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Center of the Center: Keep Your Eye On The Ball, Women and Agribusiness

WomanFarmerWithSeedsIt is a widely agreed and accepted fact that Africa is a continent positioned for growth as never before. As the second largest continent on earth, and home to more than a billion people, it boasts a vast and highly varied plethora of fertile ecosystems, including mountains, grasslands, lakes, savannahs, tropical rainforests and volcanic calderas. Africa now heralds itself as the newest beacon of explosive economic growth and prosperity.

Only last month, U.S. President Barack Obama met with leaders from four African countries: President Macky Sall of Senegal, President Joyce Banda of Malawi, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, and Prime Minister José Maria Pereira Neves of Cape Verde. They met to discuss strengthening democratic relations, increased good governance, sound management of public funds, transparency and accountability from elected officials and much more. In general, the big picture was focused on promoting economic opportunity on both sides of the water and African leaders heartily supported doing so, not just in their own countries, but also across sub-Saharan Africa.

While it is also agreed that the continent presents a unique set of challenges, as Angelle Kwemo tells us in “Cameroon – the gateway into the Gulf of Guinea region,”  she also reminds us that “there are many policy challenges and institutional barriers to overcome.” There are, however, also many Africans now enjoying a certain degree of economic liberation and hopefully, these numbers will soon be increased. Yet, we also know, that there remain many who are not. With regard to agriculture, many famers could stand to win big and reap plentiful benefits by increasingly learning to better leverage their resources when entering this new market-driven economy—and especially women.

Africa is booming but in terms of agriculture, the noise seems to be getting a lot louder. Additional proof? The World Bank’s recently released “Growing Africa: Unlocking the Potential of Agribusiness.” This 120 page report predicts that Africa’s agricultural sector could command a US$ 1 trillion presence in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030 if African farmers have increased access to financing, new technology, irrigation and fertilizers, and can upgrade their techniques and practices.

According to the report, “agriculture and agribusiness together account for nearly half of GDP in Africa. Agricultural production is the most important sector in most African countries, averaging 24 percent of GDP for the region.” They see a growing demand in both domestic and global markets, in spite of Africa losing out competitively against countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Thailand.

Yet, realizing even the most basic benefits for Africans such as increased food security and health, (along with income and prosperity) also means realizing the importance and necessity of inclusion for all stakeholders in this vast sea of changes taking place today.

If Agriculture is taking center stage, who’s at the center? Smallerholder farmers. Who’s at the center of the center? Women. Women are the backbone of African agriculture (and of the world, in general). Women are major stakeholders and their voices should be included in the discussion forming the policies that will directly affect them.

A key challenge and recurring theme, and especially for women farmers, has been one of inclusiveness, after all, women farmers do make up 70% of the smallholder farmers in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda as recently reported in AAM by Katie Campbell, a senior policy analyst at ActionAid USA in “Farmers have their Say on Agricultural Investments.”  Ms. Campbell reports on the 2012 annual CAADP Africa Forum, the theme of which was “Farmer Organizations as the Vital Link to Equitable and Sustainable Agriculture Growth in Africa.” Attended by more than 300 participants, from 46 African countries (mostly farmers), it was the first to be hosted entirely by farmer organizations.

Recently CAADP, joined by women from Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda as part of a campaign, encouraged African governments to invest in women smallholder farmers. When referring to women farmers, Campbell reveals that smallholder farmers “usually…do not know how to ask the government for what they deserve, but that with this training they now will be able to advocate to their officials. As one female farmer reported, “We hear of seeds that the government gives out but we haven’t been able to get them. We are now preparing ourselves to be able to engage finally.” Women are reaching out, engaging and asking their elected officials the what, where and how of ways they can succeed.

This is where governments and investors can truly get involved in bringing about the changes they want to see, giving birth to ideas that can bring to fruition to the many initiatives surrounding food insecurity, improvements in health, decreases in poverty and the overall well being of the peoples and the continent. And there is also that extra-added benefit: There happens to be a lot of money to be made in the process.
Another organization working assiduously to help educate and engage women farmers is ACDI/VOCA, a U.S. development organization specializing in broad-based economic growth. As you’ll learn from their article in AAM, “Sell More For MoreTM: A Clear Path For Helping Farmers Access Better Markets and Earn More Income,” [Link to article] ACDI/VOCA shows how crafting this system of innovations engaged impoverished farmers by developing their farming skills and helping them access profitable markets.

Sell More For More™ shows how training 60,000 farmers in Rwanda in post-harvest handling and storage, resulted in quadrupled income for some: “Suddenly, for the first time in her life, Odetta had more money than she needed.”  Sell More For More™ was recently awarded a Best Practice and Innovation award by InterAction, a large alliance of U.S.-based NGOs.Opportunities Industrialization Centers International (OIC International), an organization founded in 1970 and headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, operates both in the U.S. and several African countries and also offers a number of programs which work closely to advance the prosperity of women farmers. Their goals include improving production and sustainability, helping provide women farmers with better seeds, improved livestock and in obtaining the much-needed skills needed to start their own small businesses. As ActionAid USA, OICI and many others firmly believe, African agriculture only stands to benefit through including farmers, farmer organizations, and especially women as true stakeholders into this unfolding dynamic. If investments are truly to succeed, for all involved, inclusion is key if not mission critical.

As Angelle Kwemo, President at A StrategiK Group LLC (and former Legislative Counsel for Congressman Bobby Rush), notes during a recent interview with African Connections, a U.S. Department of State podcast channel, “Ten years ago, nobody had the data to really determine the impact of the role of women in the economy, but it’s clear that if you empower women they have a direct impact on the community. Eighty-five percent of their income goes to the family compared to men, which is only 40 percent.”

Ms. Kwemo also offered the following advice toward further growing women’s roles: “You have to train them, educate them. Many people don’t know this, but 85% percent of the cocoa farmers in Ghana are women. Give them the tools and the technology and help them learn how to manage their farms, their accounts, their budgets and even the micro loans.” There are an abundance of organizations that have initiated and developed powerful and successful programs dedicated to advancing farmers and women. They are zoning in with a laser-like focus on forming new partnerships for future development opportunities with Africa that will help the country further harness its potential and empower the next generation of leaders. It may go without saying, but increased prosperity and well being for women means increased prosperity and well being for all.

How can and will you play a more integral part in this evolving process of increased economic prosperity—for the continent, for women and for all?