Let’s Eat What We Can and "CAN" What We Cannot

5 mars 2015
Josephine C. Mukuka-Hoste is a Trade, Investment and Regional Integration Consultant, currently working for the African Development Bank (AFDB) in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

International Women’s Day is fast approaching – March 8th 2015, the countdown is on… women all over the world have a “date” with the “world” on March 8th - time to dress to the nines!  They will naturally want to take stock of all the milestones achieved. They will celebrate much love, joy, laughter, success, and share tears, failures, burdens, strife…etc. They will be united – all barriers will be flattened, as they all come together to speak one language of love… “Equality”.

As March 8th looms into view, I can’t help but think, there’s an “itch” I simply have to scratch – the counterintuitive low participation of African women, in the lucrative activities of the agribusiness industry.    Why CAN’T African women producers and exporters “Eat What they Can and CAN What they Cannot”? Hard as they may try, they seem to be stuck in a disempowering “labyrinth” of business mediocrity.

I recently attended a very interactive and intellectually stimulating one-day conference on Women and Agricultural Value Chain Financing. The conference was organized by the South African based New Faces New Voices (NFNV) in partnership with Making Finance Work for Africa and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Attended by policy, development, gender, financial experts as well as agricultural producers and exporters, the conference presented a platform for highly charged views – setting apart demand and supply. The agricultural private sector put forward arguments for lack of access and affordability of agricultural financing with the financial sector citing promoters’ lack of bankability: inability to produce goods competitively, lack of market information and off takers. This absolutely enthralling debate left me, as a panelist, with much food for thought…. What really is the heart of the matter here? What is going on with women in agriculture? What are they producing and what markets are they producing for? Why are they not getting financed? Essentially, why are African women in agriculture watching other people’s lives go by…..?

We are all living in a fast-paced world characterized by global and regional demands of an ever dynamic agricultural high value chain (AHVC) landscape. Spurred by rising incomes, population growth and diverse sophisticated diets, high value agricultural products (HAVCP) are the “cash cow” of the agribusiness industry.  This includes non-staple agricultural crops such as vegetables, fruits, flowers, ornamentals, condiments and spices, the list goes on. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) developing countries will account for a sizeable increment in projected growth in global consumption of meats and crops between the years 2013 – 2022. The share of growth for developing countries, including African countries, is projected at 81% for meat, 83% for grains and oilseeds, and 95 % for cotton. Consequently, these countries together, will account for a whopping 92% of the total increment in world meat imports, 92% of total grain and oilseeds imports, and almost all the world cotton imports!

Just to bring context to the discussion, it is reported that Africa will experience an increase in demand for both local and regional urban food markets. In monetary terms, this means between USD 50 billion and USD 150 billion by 2030. According to a 2014 African Trade Report, African farmers will by 2030, practically have the opportunity to derive potential income to the tune of USD 4.5 billion from international trade and USD 30 billion from domestic and regional cross-border trade. The Africa-focused Future Agriculture Consortium also reports that there are 53 Private Equity Funds in the process of raising funds estimated at USD 5.8 billion, with at least 27 of them focused solely on agriculture. I sit back and think, wow! Certainly very exciting and encouraging news for ALL PLAYERS; in this potentially lucrative business with a growing sea of opportunities…..or so one would assume, imagine, expect…. You name it!

So what then is going on in this billion dollar playing field? Who is GROWING agricultural products, who is “CANNING” them, who is EXPORTING them and who is BUYING them? Let’s start with who is growing agricultural products. It is widely known that African women represent up to 52% of the total population in agriculture, are responsible for approximately 75 % of the agricultural labour, and produce 60% to 80% of the food. Just to be clear, African women are driving productioncreating jobs and feeding the African continent. Hats off to these great and formidable women! They must be running successful agribusiness companies… they must be sustainably integrated in domestic, regional and global HVAVCs… I mean, surely they must have strong business linkages with lead firms and assured markets….. Once again, or so one would assume, imagine, expect…. You name it!

Given their laudable performance upstream, let’s take a look at how African women feature beyond production; across the value chain to processing (“CANNING”) all the way to markets…. the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) reports that Africa’s food losses are valued at over USD 4 billion on an annual basis. These losses are typically due to post-harvest inefficiencies (storage, processing, packaging, transportation and marketing) across the agricultural value chain. At this point one begins to wonder about the plight of the African women – the same women who admirably produce 60% to 80% of the continent’s food.  The annual 4 billion USD in food losses tells us that it is highly probable that African women are not involved in food processing or exporting of HVAP. They are out of the loop, confronted with daunting barriers to entry in the agribusiness playing field. Counterintuitive right? Yes, so we now have a befuddle that simply begs the following questions… how do post-harvest inefficiencies impact African women’s incomes, profit margins and their ability to repay their nearly-impossible-to-access agricultural value chain loans? A few not-so-pleasant things spring to mind… loss of collateral, loss of business, loss of profits and outright, crippling indebtedness to financial institutions – a vicious slippery cycle that perpetuates poverty with no promise of regaining one’s vantage position!

So let’s assume financial institutions decided to play nice and provide affordable, tailored value chain financial products to potentially allow African women to be sustainably integrated in HVAVCs. The lack of off-takers, market intelligence – domestic, regional and global, would still be a hurdle in so far as the women’s bankability is concerned (an issue that was raised repeatedly by financial experts in the conference). Who are the buyers of HVAP and do African women have strong business linkages to buyers or markets? What are the quality and regulatory requirements and do African women have a sound understanding of buyer/importer-mandated standards? Lead buyers or firms typically call the shots in the dynamic landscape of HVAVCs. Exporters are expected to meet stringent Sanitary and Phyto-sanitary (SPS) Measures as well as Quality and Standards. Women producers and exporters in the conference echoed the lack of technical skills, business linkages and market intelligence as major stumbling blocks – even for domestic markets. For domestic and regional markets in particular, transparency on product standards and regulations, is like the “roll of the dice”, they complained – sometimes you win sometimes you lose….

The plot gets thicker… assuming the production, processing and agricultural value chain financing were right, it still leaves the question of quality and efficient transport and logistic services for reliable access to input and output markets. In the agribusiness sector, to be competitive on speed, reliability and transaction costs, improved transportation, logistics and services play a critical role. In Africa, transport costs can account for up to 50-75% of the retail price of goods. In essence, the proportion of the total final product cost accounted for by transport, logistics and services costs along trade transit corridors, is unreasonably high!  In addition, though primal, safety and security is not guaranteed for women exporters. A recent World Bank study revealed that in East Africa female cross-border traders are forced to pay larger bribes than their male counterparts or provide sexual favors to avoid detention by the border guards or confiscation of their goods. My, oh my…..!

The heart of the matter it seems to me, is that while African women are ready to “Eat What They Can and CAN What They Cannot”, they are up against a host of intertwined odds – though not insurmountable if Africa is serious about it, in my opinion. Question is, how can development partners, governments, regional bodies and financial institutions combine efforts to assume authority in the dynamics and trends of HVAVCs and sustainably integrate African women in this playing field? Immediately I want to say eliminate piece-meal and one-size-fits-all type of approaches – they don’t work and never will. African women, from the marginal groups to the missing middle and beyond, are all singing from the same hymn sheet: “Let’s Eat What We Can and “CAN” What We Cannot”…. And I say YES they CAN!   But what do the African business and political leaders say? Are they decisively in on this agenda? My two pennies worth of advice would be to adopt integrated and holistic approaches which seek to address several issues that impact women across the value chain, including, but not limited to: productive capacity, infrastructure and services, credit and financial support, innovation and technology, market intelligence, business linkages to lead firms etc.

Finally I want to say, listen up ladies, March 8th is no regular “date” with an average “Joe”…. Recognize that this is a special virtual workshop – a platform to reiterate theabsurdity of gender-based inequality. So the “date” calls upon you to fully understand the language of “Equality”. Reflect and be clear on what needs to change.Tell your story like it is. Identify the challenging issues in your different walks of life. Demonstrate how they make survival and prosperity seem more unattainable for you, than for your male counterparts. Gear up to teach and move those who hold the “key” to your empowerment. Participate in discussions with business and political leaders to bring innovative tailor-made solutions to your situation. Remember you need to be free from all forms of inequality so that YOU can take your rightful place in society and/or business.


2 commentaire(s)
En qualité d´ancien diplomate français au Bresil Attaché Agricole et consultant de l´UEMOA dans les domaines de l´Agro Energie, j´oeuvre pour la lutte contre la faim; la lutte contre l´exode rural et la création d´emplois ruraux; la production d´électricité verte label social à l´image de notre ex fleuron français du Développement du coton CFDT/ DAGRIS hélas inconsciemment privatisé par Sarkozi !
actuellement au Bresil , la solution des problemes ci dessus explicités passent au travers la cooperation agricole Bresil/ Afrique dans le secteur du développement des terres de savanes, expertise première du Bresil qui a transformé ce Pays em Number one en matiere d´exportation de grains oléagineux ; viandes bovines, porcine et vollaille ainsi que le sucre; café; jus d´Orange; foresterie et biomasse. CHAPEAU le Bresil, notamment disponible a des partenariats publics privés avec les pays freres africains et ouvert aux synergies triangulaires FR/ BR/ AFR
Ecrit le 7 septembre 2015 par : gerard scerb dapex@globo.com 2930

2019: un nouveau jour des femmes approche, une parole diplomatique et 4 ans de silence bien masculin....
Le maximum d'inéquité passe par les femmes...pour quel gain des hommes ? L'absurdité absolue c'est de penser que un progrès agricole, alimentaire et rural puisse survenir s'il n'est d'abord le leur, par elles et pour elles.
Ecrit le 26 février 2019 par : jm bouquery bouquery@noos.fr 3705

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