Beatrice Gakuba is the executive director of the African Women Agribusiness Network Afrika (AWAN-AFRIKA), a nonprofit focused on providing women-owned agribusinesses access to sustainable markets, trade information, innovative financing solutions and technologies
Newspage: You are a successful agribusiness entrepreneur; what opportunities and challenges are out there for African women in agribusiness?
Gakuba: There are lots of opportunities yet, many people don’t know about them. At AWAN-Afrika, we work with women who own registered agribusiness with a minimum capital of $20, 000, including small and medium enterprises. Although we may still consider agribusiness with a minimum capital of $20, 000 as small, they are not small by African standards. Entrepreneurs are risk takers. That is the definition of an entrepreneur – you take risks and dare to do what no one has done before. In our network, every challenge is an opportunity.
I have been a food security and agribusiness expert for about twenty years now. Based on a study on women empowerment through agriculture and agribusiness, Africa has changed in the last forty years – we now have young women in agribusiness. For instance, in our network, we have young people who are exporting avocados; some are taking up opportunities in the blue economy, organic farming, and other spaces across different agribusiness value chains.
Therefore, our propositional bet is the youths are the ones that are going to change the face of agriculture in Africa – they bring in new ideas; are taking risks, embracing new technologies. Challenges have now become opportunities across the value chains. There are now so many opportunities for our young people, in supply (from farm to market), logistics, processing, packaging and e-commerce. Consequently, I am very excited about what is happening; we are bringing a positive wave of change into the agricultural sector in Africa.
Newspage: Between June 12 and 13, AWAN-Afrika held its first-ever continental conference themed: ‘The Role of Women and Youth in Agribusiness for Inclusive Market Transformation across Africa.’ What did you aimed to achieve with it and what was the outcome?
Gakuba: The main objective of the first-ever AWAN-Afrika conference was increased awareness and advocacy for market opportunities and trade facilitation among our members. We had in attendance 160 participants from across 21 countries in Africa including representatives of 13 organizations in agricultural financing. On day one of the conference, we had three different masterclasses on financial inclusion, market linkages, and trade facilitation. We also had a session on quality assurance and quality control, followed by a hackathon session on design thinking for agricultural technology.
On day-two of the conference, we launched the first digital platform for women in agribusiness in Africa tagged: ‘#Value4HerConnect.’ It is a platform for business-to-business (B2B) deal making among African women in agribusiness that seeks to connect women businesses with exporters, investors, agri-tech companies, and other value chain actors. The project is being financed by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union. We already have 400 registered women on the platform. It will provide market access and serve as a repository for information and everything to do with market linkages, impact investments, financial packages, and trade regulations.
The conference was highly successful; with delegates from different countries, it was an opportunity for the participants to interact and connect with one another. However, it is still challenging for someone from Namibia to trade in Ivory Coast, for instance. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has its own trade rules and regulations while the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has its own as well.
So, how do we harmonize [these regulations]? I think we will get the answers as we move forward after the launch of the African Union`s African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) in Niamey, Niger, in July. For our youths and women to take advantage of the African free trade area, we have to prepare them. Therefore, we leveraged the conference platform to bring together donors and governments that will help mobilize resources in order to prepare our young people with the necessary support to take advantage of the market.
Newspage: Women farmers and agripreneurs in Africa are faced with a catalogue of challenges including lack of access to agricultural inputs, finance, information and agricultural technologies. What are you doing to help women overcome these challenges?
Gakuba: Most of our members use smart phones. For that reason, we use WhatsApp as a platform to share information; the internet has changed the way we address problems and communicate. Thus, smart phones are helping to enhance agribusinesses. We have many young people in our network that we call ‘AWAN-Under30.’ They are our champions and youth motivators – our tweets on June 12 [the first day of the AWAN-Afrika conference] were trending on Twitter, telling the world: ‘agriculture is cool!’
Currently, the average age of a farmer (male or female) in Africa is 55 years. Therefore, at AWAN-Afrika, we are focusing on changing the mindset of young people so they can begin to see agriculture as a profit-making venture; so as to replace the old farmers with young people. Agriculture is the only sector that can create employment for our youths.
The challenges we have are sociocultural, if we can change our thinking on accessibility to land by advocating for parents to begin to give out their farmlands to women and youths; that alone will make a huge positive impact in the way agriculture and agribusiness is practiced in Africa. We all have to advocate for it: the media, traditional leaders, religious leaders. Access to land is critical; changing mindsets alone will not bring the needed change.
Newspage: How can we tackle the issue the issue of gender prejudice and cultural stereotypes around the practice of agriculture in Africa?
Gakuba: AWAN-Afrika cares about these issues. Although it is challenging for women in Africa you cannot talk about agriculture without involving women, which is why AWAN-Afrika is focused on ensuring women in agribusiness get the needed attention from governments and development partners. Although women are not treated as equals of their male counterparts in the sector, they provide 70% of agricultural labor in Africa. We have to tackle barriers such as access to markets and finance because the economy will not grow unless and until we pay attention to women.
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