iDE Global

Women economically empowered in three African countries

Women entrepreneurs deliver greater business results

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Salima Lungu Nosiku, 39, remembers what life used to be like

Salima Lungu Nosiku, 39, remembers what life used to be like, waking up in the middle of the night, wondering how she’d pay rent for her store. The mother of two made a living selling agricultural supplies but her store was too small, and sales were slow. 

Then, in 2017, she was recruited by iDE to become a Farm Business Advisor (FBA) – a businessperson who works with small scale farmers, training them how to boost their yields and livelihoods. iDE put Salima in touch with new suppliers, which provided her with products such as high quality seeds and agro-chemicals, often difficult to source in rural areas.

Within a few years, she’d opened two additional stores, where she employed female workers, and increased her clientele from roughly 1,000 to 5,000 farmers. Like many FBAs, she has also provided aggregation services, buying crops such as soya beans, sunflower, maize and cowpeas, in bulk from local producers, who would ordinarily be forced to travel long distances to urban centers to sell their produce. “Unlike many commodity traders in the area, I pay cash when buying crops from farmers,” says Salima. “I also collect the crops from their homesteads.”

The Her Time To Grow project is being implemented in three African countries

About 74 percent of Ethiopia’s farmers live on small farms, with about 67 percent living below the national poverty line. That’s why iDE is building on its many years of expertise when it comes to training FBAs, rolling out a new project that specifically targets women like Salima and her rural clients. Under the landmark Her Time To Grow project, 25,000 women are being targeted across Sub Saharan Africa – in Zambia, Ethiopia and Ghana – during the next three years.

The US$6.4 million ($8.5 million CAD) project, being implemented by iDE and funded by Global Affairs Canada, has been designed to enhance economic empowerment, well-being and inclusive growth by providing support to women involved in agricultural value chains.

Five reasons to focus on women

  • Gender equity is needed for women to realize their fundamental human rights to health, food, and freedom.

Gender norms determine opportunities across the life course… These norms and constructions of power influence whether people … can realize their fundamental human rights, including their rights to health, to safe and nutritious food, and to freedom from hunger. Global Food 50/50 2022 Report

  • Women entrepreneurs deliver greater business results and inclusive growth returns.

Because women-led businesses also tend to employ more women, helping women entrepreneurs also helps create jobs for a broader swath of women. Finally, innovations pioneered by women entrepreneurs tend to disproportionately target and benefit other women, who are often poorly served by solutions designed by and for men. WeFi

  • Women entrepreneurs are key contributors to climate adaptation and resilience strategies.

Women, universally in charge of cooking, heating and lighting the home, are the critical pivot for scaled adoption of solar and other green, domestic energy solutions. The millions of women in the agricultural sector, too, are key to the scaling of sustainable agricultural practices and the resilience of our global food supply. (Women4ClimateAction-report_2019.pdf)

  • Women make higher investments than men in long-term health, education, and wellbeing outcomes for children, other women, and communities as a whole.

Women are more likely to invest their earnings in their children’s health and education, improving their own children’s prospects while expanding the human capital in a country. WeFi

  • Women-led businesses are underfunded when we should be investing more in women.

Median capital amounts available to female agriculturists are two times lower than what is provided to their male counterparts. A lack of property rights among women, together with the absence of credit history, has prevented female farmers, as well as women-owned businesses, from accessing loans. (WEF 2019, We-Fi 2022, World Bank 2019)

iDE Canada CEO Stuart Taylor said Her Time To Grow aims to achieve significant gains in women’s economic empowerment in the three project locations. Specifically, the project will focus on recruiting and training additional female FBAs. These FBAs function as intermediaries between producers operating in informal markets and buyers and sellers operating in formal markets, including dealers of agricultural supplies and traders.

“We have seen that female FBAs are often more effective at reaching female clients, as cultural constraints do not inhibit one-on-one conversations at clients’ homes or in the field. This can be a challenge for male FBAs, who often communicate solely with the adult male of the household,” says Taylor.

Taylor says training women in climate-smart agricultural practices, including hands-on training and field demonstrations, will provide women with the technical know-how to undertake a range of income-generating activities.

“Training in saving, business and bookkeeping skills will provide women with knowledge on how to save, and how to calculate and maximize their profitability. Training on nutrition and food preparation will ensure women maximize the health and nutrition benefits they receive from food they produce or purchase using their increased income.”

"Working with women has made me realize how important it is to empower them. If you empower a woman, you are not only empowering one person but the entire community.” -- Salima Lungu Nosiku.

Salima Lungu Nosiku is proud of her agro-inputs store

The project will also help establish additional community-level loan-making groups – known as Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) – which will serve as a channel for training activities, create a venue for saving, and for promoting community and household level dialogue around gender norms. VSLAs provide microfinancing to women in rural areas – where traditional banks often don’t operate – paying for supplies or workers to help with the harvest. 

Taylor says combining the impact of structured market connections created by women, for women, using iDE’s FBA approach, along with the demonstrated impact of savings and loans groups, means that household productivity and profitability is expected to increase.

“Women will gain increased autonomy to make decisions about agricultural production, increased access to and control of productive resources, increased control over their incomes, increased leadership in their communities, and increased value-for-time-spent on agricultural activities.”

Salima herself is a major proponent of empowering women, providing support to one of her employees to study for a diploma in agriculture, enhancing the expertise offered to farmers who frequent her businesses. “I have employed three female attendants in each of my stores because women are committed, dedicated and trustworthy. Working with women has made me realize how important it is to empower them. If you empower a woman, you are not only empowering one person but the entire community.”

Lessons learned from new project to be shared

iDE is implementing the project in three countries, building on our work, which has successfully boosted incomes and empowered women. To further increase our expertise, lessons learned from the new project will be distributed under a global knowledge-sharing and results acceleration effort to monitor progress, test assumptions and course-correct. So far, in the three countries, iDE has: 

  • Partnered with Ethiopian communities to diversify and increase agricultural production as a means to boost income levels. Farmers gained access to efficient irrigation equipment as well as high-yield, stress-tolerant seeds for growing crops. In 2022, 1,586 clients were supported with training, loans, and other forms of assistance.
  • Trained more than 300 FBAs across Zambia who leverage existing market players, such as suppliers and transporters, to increase small farm productivity, improving access to inputs for farmers and building links with commercial markets.
  • Used an FBA mode in Ghana to impact 150 farmers. We recruited a group of FBAs who have increased farmer access to input and output markets, technologies and techniques, increasing farmer incomes.