Women agripreneurs are at the forefront of driving sustainable agriculture and helping to establish a more inclusive and prosperous society. They are fundamental to creating jobs, improving household incomes, and contributing to economic growth globally but more so in developing economies. In Africa, for instance, despite heavy female participation in entrepreneurial activities, the bulk of unpaid labor falls on the shoulders of women. Furthermore, access to capacity-building and lack of digital literacy are some other hurdles faced by rural women in Africa and across the world. These determinants push several women into disadvantaged positions in comparison to their male counterparts thereby limiting women’s involvement in gainful work and their participation in workers’ and producers’ organizations. The covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the already existing impediments for women entrepreneurs.
Given the significant role played by women agripreneurs, it is imperative to support them, particularly those women who lead small and medium enterprises (SMEs), representing 90 percent of the private sector in the region, and contributing to over 80 percent of jobs in the continent, active in agrifood value chains. This will not just help them grow their business but also contribute to the environment and society.
In view of this and in line with its mandate of promoting gender equality and contributing to women empowerment, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Agri-Food Network (IAFN) have launched a pilot Accelerator Mentorship Programme to support women entrepreneurs in addressing key challenges and constraints they face in their businesses. The program will see 50 promising women entrepreneurs from Africa paired up with global business leaders who will mentor them over six months. Other components of the program include knowledge exchange, networking, and peer learning sessions, and a series of tailor-made trainings to enhance hard skills from a selection of available options on the FAO eLearning Academy.
The launch session of the programme was held on 21 October 2022 virtually and in person in Rome, and highlighted the barriers for accessing technologies, innovation and information services and present the ways and means to eliminate inequalities faced by women entrepreneurs in agriculture particularly in the African context. The discussion highlighted the importance of agricultural enterprises in facilitating the growth of the rural economy and for driving agrifood systems transformations. Such a step, the speakers noted, would not only help drive women empowerment but also are essential to reducing poverty and achieving zero hunger in the region.
The discussion also highlighted how the acceleration program will enhance the potential of women-led enterprises in the Sub-Saharan African agrifood sector by equipping emerging women entrepreneurs with the tools and expertise to boost their businesses. It is not just the capacity building element, but the one-on-one mentorship and the possibility for women to network and interact with each other that will make a difference. The mentorship element of the program is particularly crucial as it would help the next generation of women entrepreneurs in achieving their goals by capitalizing on the success and leadership of their predecessors in the agrifood sector – women who have experience in fighting these obstacles and winning! In a way, this program is an investment in the future – investing in women who have ideas and potential to improve food security and create livelihoods.