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Gender

In Ethiopia and Kenya, an innovative insurance scheme for livestock has attracted wide interest from women pastoralists

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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are promoted as an equaliser of opportunities – but this is not always the case for women. Several African initiatives are demonstrating the critical contribution that information and knowledge can make to increase agricultural productivity and run a profitable agribusiness.

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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.

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It might keep the world fed, but there is little appetite for financing farming and farmers. Women in farming count access to finance as top of their challenges. Many run informal businesses. Expanding them into large operations comes with a long list of demands, including access to funding, collateral, business skills and a record of farming accomplishment. Digital technologies can help to boost prospects for women agripreneurs.

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This brief describes how Women in Business Development Incorporated (WIBDI), a non-profit organisation in Samoa, works with farming families to produce high-value products for local and global markets. Shifting away from a women-focused approach, WIBDI now uses an approach that involves the whole family, keeping all family members on board. It has also invested in digital applications and resources to increase the efficiency of operations, profile the producers and their products, and facilitate engagement with markets and customers.

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Women are major players in Africa’s agriculture sector, but have to overcome a number of hurdles in developing and running successful farming businesses. Providing packages of services, including access to land and finance, business skills, extension advisory services and effective markets will support more women entrepreneurs in carving a place in agribusiness, a thriving sector touted to unlock new jobs, higher incomes and more robust livelihoods.

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Knowledge can go a long way to ensure better livelihoods and food security for women in pastoral regions. Accurate and timely information can help facilitate access to services, and exert a positive influence on their participation in livelihood decision-making in households. As part of efforts to increase the uptake of index-based livestock insurance (IBLI) in East Africa, researchers at ILRI realised that one of the major factors constraining the quality of women’s lives is lack of information.

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The starting point for any meaningful attempt to close the gender divide in agriculture must involve improving women’s access to information. Often, small-scale women agripreneurs in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP) have good products, but no markets, and no means of finding the finance to take them to the next level. Information holds the key to unlocking opportunities, but how do rural women know it’s there – and where to look for it?

Women play a vitally important role in a whole range of agricultural activities. According to the Pew Research Centre, women make up at least half the productive workforce in some African countries. In addition to their role as food producers, they are responsible for preparing food in the home and ensuring that their families have a nutritious diet. However, it tends to be men, rather than women, who undertake and mostly benefit from profitable activities along agricultural value chains.

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Much greater focus is needed on infrastructure development in rural farming communities, to help modernise the equipment that women use to farm, relieve some of the drudgery of the tasks that they undertake, lower the risks to which they are exposed, and reduce the post-harvest losses that significantly affect their overall earnings as primary agricultural producers.

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Samoa may conjure up images of a tropical paradise, but this Pacific island offers much more than a tourist getaway. A Samoan business development organisation, tapping the values of family, tradition and art, has put the island nation’s farming communities on the world map as producers of high-value organic products, mostly generated by women agripreneurs.

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All communities are characterised by social norms, cultural values and spiritual beliefs that shape, define and set relational behaviours and standards. Unfortunately, women are often burdened by socio-cultural norms and values that have negative consequences – this is true of most communities in ACP countries. There is a strong case to review how these affect women’s engagement in agribusiness – and explore how social cultural factors and norms can be used to women’s advantage.

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Finance is key to accelerating African women’s agribusinesses, a necessary driver for their engagement in lucrative agricultural value chains. But many programmes aiming to facilitate women’s economic inclusion struggle to succeed. Two cases studies show how adopting a holistic approach can have more success in providing women agripreneurs with the financial services they need.

Research and statistics state that women constitute around 40% of the agricultural labour force in the ACP region and while they make essential contributions to rural economies and the growing advancements in digitalisation - the gender gap in access to information communication technologies (ICTs) continue to widen. This means women farmers, particularly in rural areas, experience difficulties accessing information, financial products and services and markets. They also often do not participate in relevant policy-making.

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The Index Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) programme was first launched in 2010, to help pastoralists deal with the effects of the severe droughts that are becoming increasingly frequent in the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya and Ethiopia. The most recent figures show that some 15,000 livestock owners in the two countries have now purchased the product. Perhaps surprisingly, 45% of them are women.

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Platforms that help women entrepreneurs to make connections can play a critical role in supporting them to build business skills, overcome hurdles in accessing markets and finance, and achieve economies of scale. Forging links with other agripreneurs - and with more experienced business contacts - can make all the difference between success and failure, say ACP agribusiness leaders.

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This brief outlines why we need an index to measure and monitor women’s access to the services, markets, policies and other aspects constraining their ability to contribute to and benefit from opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness, especially in the developing world. This would allow policy-makers, women’s development advocates and development partners to better focus their efforts so they make agriculture work for women.

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Vibrant reggae music, athletic prowess, flavoursome food and white sandy beaches are perhaps what Jamaica is best known for. Also coffee – but not so much the organic version. For over 20 years, Dorienne Rowan-Campbell has been working hard to change that.