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Youth, women hold agribusiness power

Monday August 20 2018
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Women give higher importance to feeding their families and educating their children than men do. FILE PHOTO | NMG

By MICHAEL HAILU

There are two strong arguments — pragmatic and strategic — on why we need to get greater women and youth involvement in agriculture.

Let’s deal with the pragmatic first. Women make up half of the population and provide 40 per cent of the labour in crop production in Africa. Moreover, Africa is a continent of young people — 60 per cent of the population is under 24 years, and 10—12 million young people join the workforce every year. Any way you look at it, that is a lot of people, who have a lot to offer in terms of producing food and fibre.

The more strategic way of looking at it comes back to the old saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” If we focus our development efforts on only men, and especially older farmers, the solutions that we will come up with will be limited. Bring in women and young people, and we open up new horizons.

Women give higher importance to feeding their families and educating their children than men do.

They are also more pragmatic — while men may dream of owning a cow, women will get on with the business of raising sheep, goats or poultry and providing good nutrition for their families and boosting their family income.

Studies have shown that a $10 (Sh1,000) increase in a woman’s income improves the nutrition and health of her children by as much as a $110 (Sh11,000) increase in a man’s income.

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Yet women face numerous barriers to achieving higher income. Across Africa, only 15 per cent of landholders are women, and lack of collateral is at the root of many of their constraints, such as poorer access to education, finance and advisory services. Closing this ‘gender gap’ could increase yields on women-owned farms by 20 to 30 per cent, which could reduce the number of hungry people by 100 to 160 million. And because they bring a different perspective — a screwdriver rather than a hammer — women often come up with innovative solutions that had not occurred to men. Take, for example, Lovin Kobusingye, the founder of the fish processing business Kati Farms Ltd in Uganda. Her idea for fish sausages created a whole new market and reinvigorated fish farming in the country.

USE OF TECHNOLOGY

Likewise, people born since the mid-1990s have never known a world without smartphones, a key technology that is opening up opportunities by giving farmers access to agricultural knowledge and advice, weather forecasts, digital banking and market information.

And these young people are the ones who are tech savvy and can develop these solutions. But like women, they are hampered by lack of opportunities and access to the knowledge, skills and resources they need to take their enthusiasm from idea to successful enterprise.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) has been supporting youth in agriculture through initiatives such as Pitch AgriHack and the Centre’s focus on the use of new technologies such as drones to facilitate agricultural transformation in Africa.

Pitch AgriHack offers young e-agriculture entrepreneurs business training, mentorship, incubation and networking opportunities. This year’s Pitch AgriHack competition focuses on empowering women entrepreneurs in applying ICT innovations in agriculture — the best of both worlds.

More than half of the start-ups that will be pitching their e-agribusinesses to policymakers and potential investors at the African Green Revolution Forum in Rwanda in September are led by women.

And the opportunities offered by Pitch AgriHack are well illustrated by the 2016 winner, Brastorne Enterprises and their mAgri platform, which now has half a million users and 100,000 monthly subscribers in Botswana.

The potential of these approaches is rapidly making its mark, from mobile apps like Hello Tractor, described as “Uber for farmers,” which allows small-scale farmers to hire a tractor or other agricultural machinery, to the use of drones to monitor the health and productivity of tea plantations and other crops across Africa.

Just think how we can transform agriculture and food security across Africa if we bring the power of women and youth to bear on the challenges we face. The future looks bright.

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