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Women farmers and agripreneurs must take action to influence global development agendas


Women agripreneurs in ACP countries need to get together and take action to ensure that their issues are not overlooked in critical international debates

© FAO/Cristina Aldehuela


Throughout history, women have made gains in control of their selves, assets and visibility in a male dominated world, and then lost them. In those moments, like Penelope waiting for Ulysses, women unpicked and restitched the tapestry of their lives. We could be facing another of those unstitching moments right now, as women's roles and aspirations are being challenged in many arenas. It is time to recast and restitch.

From 1975 to 1995, world conferences on women, held every 5 years, kept a spotlight on gender issues, keeping actions on gender relatively high on national agendas. Today, while we have 'mainstreamed' gender issues and the term gender features widely on international meeting agendas, women farmers and agripreneurs are hardly visible at all, and issues of their access to information, inputs, income earning opportunities and entry into world trade are still neglected at national level.

Looking back, what lessons did we learn from those hopeful days? One key lesson learned from 1975 onwards, is that group action and networking are powerful tools which forced national attention on the issues women deemed important. So where are the opportunities for farmers and agripreneurs to take that kind of group action?

For women in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, an immediate opportunity is presented by the assessment currently under way of the effectiveness of the EU-ACP Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA), and their renegotiation. EPAs are part of a 20-year agreement, signed in Cotonou in 2000, which delineated political, commercial, cooperation and development relations between the ACP countries and the European Union (EU).

Where do the EPAs intersect with the concerns of women agripreneurs? In the Caribbean, for example, the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) initiative was directed at improving local food production, forging links to tourism and enhancing the export capacity of farmers. A subgroup of the ACP group of states, CARIFORUM serves as a base for economic dialogue and negotiation, and agreed the Caribbean EPAs. In Africa, EPAs support the development of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Generally, the EU notes that EPAs ‘promote trade capacity-building measures (which) support ACP farming and rural employment, and the farmers' capacity to comply with sanitary and phytosanitary and other agricultural standards.’

We need to take action right now as 2020, when the current agreement ends, draws near. What could this action look like? Here are some ideas based on my own experience and lessons learned trying – and often failing – to get women agripreneurs better reflected and represented in the current CARIFORUM agreement:

  • Identify the types of programmes in your country or region that relate to women entrepreneurs.
  • Do your own local assessment of how these programmes have or have not addressed the needs of women producers.
  • Ensure there are locally recognised women's groups/agribusiness networks that can promote these issues.
  • Consult the EU representation to get their take on where and how gender issues have been addressed in the current EPAs, and see if there are opportunities for your groups to work in partnership with EPA designers.
  • Do our homework, obtain access to evaluation team reports (get included in a team if possible).
  • Engage Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and educate them about what was learned during the first EPA, where gaps existed, and how these might be filled.
  • Give a vision of what a new EPA could look like if women's concerns and access were addressed.
  • Find ways of introducing women and agripreneurship into the discussion. For example, plan small exhibitions showcasing women's products to run alongside EPA meetings; hold debates; get these covered by local radio/television stations; offer field trips to rural locations for visiting reviewers; use social media, videos and photos to tell a catchy story.

A second avenue for building policy awareness on the need for innovation and change is the World Economic Forum. Each year, in preparation for the meeting at Davos, Switzerland, countries are asked to submit a survey of chief executive officers (CEOs)/business owners from all sectors, including small and medium-sized enterprises. The survey asks about problems facing the business, as well as expectations, what helps, and the constraints – and the gender of the business leader is identified.

If significant numbers of women agripreneurs are represented in these surveys, the issues they face will begin to emerge, and will then be discussed on the world stage. Each country has different points of contact for Davos. In Jamaica, for example, it is the Mona School of Business. The trick to getting women agripreneurs’ visions, voices and concerns to Davos lies in persuading the point of contact in each participating country or region to invite women CEOs to respond, in the case of the agriculture sector.

So let us take what we have learned about influencing change for women, and weave a new tapestry that illuminates the problems, needs, solutions and enormous potential of ACP women agripreneurs to contribute to a better future for all.

This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.

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