To enhance interaction and networking among African women in agribusiness and potential investors and trade partners, a B2B trade fair was recently held by the VALUE4HER initiative in Nairobi, Kenya. Sabdiyo Dido describes the aims and outcomes of the event.
VALUE4HER was launched in July 2018 by CTA and 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 scale their businesses. In June 2019, VALUE4HER held its first B2B event to provide women agripreneurs from 21 African countries with the opportunity to be involved in masterclasses, hackathons and pitching opportunities to showcase their businesses with hopes to seal some regional and global business deals.
“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,” explained Irene Ochem, founder and CEO of AWIEF.
Specific subjects covered through the VALUE4HER mentoring and training include branding and product packaging for various markets, methods to facilitate traceability of produce to meet export market requirements, and the institutions to approach to access business finance. The focus of the initiative is on women with a turnover of more than US$20,000. The initiative works with these women agripreneurs to reach other women who are in small and medium ventures because they off-take a lot of products from these small, often rural, enterprises. So, as they expand their business, they boost the earnings and income for the smaller businesses.
As Africa prepares to ratify the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which is poised to create a consumer base of 1.2 billion in unrestricted markets, trade opportunities provided for women are expected to multiply. Through the training and matchmaking sessions, VALUE4HER has been helping to prepare women traders, who have predominantly been trading within their country borders, to take advantage of the largest free market in the world – after the World Trade Organization – and grow their market portfolio.
The opening up of Africa’s borders is offering new opportunities for women who can look for innovative ways of capitalising on the power of numbers to capture greater markets. The initiative is therefore encouraging women producers to form themselves into sub-groups based on what they specialise in, say for example horticulture, which gives them more bargaining power when approaching buyers.
A key aspect of the VALUE4HER training is to provide understanding of the rules and requirements of exporting into various countries and identifying market gaps. “We have emerging markets like the African middle class, estimated by the African Development Bank to be worth around US$350 million (€315 million). Then there are the African Diaspora. These two clusters are increasingly becoming health-conscious and consumers are willing to invest in the safety and quality of what they buy, something our women traders must tap into,” emphasised Beatrice Gakuba of AWAN at the B2B event.
New market connections
To help provide women with opportunities to showcase their businesses, VALUE4HER launched a new digital platform VALUE4HERConnect at the July event. The online marketplace, an African first, allows women traders to create business profiles, showcase what they sell, and learn from their peers. It has already attracted more than 400 members. Notable components of the platform include a Women2Women forum that provides an avenue for women to connect, trade and exchange information; market entry requirements for produce; and information on service providers across the value chain, including for transport and storage.
Michael Sudarkasa, CEO of South Africa-based consultancy firm Africa Business Group that was involved in the platform design and implementation explains the thinking behind VALUE4HERConnect. “For women who are looking to access new markets, there is a lot of market intelligence that is needed – from quality standards, phytosanitary regulations, trade protocols and tariff issues and we needed to aggregate that in one platform.” He adds, “The other critical part is identifying impact buyers – those buyers who are seeking or willing to have women and youth suppliers whether government or multinational corporations. From the procurement side, we also wanted to identify institutions, as is the case with the Kenyan government, where 30% of the government procurement has been set for women and youth. We wanted to create a platform where these procurement officers can visit and easily identify suppliers.”
Yvonne Otieno, founder and CEO of Kenya-based Miyonga Fresh Greens, which exports fresh and dried fruits, is enthusiastic about the opportunities she has been exposed to as a result of attending the VALUE4HER B2B event. “I have met prospective investors, found new markets and expanded my product base just by interacting with these women traders and attending the training.” According to Otieno, since attending initial VALUE4HER training, within one year, her business has enjoyed tremendous growth, which has ultimately impacted on her 5,000 out-growers.