Irene Ochem: Using technology to bridge the gender gaps in agribusiness

Dossier

 
by Stephanie Lynch

Irene Ochem's viewpoint

Founder and CEO of Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), Irene Ochem, explains how CTA’s VALUE4HER programme will harness digital technology to support women in agriculture.

Founder and CEO of Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF)

Founder and CEO of Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF)

© AWIEF

AWIEF focuses on building the business capacities of women entrepreneurs in Africa; what are the key skills that help women business leaders to succeed?

Part of what we do at AWIEF is provide skills, training and capacity building to women entrepreneurs. In doing so, we have found that to be a successful business leader, you need to have the right mind-set. It is important to be open to change and learning, persistent with your goals, as well as resilient. Business is very challenging, especially as a young start-up. A lot of women business owners lack self-confidence, so we also try to help women recognise their successes and achievements.

Another important skill, which is good to have from the outset, is financial literacy. Unfortunately, many young businesswomen tend to lack this. We have found that a good deal of women business owners need to know how to better manage their finances and their cash flows. These are just some of the key skills that will allow you to succeed as a business leader.

Why did you decide to partner with CTA to establish the VALUE4HER programme?

The VALUE4HER programme is about supporting women to increase their incomes from agriculture. In Africa, women produce the majority of the food that we eat through their roles as farmers, labourers and entrepreneurs. However, women’s participation in agriculture and agribusiness is usually informal, unrecognised and under-resourced. They lack access to information, technology, productive resources, assets (including land), finance and networks. These are all the ingredients that you need to succeed as an agribusiness owner or leader. Our partnership with CTA to establish the VALUE4HER programme is a great opportunity for us to start to address these gaps. VALUE4HER is meant to strengthen women’s participation in the sector, to promote their efforts as agribusiness owners and leaders, and help them to create more value from the sector. So we are proud to be a partner in this great initiative.

How will the programme use digital technology to break down the barriers that women in agribusiness face?

The VALUE4HER programme is using technology to bridge knowledge and information gaps, to build networks between women in agribusiness, and to facilitate access to markets and finance. We are working now on building a digital platform – an ‘eHub’ – where women can access information and data, network and share experiences, and exchange information to boost their agribusinesses. The digital platform provides information about supply, finance, markets and opportunities in the agribusiness sector. So, for example, if you are looking to supply a certain product and another woman in agribusiness in Kenya knows that someone has a demand for that product, the VALUE4HER platform can help to connect you.

How can policymakers help to ensure women benefit from the opportunities offered by agricultural digitalisation?

When we talk about agricultural digitalisation and the opportunities that are there, I think the first thing that governments have to do is ensure that these opportunities are accessible to women. Women need to be educated and made aware of the opportunities that they can tap into, in terms of digitalisation, in order to build a business. Governments should invest in ICT infrastructure and training programmes for women to benefit from digital technologies. Financial support, to ensure that women can take advantage of the technology that is available, is also important. Ensuring that gender-sensitive policies to improve the accessibility of digital technologies are implemented, and that funding is utilised in the right ways, are some of the areas where policymakers can help to ensure that women benefit adequately and equitably from agricultural digitalisation.