Women control quite a significant segment of trade in Africa – from the production of agricultural goods that are traded especially in export commodities like cocoa, coffee and horticulture, to cross-border formal and informal trade.
Women are also involved in providing services across borders, such as education, health, and professional services, including accountancy and legal services. Hundreds of thousands of women cross borders in Africa every day to deliver goods from areas where they are relatively cheap to areas in which they are in shorter supply.
The theme, ‘Women in Agribusiness: Practical steps into entrepreneurship,’ makes it clear that Africa requires bold actions both in policy and investments, if the efforts in these areas are to translate into critical mass and large numbers of women successfully and sustainably coming out as entrepreneurs. This sentiment was captured under the theme of the 3rd Conference for Women in Agribusiness.
African women in agribusiness convened at the Durban International Convention Centre, in South Africa to caucus on issues that affect them, as well as to receive training through capacity building sessions tailored to their needs.
The women also participated in an exhibition that was officially opened by Dr Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the NEPAD Agency; Mr Carlos Boldogh, CEO of the Agribusiness Development Agency; Mrs Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Agency’s Director of Programmes, and; Ms Bodil Gudrun Maal from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad).
“Expanded accessible markets is a critical condition for success in building viable and therefore success entrepreneurs. This is an issue, not just for ‘women entrepreneurs’ but important across the continent’s industrialisation ambitions and goals,” Dr Mayaki stated in his key note address.
Following the training received during the 2nd Conference for Women in Agribusiness, held in 2015, a number of the participants have since improved the packaging of their products, attracting more sales and thereby increasing their profits.
Attesting to the value of the training received at the previous Conference for Women in Agribusiness, the woman-owned Kwithu Kitchen enterprise, which adds value to the tomato value chain by creating sauces in various flavours, bottling them and selling them to local supermarkets, maintained that the through the training received, the business is now able to reach wider markets.
Lona Mguni and Lisa Mthethwa, producers of fruit salads, smoothies and distributors of fresh fruits and vegetables, were also participants of the 2015 Conference for Women in Agribusiness. They were invited by the Agribusiness Development Agency but decided to also exhibit their products at the 2017 conference, vouching that the platform has a lot to offer.
“The conference is a platform for marketing, information exchange and networking,” Lisa remarked.
Lona added that the conference also provides space for networking with farmers and others in agribusiness, where import and export links can also be made.
Yoliswa Gumede, founder of Cappeny Estates, a hydroponic strawberry farm, talked of the new range of products that she now has on the market. In addition to supplying stores and the public with fresh strawberries, she produces dried strawberry bars, baked strawberry granola, and strawberry jam. She lauded the Conference for Women in Agribusiness for providing the space for farmers from all over the continent to meet.
“Since we are now looking into expanding our business into the rest of the continent, the conference is useful in that we can interact with people from other countries and learn more about the dynamics in their countries. The conference sessions are also important in that I always find the information shared useful,” she said.
Encouraging the women at the conference, Mrs Estherine Fotabong reiterated that “Women’s capacity to organise and mobilise in taking charge of their own issues provides better changes of them accessing the support they need in order to grow their businesses.”
“The Women in Agribusiness forum is one such forum that addresses some of the challenges that women in agribusiness face, and aims to overcome them as a collective,” she said.