019- Monica Musonda, CEO of Zambian food processing company Java Foods,  certainly faced hurdles in her rise to the top, but she overcame them.

“Although the barriers to entry for women can be frustrating, they are often basic and relatively easy to resolve,” she said, playing down her struggles. “My climb up the agribusiness ladder has been challenging but definitely worthwhile.”

Musonda, whose company produces affordable and nutritious food snacks made from local ingredients, is one of just a handful of female agripreneurs who have successfully broken through the proverbial glass ceiling in Africa’s agribusiness industry.

Women are the backbone of Africa’s agricultural sector. From farm to fork, African women are players along the entire agricultural value chain, be it as farmers, livestock breeders, processors, traders, workers, entrepreneurs or consumers. While their influence on the continent’s growing agribusiness industry is undeniable, more solutions are needed to address the gender-specific challenges they face to boost their participation.

The average African woman is a budding entrepreneur either by choice or by circumstance. According to the  Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report 2016/17, the continent has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world, with one in four women starting or managing a business. The agribusiness industry is often the natural focus of this entrepreneurial drive.

Across the continent, women dominate as primary processors post-harvest, as traders with bustling market stalls, as owners of fast food restaurants and with increasingly frequency as manufacturers of packaged ready-to-eat food products. Yet despite this dynamism, female-led agribusinesses tend to remain small, fragmented and informal in nature. They struggle to sustain and scale-up their agribusinesses into well-organized profitable enterprises.

Admittedly, the challenging business environment in many African countries including poor infrastructure and unreliable legal and regulatory systems affects all business activities of both men and women. However, in addition women-led businesses must also grapple with a number of gender-specific constraints, inhibiting their expansion into more lucrative market segments.

Firstly, African women often lack the technical know-how.  Despite the gains in female education on the continent, highly productive agribusinesses require specialized vocational and technical skills in fields such as food safety, food conservation, packaging and product certification which many African women do not readily possess.

Access to finance is the most frequently cited obstacle by African SMEs. Women entrepreneurs face multiple difficulties in securing funding mainly due to lack of collateral in the form of land and other tangible assets and a high-risk perception. According to the African Development Bank, an estimated $42 billion financing gap exists for African women across business value chains, including $15.6 billion in agriculture alone. Women are forced to rely on personal savings and family loans which are rarely enough to fund their businesses to scale.

Thirdly, socio-cultural barriers and stereotypes persist. African women remain the primary caregivers in families meaning that managing those responsibilities while growing a thriving business can become a difficult balancing act.

Over the last two decades, many governments and development institutions have rolled out programs to promote access to finance, agricultural inputs and provide technical support and business training to female agripreneurs. The African Development Bank recently set up the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), a bold pan-African initiative to bridge the financing gap facing women. It adopts a three-pronged approach centered on improving access to finance, providing technical assistance and strengthening the enabling environment.

It often takes very little to make a difference. The capital injection required by the majority of female led SME agribusinesses on the continent is typically less than $50,000. And women have consistently proven to be more credit-worthy than men, usually paying back loans within agreed timeframes. Successful solutions by women for women such as microfinance and saving groups, peer-to-peer training and information sharing should also be reinforced and taken to scale.

More of such initiatives are urgently needed across the continent. Solutions must be based on in-depth engagement with the women business owners themselves to properly understand their frustrations and needs. Tailored programs designed to specifically address these pain points are critical. The Global Gender Summit is a timely opportunity to drive this forward.

Women are central for Africa’s agricultural transformation to be successful, sustainable and inclusive. More African female agripreneurs must be supported to grow and progressively transition into the business segments of agricultural value chains which are most profitable. It has been proven time and time again that when African women thrive the entire society shares in those dividends.

Also Read: Meet Sivi Malukisa, The Congolese Entrepreneur Whose Food Startup Is Promoting DRC Cuisine

By: Mariam Yinusa and Edward Mabaya are Principal Economist and Manager, respectively, in the Agribusiness Development Division of the African Development Bank.

African Development Bank Group (AfDB)

Agriculture

COVID-19 Pandemic disrupting our food supply chain – What Next?

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Vertical farming. Image credit: Josephine Favre

The COVID-19 Pandemic is challenging us. None of us saw it coming!

Everything around us is changing, from our behaviour in how we deal with the nitty gritty little things to the way on how we look at managing our businesses under Lockdown.

At this point of time, food advocates, including smallholder farmers are facing immense pressure not only on food production, but on distribution/supply due to many countries and their boarders suddenly closing.

There are some countries that are better managed than others thus can go by with their activities on a daily basis, however there are many countries still lacking the appropriate support and expertise necessary to implement sustainable, suitable and appropriate food transition during this Pandemic.

Our entire supply demand chain could so easily be redesigned or redefined due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and the associated economic disruption.

What does that mean? It means owners of food production will need to find ways to monetize their existence. These will result to immediate self-production, leading to door to door delivery of everything we need and consume to our homes.

Building a food production infrastructure which uses less land, less water, less fertilizer and puts higher value, nutritious food at the doorstep of the consumer, is undoubtedly a huge step forward for agriculture and human development.

We are at a point when the technology not only already exists but is improving at an exponential rate; the question is not when but how? How big of a role can vertical farming play in securing the availability of food for future generations while protecting the planet in the process.

Integrating sustainable food production into the urban environment and becoming climate resilient is a necessary step for a modern society. Vertical Farming offers all of this, while also serving as a tool for uplifting quality of life in densely-populated urban areas.

Vertical farming is a smart solution that will use the most advanced technologies in agriculture to provide answers to food production questions. Vertical farms are climate controlled and produce the same quality of food regardless of environmental factors like droughts, floods, pests and disease. By remaining independent of the outdoor environment, vertical farms can provide food for urban and rural areas alike that suffer from food shortage during periods of extreme weather or disease.

Vertical farming

It is more clear now that Vertical Farming is no longer just an Urban Farming solutions but a general farming solution given today’s climate changes such as heat waves, extreme floods etc. We need to be in control and Vertical Farming or CEA gives us just that, RESILIENCE.

Also Read: Sub-Saharan Africa steps up efforts to boost local food & beverage manufacturing

The African Association for Vertical Farming (AAVF) is playing a very big role to ensure that the farming community (and potential Agriprenuers) are aware of Vertical Faring as a modern way of farming that ascertain productivity despite climate change challenges, while addressing food security delivery.

We the AAVF at this point of time advice every family owning land, small or big, a balcony or a side garden to learn on how to produce, or provide for themselves and their own by using Vertical Farming Technologies as their agriculture method starting from now.

New technologies for single household to complex business projects can now easily be taught. Join us for our online Vertical Farming Trainings at: https://www.aavf.ch/copy-ofapplication-form-1

There can be no doubt that we have to act now and move toward more sustainable thinking in food practices.

We can do this together!

Article By: Josephine Favre, President The African Association for Vertical Farming

Visit: The African Association for Vertical Farming

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Agriculture

Ensuring that Hunger does not Kill more people than COVID-19 in Africa

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With the global spread of the COVID-19, and gradual lockdowns in cities and countries across Africa, I have new fears – that starvation and hunger are mounting threats for people across continent. These fears are hinged on the realization that it is planting season in most parts of the Continent, and yet farmers are being asked to sit at home, the movement of seasonal workers is restricted, research institutes that provide seeds, fertilizer blending companies and agrodealers, processors and markets are all being shut down. Our regional and national borders are closed, and trading is being restricted. These realities, if pro-longed and not urgently addressed, will lead to short term consequences of food shortages, price hikes, and medium to long term consequences of under-nutrition, mass starvation and eventually death, especially among our most vulnerable populations.

We have to act with urgency to stem the virus through social distancing and lock downs. At the same time, we must recognize that farmers and workers in the food industry are essential to the fight against the pandemicand desperately need to be protected and supported. Indeed, without nutritious food, the sick cannot recover, and the healthy will eventually become unwell.

My fears are shared by a few stakeholders on the Continent and around the world. The EU Farmer’s organization – COPA-COGECAearlier this week actively advocated for support to ensure minimal disruptions to the food supply chain, worker protection and contingency plans. The United Kingdom and the United States have already outlined comprehensive plans to provide intervention grants, loans, and tax holidays, for stakeholders in the food industry, including restaurant owners and retailers affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic. In Mexico, farmers who continue to plough their fields are being celebrated as heroes.

Sadly, there has been no coordinated action from industry groups, the private sector, civil society, or the public sector to raise awareness about the looming food crises on the African Continent, linked to COVID-19.

Thankfully, it is not too late to act! We must take decisive and proactive steps to ensure that our people have access to affordable nutritious food in both our urban and rural communities. This will require that;

  • Our governments at the federal, state, and local levels recognize key stakeholders in the food and agricultural landscape as essential workers and provide them with the protection and support that they need to continue to work, following pre-stipulated safety and health protocols. We must keep food markets and factories open, with clear guidelines around limiting crowds, and widely publicized schedules for who can enter during what periods of time. We can also learn from China’s example over the last few months, where government officials, especially the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MARA) and Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and National Health Commission repeatedly issued comprehensive notes to farmers on the control and prevention of the virus in rural areas, as well recommendations and protocols for preparing for their planting season and sustaining the livestock and poultry sectors.

Beyond guidance and protocols, our governments must urgently partner with the financial services sector to develop comprehensive loan packages for farmers, and entrepreneurs who are committed to working during the crises and can demonstrate their capacity to fill critical gaps in the food ecosystem. These interventions must actively engage women, who play a critical role in the sector. In addition, our governments must assess thenational strategic and emergency grain reserves to gauge what is available and how to effectively manage and deploy these reserves in a transparent and accountable manner to minimize price hikes and widespread shortages.

  • Our industry associations, fast moving consumer goods companies, international trading companies, aggregators, wholesalers, and retailers must work together seamlessly to ensure the efficient and effective provision of affordable food to the masses of people. Leveraging technology, raw material suppliers and processors can actively partner with logisticsproviders and retailers to ensure that food is moved to where it is needed most, and no community is left behind.

This is not a period for hoarding and price gouging, with a focus on profits and growth at all costs. Companies must rise to the higher ideal of shared corporate values, where they put the needs of their customers and the African people ahead of their own requirements for profits and shareholder value. To ensure that this occurs, consumer protection and anti-competition agencies must closely monitor the activities of the largest actors in the food industry to ensure a level playing field.

In addition, the private sector can facilitate the introduction ofdrones, sensors and other precision agriculture andinnovative technology solutions, which will allow for active monitoring of commercial farm activity from a distance. Companies such as Atlas AI  have demonstrated the power of technology to manage farms and assess impact, without direct human contact.

Our nonprofit organizations and media organizations must provide thought-leadership, monitoring and guidance to the entire ecosystem. Organizations such as GAIN are already providing critical guidance during this period.

  • Finally, average citizens must invest in their own backyard and community gardens, while ensuring social distancing, manage their food budgets judiciously and share with their neighbors. Faith based organizations must open soup kitchens, offering free meals and partner with logistics providers to coordinate drop-offs. We must rebuild trust in our communities by caring for the most vulnerable at this exceedingly challenging time in our history as humanity!

As an eternal optimist, I am hopeful that as a people we will survive the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging with some critical lessons and a more resilient, united,and efficient food ecosystem. Now is the time for governments, stakeholders in the food ecosystem and citizens to act! Every minute counts!

Also Read: The Rockefeller Foundation Appoints Two African Female Leaders to Board of Trustees

Article By: Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is the managing partner of Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition and the Co-Founder of AACE Foods. She is a 2018 Aspen New Voices Fellow and is currently writing a book titled “African Entrepreneurs Nourishing the World,” as a research fellow at the MR-CBG at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Visit: Sahel Consult

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Agriculture

In Morocco youths are making money from agriculture with the support from the African Development Bank

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In Morocco, the African Development Bank has helped thousands of young people towards a new future in agriculture.

Abdelhak Boukhari, a young farmer said he learned farming from his father. “I started in this area in 1995 when I was very young. It was really difficult at first because I didn’t have any land; I didn’t have anything. I shared a plot with other farmers and after that I started renting land. It was then that I really got into agriculture as a career,” said Boukhari.

At the age of 40, Boukhari, who grows strawberries for export mainly to Europe and North America, struck out on his own. Now, thanks to improved farming methods, he has become an entrepreneur and has leased more arable lands and modern equipment.

“I really feel like a champion, because my father had only one or two workers, but I now have between 40 and 50. Thanks to God, I have a lot of equipment: the tractor for ploughing, agricultural machinery, greenhouses, and drip-feed irrigation. I really do have modern tools at my disposal,” he said.

Also Read: Farmcrowdy Acquires Meat Processor, Best Foods, Set To Launch Retail Meat Hubs Across Nigeria

Other young farmers, like Hicham Mokadem, 30, share similar testimonies.

Mokadem, 30, is an agronomist. He went into berry production in Laouamra, in north-west Morocco and exports the bulk of his produce to Europe.

“It is a 15-hectare farm and I decided to invest in soft fruit because it is a growth sector,” said the young agronomist. “I’m confident and I’m not on my own,” he added, referring to the thousands of young people flocking to farming , motivated by Morocco’s new agricultural policy, ‘the Green Morocco Plan’ (PMV).

Launched in April 2008, the PMV aims to make agriculture one of the first sectors of productive development and to modernize it. It also intends to promote agricultural investment, ensure food security, stimulate exports of agricultural products, and promote local products.

Since its inception, this project has received more than 500 million euros from the African Development Bank through the Green Morocco Plan Support Programme (PAPMV).

“A 30% increase in agricultural yield, a 40% decrease in water usage and a 45% increase in agricultural earnings. These have been the outcomes of the Green Morocco Plan which we have been supporting since 2008,” said Bank resident representative for Morocco, Leila Farah Mokaddem.

Young Moroccans such as Boukhari and Mokadem demonstrate the Bank’s success in transforming livelihoods under its High Five development priorities: Feed Africa, Industrialize Africa, and Improve the quality of life for the people of Africa.

African Development Bank

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