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A Personal Report on the FAO-IAFN SME Women’s Accelerator Programme Launch

Fatou Manneh is an entrepreneur who specializes in entrepreneurship and climate change mitigation training as a professional career. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies and Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from the Università Degli Studi Di Milano Bicocca in Italy. Currently, I am a UNCTAD Certified National Master Trainer at the Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC) in The Gambia and a Climate Change Mitigation Trainer with Buzz Women. I focus on training women, youth, farmers, present and aspiring entrepreneurs on entrepreneurial behavioural programmers using the UNCTAD Empretec Model, to impact lives for sustainable business growth.

I run an enterprise called Jelmah Herbella that processes locally grown herbs and cereals into teas, herbal seasoning, honey, and baby food using a blended recipe that gives customers a unique taste and healthy diet. I work with farmers to produce organic herbs on a large scale through a farmer’s platform that brings together groups of women farmers under one umbrella. As a result, I encourage women to engage in permaculture, grow herbs in the backyard using car tires, turn sacks, broken pans, and sell (herbs & cereal crops) to a reliable market to earn extra income.

Arrived in Rome, Italy the 18th of October 2022

I seek to ensure a sustainable health community through organic farming. My enterprise contributes to unleashing the growth potentials of rural women and farmers as it contributes to the SDG 13 on climate action through climate friendly farming.  During the World Food Forum, I got to travel to Rome, Italy through the support of Food and Agricultural Organization and International Agri-Food Network (FAO-IAFN). I had been called upon to participate at the launch of the Accelerator Mentorship programme as a speaker. This allowed me an opportunity to also learn from my fellow youth and build linkages with relevant stakeholders during the Science and Innovation Week of 17th to the 22nd of October 2022.

While in Rome, I met with different institution representatives and individual players all geared towards building a sustainable food system and breaking barriers of inequalities in the agricultural value chain through Science and Technology.

Meeting with (IAFN) secretariat based in Rome, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 19th of October 2022.

The delegation was led by Rosemary Navarrete, a Stakeholder engagement Manager at IAFN.

The team met with the following officials from the IAFN, FAO, and other stakeholders at the FAO secretariat:

  • Robynne Anderson
  • Michael Keller
  • Janessa
  • Rosemary Navarrete

Robynne Anderson, Director General of the IAFN, explained the reason for meeting which was to get more women entrepreneurs to participate in the accelerator mentorship. This was aimed at developing the agricultural value chain in Africa and working with women entrepreneurs in the Agricultural sector from farm to fork.

The IAFN officials informed the team that the purpose was specifically for the accelerator mentorship launch for women-led Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) in Africa. The team was able to join the ongoing sessions in different rooms within the FAO building and provided the following updates to the team in terms of the investment opportunity to be discussed with the investors we were meeting.

The IAFN mission is to deliver the private sectors’ commitment to addressing global poverty and food security. This is geared towards understanding opportunities availed to women farmers within Africa and initiate collaborations with actors in continent through the International Agri-Food Network-Private Sector Mechanism (IAFN-PSM). IAFN coordinates the Private Sector Mechanism at the FAO, which is an open platform providing a permanent seat for private enterprises right across the agri-food value chain, from farmers, to input providers, cooperatives, processors, Small and Medium Enterprise (SMEs) and food companies.

The objective of the mentorship program is to:

  • Help women entrepreneurs grow their business and become business leaders within the African continent and beyond.
  • Foster women entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa with one-to-one mentorship from a panel of experts – who are leading women entrepreneurs from around the globe.
  • Use proofing structure through which participants can interact and learn from the expert panel of mentors.
  • Provide the mentees with access to knowledge and tools necessary to grow their enterprises and adapt to an ever-changing marketplace.
  • Access links and tools developed by FAO, IAFN and other institutions to support women entrepreneurs. This can help promote trade in products and services within the continent and beyond.

The IAFN secretariat organised the launch of the IAFN-FAO Women-led SME in Africa on the 22nd of October 2022. This will help create market access for businesses around the continent including boosting agricultural productivity. The project team will work closely with the mentees and mentors of International Agri-Food Network together with FAO, to provide the necessary support and insights derived from the progress the mentees will make for replicating such a mentorship program next year. In a nutshell, we should be an exemplary cohort of mentees that will lay the foundation for such a project to continue in subsequent years.

Meeting with OCP Group Team – Morocco

We met OCP Group – a leading and experienced global provider of phosphate and its derivatives based in Morocco. With a presence in 18 countries, as well as 12 subsidiaries and employees representing 17 nationalities, OCP Group is contributing to the sustainable development of African agriculture. Jihane Ajijti noted that they are the leading manufacturers of phosphate, and they develop fertilizer solutions customized to local conditions and crop needs. She also explained that they also work with many partners such as African governments, non-profits, and private enterprises to connect farmers to the agricultural services, knowledge, and resources they need to prosper.

OCP Group is proud to be a multicultural African company working hand-in-hand with farmers and partners across the continent. Jihane went further to elaborate their support to some African countries during the Covid-19 pandemic. She noted that OCP understands the diversity and complex needs of Africa’s soils, and they are committed to offering the right fertilizer products at the right time, in the right place, and at the right price, to solve Africa’s problem in the agricultural sector.

Meeting with National HEMP Chairman Geoff Whaling

The meeting was held at a Japanese Restaurant near FAO Building office in Rome and we met the Chairman, Mr. Geoff Whaling. Following introductions, Mr.  Geoff Whaling shared the benefit of HEMP as critical asset on their journey to decarbonization. He further explained every polluting technology that has been phased out and noted that new clean tech must emerge. He expressed his belief that Hemp is the solution to this new clean tech.  He emphasised the vital role Hemp plays in green construction, plant-based proteins, bioplastics and the light weighting and powering of the electrified future of mobility. Hemp, he believes can be a substitute for plastic materials if investigated.

He mentioned that they have provided advisory to major cooperatives, and he is willing to connect entrepreneurs or farmers to funding avenues if they can convince their governments to introduce Hemp as a national crop while having all the value chain players within one unit. In addition to that, he further explains that Hemp can be used for so many finished products such as animal feed, fuel, packing papers, textiles, plant base nutrition, animal care construction and the list goes on.

In his final remarks he made mention of few countries that recognised Hemp as a solution to the world problem by the government of those countries. However, he said certification will be an emphasis for those who want to venture into Hemp to legalize it, since everyone is not agreed with the National Hemp Association. He however, mentioned the challenges with implementation and noted that this can be tackled by entrepreneurs globally.

In conclusion, I quote “the internet is awash in information on industrial side of the hemp crop; some true, some exaggerated, and some outright false. The truth is it’s an ideal biobased input for a range of major industries and is set to triple in market value to almost $15 billion in the next five years. In the long-run, hemp represents the biggest value proposition of cannabis plants’’.

FAO Science and Innovation Forum on the Topic Eliminating Inequalities in Accessing Science and Technology and Innovation across Value Chains

His excellence Gabriel Ferrero the Chair of UN Committee on World Food Security and the Kingdom of Spain.

Before the panel discussion we had the opening statement byHis excellency Gabriel Ferrero the Chair of UN Committee on World Food Security and the Kingdom of Spain. And in his statement, he made mention that food system has become a melting pot for science and innovation, and so he believed we have a sector in which technology can address the enormous challenge we face in the agricultural value chain in the food system.

As of today, the world produces 150% more food in just 13% more land compared to 1960, which is because of innovation in production in the food system. The food can feed 10 billion people in a world of just over 7 billion people. Meanwhile, we need to understand this potential vs the actual impact. Which is to look at the forest cover and not just the trees. It means looking the big picture in line with the 2030 agenda, the Paris agreement, and the SDGs. This entails eradicating poverty, women empowerment, diminishing inequalities, preserving our ecosystem, climate action, income for small holder farmers etc. He further elaborated that our food system still faces multiple interconnected challenges like never before and we all know we are far from achieving the sustainable development goals than a year or five years ago. What we need is equality and ethics-driven policies that govern innovation and the food system.

He identified seven principles for innovative policies and effective governance at the heart of Food System inclusion and sustainability:

  • The first is to innovate while protecting and respecting the right of those involved especially the most vulnerable. Effective governance must include inclusive decision making by diverse stakeholders such as the small holder farmers, women, youth indigenous communities, consumers, entrepreneurs, and others.
  • Innovating for food system transformation. This ensures responsible adoption of sustainable approaches with positive economic, social, and environmental impacts.
  • Encouraging open access solutions that involve diverse knowledge sharing and collective action.
  • Reshaping the value chain and market to reduce inherent biases to ensure equitable access including consumer protection.
  • Governments should set up appropriate policies and incentives to promote universal access to technology.
  • Innovate to align food systems with those of other sectors such as health, environment, consumer protection, education, extension services, etc.
  • Scale up solutions that build the resilience of food system through innovation.
Panel Discussion on Eliminating Inequalities in Accessing Science and Technology and Innovation across Value Chains

Among the panelists we had:

  1. H.E. Emmanuel Charles Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Republic of Haiti to FAO
  2. Professor Nitya Raul Director of ethonourish for Sustainable Development University of East Angelia
  3. Daniel Gustafson, Former Deputy Director General to the FAO
  4. Oluyemisi Iranloye, Managing Director and CEO of Psaltry International Company Limited
  5. Mashumba Ruramiso, CEO of Mandi Africa

His excellency Ambassador Charles elaborated on the challenges the small holder farmers in Haiti face in terms of access to science and innovation, and what can be done to address the situation.  In his response, he elaborated on the issues of cultural differences, land tenure and women inheritance as key barriers to such innovation.

Professor Nitya noted the barriers women and indigenous farmers face include inequalities in the agri-food system. For instance, the non-recognition of the labour contribution of women to both production which plays a huge role in the farm to fork value chain. She further noted that women are paid poorly for their labour, and they have little control over this. She also emphasised the issue of land tenure in India which has a knock-on effect in terms of production.

Ruramiso said that we do not need to learn from scratch if we can learn from others. She emphasized the importance of exchanging lessons learned and best practices among aspiring farmers and women agri-preneurs. She mentioned that we cannot have women using hand hoes to plant crops in this era of advancement in technology. She also emphasized the need to encourage youth and women to engage in farming as a business by portraying a good image.

Oluyemisi Iranloye shared on the need to develop policies that address the inequalities gap that exist between rural intelligent girls and those in the urban centre. This is to ensure that everyone can have the same opportunity to practice science and engineering regardless of where they come from. She closed her statement by saying farmers’ daughters also deserve to be scientists. “Let’s provide the platform for them to be scientist.”

Daniel noted that the transformation of agri-food system through agricultural innovation for family farms has grown more presently than it was in 2018 going back. He also noted that the hero approach that relates to food insecurity was at the bottom end of the trend but has been on the rise since pre Covid.

He explained the need for science, innovation and policies towards institutional development. He also noted the combination of social protection programs and agriculture as great transformation. He gave an example of India, where they started farmers were not paid well. This has since changed as this became a national issue that was taken up. In his conclusion, he said that the recommendations from the 2018 symposium had not been implemented and these were still valid for exploration.

The Launching of the Accelerator Mentorship by FAO-IAFN

Group photo taken after the launch of the Accelerator Mentorship Program

Smallholder farmers and small and medium enterprise (SMEs) – particularly those headed by women – face numerous challenges in accessing scientific and technological knowledge to transform the agricultural food system and achieve the SDGs. To level the playing field, the existing inequality gap must be closed. FAO-IAFN developed an accelerator mentorship program to close that existing gap through mentorship. Because we have learned that at the demand-end, smallholder farmers are not involved in the co-creation of knowledge. This leads to lack of recognition of their efforts as small holder farmers.

In addition to addressing key challenges and constraints women face in their businesses, gender equality and women empowerment is central to FAO’s mandate – to achieve food security for all and reduce rural poverty. Ensuring gender equality and empowering women operating within the agrifood systems presents a unique opportunity to ensure that women-owned businesses not only invest in food and agriculture, but that they are actively contributing to the agrifood systems transformation that FAO is calling for.

And to this end, we had an official launch of the accelerator mentorship program for women-Led SMEs in Africa by FAO-IAFN for a period of six months starting from October 2022 to March 2023.

The following were the panelists present:

  • Beth Bechdol, Deputy Director General of FAO
  • Robynne Anderson, Director General of the International Agri-Food Network
  • Alex as the moderator of the panel discussion
  • Fatou Manneh, Founder of Jelmah Herbella

It was reiterated by the panelists that the accelerator mentorship program is a gateway to catapulting the agricultural sector through the Women-led SMEs in Africa.  They all agreed that attaching a mentee to a mentor give hopes to the inexperienced entrepreneurs that the impossible can be possible. Exploring and learning from experienced entrepreneurs as mentors can break barriers and make a difference.

In addition to that, the deputy director of FAO Beth Bechdol addressed the work the private sector partners like IAFN are doing to support FAO in its mandate as an agency. She emphasized the importance of this type of specific, actionable, localized partnership opportunity with private sector entities. She noted that this would be significant for FAO in their move to level the playing field, empower women, and advance rural development to achieve food security. She noted that focusing on this type of local mentorship and training is the start of how we keep eliminating inequalities in accessing science and technology and innovation across value chains in agriculture.

Robynne Anderson said that the existing expertise that exists in the wider private sector ought to be made available for women. She expresses with joy that the program attracted more candidates (mentees and mentors) than FAO-IAFN needed. Some examples of mentors present in the room during the launch included Ruramiso from Zimbabwe and Cesarie from Rwanda – who set up a cooperative of women farmers just to mention a few. She further explains how incredible it was to have these amazing mentor-mentees to march them together for six months and utilize the incredible resources FAO has for growth.

I, Fatou Manneh, a mentee in the accelerator mentorship was invited to talk about my enterprise and expectation for the FAO-IAFN accelerator mentorship. As an entrepreneur and a climate change educator, I believed that to lead, I need to learn how to harness the power of mentorship. I consider this as an opportunity to learn and mentor the women I work with in my community in Gambia.  My expectations in the mentorship are growth, development, expansion, and the potential to collaborate and partner to build a vibrant company. I desire to be part of ensuring that Africa creates platforms to network, collaborate and achieve the SDGs.

Alex the moderator said that they are looking up to us the mentees to give results so that it can be replicated. He emphasized that the success of this accelerator mentorship program will depend on the first cohort which I am part of.

We wrapped the Science and innovation week with the launch of the FAO-IAFN accelerator mentorship program. We were able to network and closed the session with panel discussions in the afternoon.

I believe this invitation was the best that was ever given to me to connect, for I believed this is the gateway to my success as a women entrepreneur as well the betterment of the women farmers that I work with. From this, I believe I will be able to support and improve the way we operate to add value to our work.


I hope FAO continues to support partners creating such programs to help provide skills and support women in agriculture to help address the existing gap in science and innovation. In addition, they can help women agri-preneurs access resources that can help them become competitive and contribute to the advancement of smallholder farmers. Further, they can develop a program where women agri-preneurs can be supported to do research work on topics related to what they do to enhance their knowledge as they engage. With access to skills, resources and equipment that support innovation women farmers and entrepreneurs can make a huge difference in Africa. It was a very productive week for me, and I believe my fellow women entrepreneurs from Africa as well. We hope that our interaction with the team will bring out the best from us as we look forward to impacting other women in our diverse communities in Africa.

In conclusion, I would like to use this opportunity to thank the FAO, IAFN under the leadership of Robynne Anderson and Beth Bechdol for giving me this very important opportunity to learn and participate in the accelerator launch for business impact and self-improvement. Thank you!

Fatou Manneh

Fatou Manneh is an entrepreneur with extensive industry knowledge. Over a period of nine years, she has worked and supported thousands of entrepreneurs and farmers including low-income earners in Gambia, through entrepreneurship training and Climate Change mitigation with the Empretec project as a trainer and now Buzz Women as the Program Officer of Buzz Green. Fatou has a vision to contribute to changing the lives of farmers and promoting a healthy population through Agriculture within the Gambia and beyond. As a result, she founded Jelmah Herbella which aims to create a direct market for local women farmers producing these herbal products. Fatou holds a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies and a Masters in Entrepreneurship and Innovation from the UNIVERSITÀ DEGLI STUDI DI MILANO BICOCCA in Italy. She participated in a pitching contest for start-up and scale up for SDGs in Geneva during the Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2018 and Women in Africa WIA54, 2020 Laureates for Gambia, Tony Elumelu Grant Award winner 2021 and also the award winner for WAYA Young Female Entrepreneur of the year 2022. Currently, Fatou is an UNCTAD Certified trainer at the Entrepreneurship Development Centre (EDC) in The Gambia and Climate Change Mitigation Trainer, where she focuses on training women, youth, farmers, current and aspiring entrepreneurs on behavioural programs using the UNCTAD Empretec Model to impact the lives of her participants for sustainable business growth.

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