Agribusiness has been known to play a quintessential role in the economic development of Africa, accounting for 25% of the continent’s GDP and 70% of employment, according to the International Finance Corporation. With 564 million women around the world working in agriculture, it is apparent that – in their various roles – women have the potential to make significant contributions towards the advancement of the agricultural sector in Africa. Though presented with challenges, the sector is considered a fertile ground for opportunities and innovation, especially for the many women involved. However, it is evident that for the growth and development of agribusiness, more effort needs to be skewed towards levelling the playing field for women and increasing female agribusiness productivity and impact. Some of the ways that this can be done is through capacity building and facilitating collaboration.
Building business acumen
When venturing into business, most people naturally leverage their skills to develop and nurture their business. For instance, in the ICT space, women with IT qualifications may be more likely to use those specific skills in developing their agribusiness to offer an ICT-based service. However, in many cases you may find women in agribusiness with technical or agricultural experience, but limited business expertise, insights and relevant business acumen. This skills gap can lead to the development of unsuccessful and unsustainable business models or ventures, with limited potential or ability to scale.
Capacity building initiatives, through funding and training opportunities, mentorship, and improved access to resources and information, can support women to build more sustainable agribusinesses. Such support can be provided through partnerships with government and large private institutions to not only upskill women, but also unlock various opportunities for scaling their businesses and improving their value offerings, business models or exposure to relevant key players that can facilitate their personal growth, as well as the growth of their business.
An example can be seen in the business I co-founded, Brastorne Enterprises, and the partnerships we have fostered for the support of our flagship mobile platform mAgri. mAgri is a USSD (unstructured supplementary service data) mobile app, which currently has over 300,000 active users and gives farmers access to information, markets, low-cost communication and finance. Our journey to success has been tremendously supported by international organisations, such as CTA and Orange, as well as government organisations in Botswana that work closely with famer groups such as the Ministry of Agriculture.
These organisations have been instrumental in providing us with exposure to various capacity building endeavours, opportunities and skills that have greatly impacted our growth. For example, CTA’s invitation for us to participate in its ICT4Ag workshop and the Social Good Summit in 2017 facilitated the growth of our footprint into additional African countries. This opportunity would have been a lot more difficult to secure had I not been supported through these events as a woman in agribusiness.
Collaboration is key
Coming from a country with a small population, such as Botswana, limited market access tends to be a common problem for women in agribusiness and there is always a desire to expand to more lucrative and profitable international markets. I believe that this is not a problem that is unique to Botswana, but can be seen in various other contexts in different African countries. As a person with a company that thrives on collaborative efforts, I strongly believe that collaboration and partnership formation play a key role in helping female-owned agribusinesses to have more of a lasting impact and improve their access to markets that will help boost the sustainability and growth of their businesses.
In many cases, the different value offerings of women-led agribusinesses can have even more value when combined. There needs to be an acknowledgment of the possibility that women can become each other’s entry points into new and more profitable markets through strategic collaboration to broaden their market access. In addition, a collaborative approach encourages knowledge sharing so that women business leaders learn important market information and other business knowledge from one another. More platforms aimed at business match-making and strengthening linkages, as well as the creation of an environment that nurtures and encourages these valuable symbiotic partnerships, is necessary to support more women in agribusiness to achieve sustainable success.