Did you know gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa $95 billion a year? As the U.S. and African trade ministers discussed forging new strategies for U.S.-Africa Trade and Investment at this year’s African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) Forum, we wanted to make sure women were front and center in the formulation of those strategies. With women making up much of the informal agricultural workforce in Africa, improving women’s positions in agricultural value chains is vital for Africa’s economic development. We hosted a dynamic panel featuring USAID, Senegal, Shea Yeleen, WEConnect International, Walmart, and the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) to discuss ways to address the barriers women continue to face in Africa’s agricultural sectors. Here’s what you need to know about integrating African women into global value chains:
- Women represent untapped market opportunity. In many African communities, women have their ears to the ground and are in a unique position to identify new opportunities. Women also make most of the buying decisions in a household and invest most of their earnings in social goods, such as health and education. Women give back a good portion of their revenue to the community, hire more women, and serve the community in other ways. It is simply smart to invest in women and it’s why women’s economic empowerment remains a priority for this administration.
- Look along the entire value chain to identify where to make changes. USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment Michelle Bekkering led the panel describing how USAID addresses the barriers women face along the complete value chain. These barriers include a lack of access to financial services, limited property rights and ownership, and lack of access to information and training. The United States continues to work with governments to remove legal and regulatory barriers that prevent women from reaching their full potential. In the case of the world’s largest grocer, Walmart’s Senior Director of Global Government Affairs Sarah Thorn, described how Walmart just doesn’t buy food from women, but has trained 658,000 women farmers over five years in a systems approach that looks at market demand and focuses the training on market access, knowledge, logistics, and packaging.
- Partnerships are key. WEConnect International’s Greta Schettler said it best - “No one will do this alone, together we can cause a tipping point that will benefit all economies.” Integrating women into value chains will require innovative partnerships that need to include influential partners from the government, the private sector, non-profits and civil society. WEConnect International is an alliance of over 80 multinational corporations committed to buying products from women-owned businesses, maintains a database of 7000+ growth oriented women-owned businesses around the world, and provides industry tailored training and capacity building events to connect women-owned businesses to market opportunities. The Global Shea Alliance is another model partnership, which brings together USAID, NGOs, social enterprises, and other development organizations to improve the livelihoods of rural African women and their communities involved in shea value chains.
- Senegal is setting an example. Senegalese Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Momar Diop, co-chaired the panel and described all the work Senegal is doing to bring women into its agricultural value chains. Senegal implemented a capacity-building program to improve competiveness in the mango sector, with a strong focus on women farmers. This program will aid women in harvesting, collecting, and packaging mangoes. Ambassador Diop also pushed for gender-disaggregated data to inform policies and described how Senegal is looking at how to increase access to production technology and production inputsfor women farmers.
- The journey of a Togolese woman agro-entrepreneur. Director of Togolese agriculture company, Minagro Group and participant in this year’s AWEP program Amina Azia Ouro Agoro described her journey developing a business that transforms cassava and plantains into flour. Minagro Group operates in five regions in Togo, exports to Burkina Faso, Senegal, and the UK, and has hired 130 women. With the help of partnerships with Togolese agriculture research institutions, Minagro Group was able to eliminate 35 percent of the waste that is typical with transforming such products into flour. Amina has also learned to work with women at all stages of the production process ensure quality end materials.She has also developed a platform mobilizing women from different sectors to create a collective one-stop buying center.
- Know your worth. CEO and Founder of Shea Yeleen, Rahama Wright, described her work partnering with 14 women-led shea cooperatives in Northern Ghana, comprising of 800 women, to educate them on the true value of their products on the global market. Harvested almost exclusively by women, these cooperatives process raw shea that Rahama uses to make and sell luxury shea products to major U.S. retailors. Traditionally used as a vegetable fat for cooking or as a moisturizer, the shea industry has ballooned into a multi-billion dollar global industry. Oftentimes, women are unaware of the true value of such products on the global market. For this reason, Rahama makes it a mission to bring women from Ghana to the United States to witness what their finished products look like on a shelf in a U.S. store.
Women are the backbones of African agriculture and when they are empowered to fully participate in the marketplace, they can drastically improve their communities, their countries, and our global economy. We want to continue to build networks and partnerships that will help women identify new opportunities and provide them with the knowledge on how they can successfully integrate into the global economy.
About the Author: Christina Hardaway serves as a Gender, Health, and Entrepreneurship Officer, in the Bureau of African Affairs' Office of Economic and Regional Affairs.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.
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