Personally, I had no idea about agriculture – my background is in international development – but, because I knew the majority of rural women worked in the sector, I set up Mama Rice in 2016 to support them. Most women in Africa are subsistence farmers, but I want to help them have better yields and grow quality crops that they can sell to people like me for a good price. My company supports almost 11,000 women rice farmers in Amolatar district, northern Uganda, to increase their production and achieve financial independence. I provide these young women farmers with production inputs and seeds on credit and offer them a guaranteed market for their produce – this business model makes sense to them and it really seems to be working well.
The benefits of investing in women
My argument for investing more in women in agribusiness stems from my own experience that most women entrepreneurs start their businesses to support other women. As the majority of women in Africa work in the agricultural sector it is important that they have female role models, not only for them to aspire to, but also to serve as mentors who they trust and can seek advice from. So, the more successful women business leaders there are out there, the more support will be available for other ambitious women.
A recent study found that women make up 43% of the labour in agriculture in developing countries; the work along the value chain to produce food from farm to fork is carried out by women. Yet, when it comes to selling and marketing their produce, men often come in and take away all of the profits. That is why investing in women entrepreneurs is the right decision because you know that the money will be invested back into the business and the women, their communities and households will benefit.
Accessing finance and training
However, the biggest challenge that we face as women in agribusiness is access to capital. In many African countries women face issues with collateral; we have difficulties accessing financial services because we don’t legally own any property. In my country, I don’t own anything by law, including my own children. When a woman first sets up an agribusiness and tries to get a loan from the bank, she doesn’t have sufficient collateral to act as a guarantee to allow her to get the money she needs. There is a real need for more inclusive and innovative financing mechanisms that allow women to access credit so that they can establish profitable agribusinesses.
Another important issue that needs to be addressed is training and capacity building. The majority of women who open their own agribusinesses do not have any business experience so they need access to business development services and training. I find that a lot of women-led agribusinesses lack the technology that is available to improve their businesses, as well as the capacity to use it. For example, many women still have to risk carrying the money they make at the market back to their villages. But, if somebody came in to support them and explained how they could receive payment via their mobile phones, it would save them a lot of trouble. So technology, capacity building, business advice services and access to capital are critical elements for women to succeed in agribusiness.
Supporting the most vulnerable
Women are often thought of as a homogenous category, but there are so many different groups of women with different opportunities. A particular concern for me is supporting young women who are marginalised by society, who are not in education and are not married, but are single mothers or have been displaced by war. This group of women often have nothing and they are really a key target for me. Last year I bought just over 700 ha of land, which I distributed among young mothers, whose families would not accommodate them. I gave them about half a hectare each so they could produce crops and provided a ready market which they could sell to Mama Rice. In my experience, these young women often work the hardest and achieve the most because it is everything they have to live for. Land issues are a big problem for young women and, in discussions about the challenges for women in agriculture, we must not forget this category of women who are seen as outcasts within our society.