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?
Communication channels used to reach small-scale women agripreneurs are key to bridging the information gaps about markets and financial services and can make all the difference between success and failure. So it is critical that gender-based factors such as digital illiteracy, time and commitments are taken into account when designing knowledge products aimed at women in agribusiness.
A first important step is to tailor information to meet the context of the agripreneurs, choosing a communication channel that best suits their preference and circumstances. Currently, many sources of information are ill matched to the needs of women agripreneurs. For example, the use of online channels may be effective in reaching urban agripreneurs, but are unlikely to work for rural women farmers, due to factors that include low digital literacy levels and poor connectivity.
Sometimes, financial service providers introduce products that focus on agriculture, but neglect to supply the financial literacy training that could increase their impact. Such training plays an important role in guiding women smallholder farmers in the use of finance to grow businesses, and ensure business continuity.
The power of local media
Localised sources, such as traditional media – radio and television – stand a strong chance to reach women interested in agribusiness. Local media know how to translate information into language that rural women can understand, as well as to break down the communication jargon used by many financial service providers and market organisations.
Experience shows that direct communication with smallholder women agripreneurs can be highly successful. A case is EuroAfri Link (EAL), which operates in Cameroon, Ghana and Malawi. Launched by a group of communication and marketing specialists working to connect smallholder producer groups in Africa and buyers and funding agents in Europe, EuroAfri Link organises frontline staff to communicate with women smallholder farmers, directly in their villages.
Direct contact pays dividends
EAL staff visit local women’s cooperatives and companies and tell members about specific markets/funds that target women in Europe. They then make appointments to talk to the cooperative group leader, and walk her through the criteria for the funding, to see if members meet them. When potential cooperatives, companies or farmers groups that fit the criteria of the funding are found, EAL sends their documents to organisations that can help them to write a winning proposal. The results can be impressive. As a result of this support, two companies were shortlisted for consideration for the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund-Women Economic Empowerment (AECF-WEE) funding window opportunity for women in agribusiness in 2018. One of the cooperatives was in Burkina Faso, which groups together 3,000 women in ten provinces involved in harvesting and processing shea nuts into shea butter. The other was for cocoa in Sierra Leone, and has more than 13,000 small scale farmers, of whom 50% are women.
In a separate initiative, a shea butter cooperative in Ghana was connected to a European buyer. The cooperative now expects to improve the economic status and financial well-being of 110 women in the shea butter value chain in the Upper East Region of Ghana. Between them, they produce 80 tonnes of shea butter in the peak season, and 20 tonnes in the off-peak season.
Currently, EAL is linking the Cassava Development Project (CADEP) to the European market. Part of the Global Food Network (GFN), which produces cassava flour and starch, CADEP is owned by more than 800 farming families in Cameroon, 60% of whom are women.
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.