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The potential for women to tap into Africa’s free trade area

Trade and Marketing

VALUE4HER trainee, Nkatha, received training in business management to develop her agrovet store where she stocks pesticide products

© Beatrice Nkatha


Market opportunities

New initiatives are emerging to empower women traders and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the increased border trade and reduced tariffs as a result of the operationalised Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Despite accounting for two-thirds of the agricultural workforce and growing 70% of all food produced on the continent, most African women are stuck at the primary stages of production and carry out just 10% of basic food processing. This cuts them off from the benefits of value addition, including increased markets and incomes.

The women who do manage to venture into trade do so informally, even as they cross beyond their country borders, with studies indicating that women represent up to 70% of informal traders across sub-Saharan Africa. This, despite the tough informal environment occasioned by stringent border processes, including high clearance fees for goods, long procedures of obtaining documents, and gender-based harassment and corruption. However, AfCFTA provides a chance for women to move into formal markets for high value crops, opening the doors to a combined and diversified consumer base of more than 1.2 billion people.

Nkatha has expanded her sorghum business to become one of the largest suppliers in Kenya

Nkatha has expanded her sorghum business to become one of the largest suppliers in Kenya

© Beatrice Nkatha

Training in trade

The declaration by member states to the trade agreement, to reduce tariffs on 90% of goods traded on the continent, is set to herald increased markets for women traders as demand for raw products intensifies. Yet, even with the numerous new opportunities presented by the implementation of the world’s largest single market, women entrepreneurs continue to face capacity and market access challenges, including a lack of finances to grow their businesses, and training to make the most of these markets. These gaps hinder women from fully reaping the benefits of AfCFTA. However, initiatives are underway to assist women-led businesses in accessing the new trade regime.

VALUE4HER, launched in July 2018, is one such initiative. Funded by CTA and implemented by the African Women Agribusiness Network Afrika (AWAN-Afrika) and the Africa Women Entrepreneurship and Innovation Forum, VALUE4HER has been training women traders on four areas of scaling-up their businesses. These include financial inclusion, market access, quality control and agri-tech. The trainings take the format of seminars, business-to-business fairs, master classes and matchmaking sessions. Specific subjects cover branding and product packaging for various markets, methods to facilitate traceability of produce to meet export market requirements, and the institutions to approach to access business finance.

“The level of graduation from primary production, to running market-led agriculture businesses among African women is still very slow. The idea of the project is therefore to create a network of African women entrepreneurs in agriculture who are able to galvanise their supply chains and pull together their resources, their agricultural experiences and expertise in order to move agricultural products and reach markets efficiently and cheaply,” says Sabdiyo Dido, senior technical advisor on value chains and agribusiness at CTA.

A boost for women-led businesses

Amina Farah is the founder of Khayraad Development Association in Somaliland and is a beneficiary of the VALUE4HER project. Farah, who has run a fish business since 2004, received training from AWAN-Afrika on the benefits of adding value and expanding to neighbouring markets when she joined the organisation in 2008. As a result, she ventured into the fish drying business in 2010 and now exports dried sardines and yellow fin tuna to Ethiopia, Rwanda, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. To satisfy growing demand, she has also started building her own boats, which saves her the cost of hiring fishing boats and increases her fish stock.

From selling 0.5 t of fish per week before the project at €4/kg, she now sells up to 5 t of fish each week with 1 kg fetching €10. “I also don’t have to worry about the shelf life because the [dried] fish can go for months while maintaining the same quality,” she says.

Beatrice Nkatha, another VALUE4HER trainee, has been running a sorghum farm in eastern Kenya for 10 years. She started with 40 out-growers who were earning €0.15/kg. Since joining AWAN Afrika and being trained on business management and market access, she has expanded her outgrower network to 14,000 farmers who now earn €0.30/kg. Through this expansion, Nkatha is helping to reduce poverty in her area and has seen her business become one of the largest suppliers to East African Breweries Limited, Kenya’s largest brewery company.

Digitising the network

To leverage the impacts of the project and open up women’s businesses to more markets, a digital platform known as ‘Value4Her Connect’ was officially unveiled by the initiative in June 2019. The online marketplace allows women traders to create their business profiles, showcase what they sell, and learn from their peers. It has already attracted more than 400 members. Notable components of the platform include a Women2Women forum that provides an avenue for women to connect, trade and exchange information, and an information section that highlights market entry requirements for produce.

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