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Women in agribusiness – the power of networking

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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.

Irene Ochem is emphatic about the value of women linking up with each other, as they seek to launch and develop an agribusiness.

“I would say that growing your agribusiness is about networking, networking and networking,” she said, during a break from a CTA-led workshop Making next generation agriculture work for women. “If you have a network platform, you can share your experiences and ideas, and you have opportunities for partnerships and collaborations.”

The South Africa-based Africa Women Innovation Forum (AWIEF), of which Ochem is Founder and Chief Executive Officer, brings together women entrepreneurs from across the continent. It has set up monthly business breakfast gatherings, where members can meet to exchange ideas, challenges and suggestions. Its annual conference and exhibition, staged for the first time in November 2018 in Cape Town, is expected to become a regular event, connecting policy-makers, private sector service providers, and of course women entrepreneurs themselves. For those living further afield, AWIEF recently launched Ongea, an online community, so that conversations can take place from afar.

“Rural women and women from disadvantaged communities need more opportunities to network and be put into contact with other businesswomen, so they can connect, and also get inspired by other women who have achieved success,” said Ochem.

Questions and answers

At the African Women Agribusiness Network (AWAN), Executive Director Beatrice Gakuba says the AWAN community has proved its worth time and time again since its launch in 2003. Today the network covers 20 African countries, helping to connect women in agribusiness with each other, and with expert contacts who can help to build would-be women entrepreneurs’ skills and understanding in areas that range from marketing to product development and legal or trade requirements.

“Networking is a very important vehicle of information, especially for women in agribusiness looking for existing or new markets, trying to find out what is required to enter those markets, and how you deal with banks, with contracting and negotiations,” she said. “Many women need a network that acts like a facilitator, a repository of information on agriculture and agritech, and all those enablers for growing a business.”

Michael Sudarkasa, Chief Executive Officer of Africa Business Group, an African economic development company based in South Africa, is convinced that talking to peers and people with professional business expertise is critical to success.

“Smaller-scale entrepreneurs, and in this case women entrepreneurs, are often disconnected from the ecosystem that helps companies to be successful in business,” said Sudarkasa, who is also founder of the Global African Agribusiness Accelerator Platform (GAADP), a youth focused agripreneurship accelerator with programmes in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Zambia. “Rural women entrepreneurs are more isolated, since most institutions dealing with the key services of markets and finance are based in cities, and that’s a challenge.”

Distance is no object

Digital platforms can help to bridge distances, and social media is proving a powerful tool for connecting women in agribusiness with similar goals or constraints. A key feature of CTA’s recently launched VALUE4HER project, which is working to build knowledge, skills and networks for women agripreneurs, is an agribusiness intelligence portal. AWAN uses a range of virtual platforms, including Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, all popular with women who have to juggle business and domestic duties.

“Businesswomen don’t have much time, so the WhatsApp platform in particular has proved very useful,” said Gakuba. “Some of our members are also using it for trading. Technology has revolutionised the way they do business.”

More than one-third of the 84 agripreneurs currently connected through the GAADP network are women, and Sudarkasa highlights the case of one newcomer - an agripreneur with a small-scale pig farming business in South Africa - who attended a forum in Uganda.

“She was excited to meet other young women engaged in livestock, especially as she lived 200 kilometres from the nearest city,” he said. “They have now created a WhatsApp group, and through this network, she has been able to get access to and share information, and also get immediate answers to her questions. It has really helped to accelerate her business.”

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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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.

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