Africa’s Female Agripreneurs Have A Core Role In Shoring Up Our Food Systems

By Hajia Salamatu Garba -Executive Director- WOFAN

The UN estimates that for every dollar invested into programmes that improve women’s ability to generate income, the wider economy reaps $7 dollars in value created and growth. 

Thus, empowering women is both a moral imperative and an indispensable economic necessity due to its huge dividends. More so in Africa, where we must direct resources towards nurturing female talent and entrepreneurship to support the continent to realise its economic aspirations. 

No understanding of African agriculture can be complete without an honest evaluation of the role women play and the challenges that define their involvement: women comprise around 40% of the continent’s rural workforce. Indeed, in many African state’s women account for over 50% of crop production – Uganda, Tanzania, and Malawi, for example. Many – if not most – of these rural operations are small, highly localised businesses, run by, mostly female, “agripreneurs”.

However, women’s contribution to Africa’s food systems is still not reflected in the opportunities and rewards available to them. Many remain excluded from access to land, finance, training, and support to scale smaller ventures into commercially viable operations. A combination of economic deprivation and structural marginalism has historically deprived many women of the opportunities which could otherwise empower them.

We need to celebrate and promote positive role models to incentivize the young generations to strive to do more and propel the agribusiness sector to another level. We need to encourage and recognize women’s participation in agriculture to make a real impact. 

This is exactly what the Women Agripreneurs of the Year Awards (WAYA) was designed to do, by spotlighting and awarding excelling female agribusiness leaders.  

It was an immense honour to receive Women Agripreneurs of the Year Award (WAYA) in 2021, reflecting WOFAN’s achievements. Founded in 1993 WOFAN is now active in 7 Nigerian states and supports 45,000 members, of which 75% are females, to realise their maximum value and fulfilment from their agricultural efforts. This is through a combination of agribusiness and enterprise development training, synergy building, self-confidence, and health education. The recognition WAYA has given us has been a vital injection of interest, profile, and resources. 

The WAYA award received in 2021 has helped us in WOFAN to implement a programme targeting 100 hard-to-reach, displaced or disadvantaged women and young men. Through a combination of mentorship and in-kind grant, the program recipients have been able to scale their businesses from subsistence roadside informal food vendors to more organized business owners and are collaborating with others, thereby pooling critical experience and resources.

High-profile platforms like WAYA are making a huge difference to the way women are represented in this sector, and how we build our influence. Through WAYA, I have been exposed to a world of fellow female agripreneurs, women from whom I could learn, and with whom I could share my own knowledge and experiences. 

It is a fact that open, honest and free dialogue has been the engine of nearly all human progress and innovation. This principle underpins both WAYA and the work of my organisation. WOFAN brings individuals together, to strengthen their economic and social positions through solidarity and co-operation. Across Nigeria, WOFAN has connected critical stakeholders in the agricultural space, and allowed women to form the kinds of commercial and professional networks which many men can take for granted. 

A key lesson for African development more generally is that there are countless actors pursuing innumerable good, admirable goals, but operating in isolation. It is imperative that the many thousands of individuals, organisations and groups working for positive change in Africa take the time and make the effort to consider who else exists in the same space, and what potential partners are just waiting for an approach.

If individual WAYA recipients can achieve meaningful grassroots change in isolation, then collectively the WAYA alumni has the potential to be transformative. 

This is why I am very excited to hear the stories of the three incredible women who will be unveiled as the 2022 WAYA winners at the AGRF summit in Rwanda. The summit will address African issues from a resolutely African perspective. It is for us women to stake our claim in the issues discussed there and, more importantly, the future of our great continent. 

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