African Women at the Forefront of Agriculture

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Ify Umunna

Amina Rashad, founder of Get Your Glow (Egypt), Khady Diop, CEO of WIN Industries (Senegal), Angel Adelaja-Kuye Founder of Fresh Direct (Nigeria) and Hadija Jabir, CEO of Eat Fresh (Tanzania); from Egypt to South Africa, Senegal to Kenya, African female entrepreneurs are redefining agriculture, often harnessing the rapid growth of technology across the globe in doing so. Despite the obvious challenges in starting and sustaining a business, coupled with social and institutional obstacles that come with being a female entrepreneur, there are women across Africa that overcame barriers and successfully launched ventures that have redefined the way we see and do agriculture today.  

A decade after Ghana experienced its largest avian flu outbreak that ravished the poultry industry and eliminated more than 90% of the country’s poultry, Alimah Bawah, co-founder of CowTribe, aims to rejuvenate the industry by providing veterinary services to the last mile farmer. Born into a smallholder community, Alima understands the need for inexpensive, adequate animal healthcare for rural farmers. As such, CowTribe provides on-demand vaccinations and veterinary services to rural farmers across the northern regions of Ghana. In what she describes as “the uber for vets,” CowTribe uses a pay-as-you-go and subscription plan, both of which are accessible from a mobile phone, that allows farmers to pay for substantially cheaper medical supplies and services upon delivery. With over 31,000 subscribed farmers, Alimah is actualizing her dream of democratizing animal healthcare. 

South Africa’s Chirene Jelbert had over 10 years experience working in the corporate world. One day, she decided to leave her job and address four key issues she experienced in her line of work; food waste, lack of domestic market support, infrastructure and opportunity. Her desire to use crops in its entirety and create suitable packaging to preserve the product saw her launch C-Fruit in 2017, a trading business that grows, sources, stages and distributes berries. Chirene’s products can be found in major retail outlets throughout South Africa.    

In Kenya, Su Kahumbu Stephanou is spearheading iCow, a text and voice-based mobile phone application for small-scale dairy farmers. Now in its tenth year, the app serves as a ‘tech-midwife’ providing a range of farm services and information including data on cow gestation period and best practices. iCow identifies nearby vets and artificial insemination providers based on the location of the user. With easy registration, offline functionality, and multiple local language options rendered for all mobile phones, iCow is easily accessible to underserved small-scale farmers. Su’s passion for uplifting smallholder communities, realized through the iCow app, is giving hundreds of thousands of Kenyan farmers the opportunity to level the playing field between rural African farmers and the big players in one of Africa’s largest dairy industry.

With a single mission of changing the youth’s eating habits in Zambia, Java Foods’ founder and CEO, Monica Musonda, created a food processing company that provides nutritious and affordable quick-and-easy meals, sourced from local produce. Today, Java Foods has a range of nutritious products aimed at tackling malnutrition in Southern Africa. Her products can be found throughout the southern region. 

There are more success stories across the continent, but not enough. In fact, the vast majority of women engaged in agriculture struggle to access inputs, finance and other tools needed to effectively participate in the sector. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2019 report on Women’s Market Inclusion sheds light on the shocking statistics. For instance, in Ethiopia, only 9% of women have access to credit loans from financial institutions. In Tanzania, only 34% of women have access to formal markets to sell their products, and while Nigerian women make up 30% of the agriculture labour force, on average they only earn 10% of their income from production and own 1% of the land they use. Holistically, female employment in agriculture has steadily declined over the decades from 43% in 1992, to 39% in 2000, and just 27% in 2019 according to The World Bank.   

In order for more women to successfully enter and thrive in agribusiness, these barriers need to be systemically addressed. Another female entrepreneur in the sector has created a platform that hopes to address some of these issues. Nigeria’s Ndidi Nwuneli (MFR) is the co-founder and managing partner of Sahel Consulting, a management consulting firm focused on transforming the agriculture and nutrition landscape in Africa. She is also the co-founder of AACE Foods, a food processing and packaging company producing nutritious foods for the West African market. In 2019, she established Nourishingafrica.com, a home for 1 million entrepreneurs transforming the agriculture landscape. The mission of Nourishing Africa, according to its website is to “attract, empower, equip, connect and celebrate over 1 million dynamic and innovative young entrepreneurs who will drive the profitable and sustainable growth of the African agriculture and food landscapes.” The hub serves as a platform for these entrepreneurs to accelerate their work, connect with each other, and celebrate their successes on the continent. The interactive portal includes information about funding, events, African food and chefs, career opportunities, and other resources to develop one’s career in the agri-food industry. 

With the bold vision of a flourishing, sustainable food ecosystem, which leverages agtech and digital innovations, driven by Africa’s vibrant entrepreneurs to ensure that the continent nourishes itself and becomes a net exporter of food by 2050, Nourishing Africa is working with partners, entrepreneurs, and enthusiasts in Africa and beyond to ensure a brighter, more inclusive agriculture and food industry in the future.

Women are a vital part of the agriculture sector. However, it is only through shared determination by all stakeholders, committed to effectively engaging female farmers and entrepreneurs in meaningful ways that impact and growth for women, communities and the sector can be achieved. Africa is poised to be the epicentre of agriculture and food in the next decade, and women should have the opportunity to be at the forefront. 

Ify Umunna is a Research Analyst at Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Limited. Follow Nourishing Africa on Instagram @nourish_africa.

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