AGRA Linking Women Businesses to Enhance Their Participation in Agrifood Markets
This post was written by Sabdiyo Dido Bashuna, head of Gender and Inclusiveness, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Enhancing women’s equitable access to agricultural resources and entrepreneurial benefits lies at the heart of the gender and inclusivity strategy of AGRA. Constituting nearly 50% of Africa’s agricultural labor force and one-third of small businesses, a majority of which are agro-based, women are an important pillar of the continent’s food system transformation, as active agents of change.
AGRA’s VALUE4HER initiative aims to reduce barriers to entry for women enterprises to high-value agrifood markets and financing, while building their business leadership capabilities and networks, through voice and collective agency. According to the World Bank (2019), women continue to experience far greater constraints than men in establishing, operating and growing businesses. This results in disparity in profitability of up to 34% between enterprises led by women and those by men. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation, affecting women-owned agri-small and medium enterprises (SMEs) disproportionately, and exacerbating existing structural, economic, social and technological inequalities that women face as they struggle with multiple societal roles.
Women to Women (WOW) Supply Chain Linkages
In recognition of this special need, AGRA — under its VALUE4HER initiative — designed the WOW Supply Chain program (also known as the WOW program). WOW is an innovative pilot program aimed at incubating women-inclusive supply chain networks by expanding and diversifying their agripreneurship base to include female micro-entrepreneurs. The program provides support through a matching grant to existing women’s agri-SMEs to try out new ideas, innovations and ventures by taking on the risk of new suppliers of staple food crops who are women in microenterprise. Through a competitive process, a total of 20 anchor women agrifood companies with the best inclusive supply chain ideas and/or special purpose products, such as nutritious food trade, were selected to participate in the program.
Each of these companies bring on board a minimum of 20 additional women microenterprises within their supply chains, offering them additional coaching and mentorship support from the anchor businesses. In total, about 400 women supply networks have been created through this initiative.
Whereas this program is at early implementation stage, preliminary lessons are already emerging:
- Ease of interaction between female entrepreneurs ushered the program into implementation fairly quickly. With this program built on the rationale for women’s socio networks for knowledge transfer, the enthusiasm with which the women-led companies took on the new challenge of connecting with smaller women enterprises was noteworthy.
- The report on training women chili farmers in Rwanda clearly highlights how these networks could become an entry for technology transfer. The agronomic practices being promoted and the learning environment make it easier for women to learn and apply. With a ready buyer, there is incentive to adopt the promoted agronomic practices for chili farming.
- AGRA is closely monitoring the results of this pilot program using a research methodology designed in partnership with the CGIAR Gender Platform. Some of the key questions under investigation are:
- The extent to which women supply networks contribute to knowledge transfer and insights on women-to-women market linkages (learning from each other, training programs).
- The extent to which women supply networks facilitate mentoring support between female entrepreneurs to trigger business growth ambitions (perception toward business).
- The extent to which these business relationships foster new market opportunities for female entrepreneurs (business growth).
- The extent to which these business networks empower the women involved — individually and collective agency, amongst others.
The WOW program builds on women’s socio networks to create business linkages for female micro-entrepreneurs, building their capacity to operate within formal supply chains of companies led by women. It is evident from preliminary activities of the program that these supply networks have a potential pull factor for women’s micro businesses and provide an avenue for learning. The learnings, as well as technical and personal growth journeys of participating businesses, are being documented and will be published in close partnership with the CGIAR Gender Platform.