Strengthening opportunities for women involvement in agriculture was among issues addressed by delegates at the Second African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum(AWIEF), which was held in Lagos. DANIEL ESSIET reports.
Experts and thought leaders at the Second African Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), which was held in Lagos, have urged governments across the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to work towards a strong economy and increased women participation in food production and processing.
The forum also held sessions on vital sectors and pushed for ventures to promote food production, value addition, job creation and regional integration.
AWIEF founder and Chief Executive Officer, Mrs Irene Ochem stressed the need to empower women to ensure they attain their potential through agriculture.
Mrs Ochem said the aim of the forum was to stimulate actions to accelerate Africa’s economic transformation, which require capacity building, inclusive growth and cooperation. She called for robust policies that encourage women to go into agribusinesses and adopt farming practices that guarantee food security.
One of the moderators and Chair, Run on Rana Energy Limited, Amina Ado, observed that agriculture represents a promising growth opportunity.
Underscoring the role of women in agriculture, Ado said support for women would enable them to solve problems through food production.
She said the Federal Government had inaugurated a roadmap for the agriculture sector, tagged:The Green Alternative: Agriculture Promotion Policy, 2016-2020, with the vision to revive the sector to boost food production. The policy, according to her, would serve as the fulcrum for economic diversification, inclusive growth and sustainable development.
She said through the policy, farmers would have access to land, information, inputs, production management, storage, processing, marketing and trade and finance.
In addition, she said there was a possibility of achieving economic diversification which would reduce dependence on oil.
President, Ghana Association of Women Entrepreneurs (GAWE), Lucia Quachey, stressed the need for women to work together to ensure they have access to the $300 million fund set aside by the African Development Bank (AFDB) for women to boost their businesses.
She canvassed a regional strategy to promote women’s participation in the sector.
She said economies could begin to close the gender gap by making it possible for more women to unleash their potential as farmers, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
The sector, according to her, remains a significant contributor to poverty reduction and food security. She added that empowering women would benefit economies in terms of value addition, job creation and regional integration.
Quachey, who is also the Vice-President, ECOWAS Federation of Women Entrepreneurs, expressed concern over the decreasing number of women in agriculture.
She called for support for women to participate and benefit from transformation opportunities to improve their lives and livelihoods.
She stressed that there was a need to develop women’s capacity to boost food production and create more wealth, if the economies of the sub-region must pick up.
GAWE, according to her, supports women to participate profitably in value chain and agribusiness development by improving access to financial services, business skills and technologies and innovations for agro-processing.
GAWE’s initiatives, she added, seek to enhance women entrepreneurs’ access to opportunities, including technologies that facilitate efficient ways of starting up or conducting a business.
According to her, employment opportunities would increase as more women-led agro micro-enterprises in remote, rural communities take advantage of trade opportunities to boost revenues.
She said through the initiatives, linkages were established between farmers and micro-enterprises.
The association, she added, provides training on marketing and helps women producers explore opportunities and develop a catalogue of products.
Agro-processing, a step-up in the industrialisation drive, is still underdeveloped but offers tremendous commercial opportunities Quachey said.
Involvement of women, she noted, would bring in some of the revenue governments need for development if member economies advance women’s economic participation in agriculture and food processing.
While the potential exists for women to position their products in new markets, continued support is needed to help them move from local enterprises to big businesses.
She said by increasing women’s participation and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of the region’s economies can be achieved.
One solution she suggested to boost women participation was creation of agricultural co-operatives.
The existence of such groups in Ghana, she noted, has provided an institutional framework for women to solve many of their problems.
President, Sidi Osho Foundation and past Vice- Chancellor, Afe Babalola University, Prof Sidi Osho said feeding the burgeoning population would require significant improvements in agricultural productivity and appropriate mechanisation strategies.
She said there was enormous potential in agriculture and women must be ready to turn them into major opportunities to change their lives.
She added that large scale farming and well-developed infrastructure are the best way of drawing women into the agricultural sector.
According to her, economic transformation is now urgent due to recent developments in the international economy.
She pointed out that recent developments in the African economies have made the need for agricultural transformation more urgent as the events have exposed the vulnerability of most economies to external factors.
She emphasised the need for structural transformation in the agricultural sector and for the government to concentrate on the potential offered by industrialisation and food production. If women farmers increase their productivity and reduce imports, this would reduce poverty, enhance food and nutrition security and support a more inclusive pattern of growth.
She encouraged the audience to use the forum as an opportunity to galvanise more action on economic transformation.
The Chair person, Partnership Opportunities for Women Empowerment Realisation (POWER), Mrs. Obioma Liyel-Imoke,who was represented by its Executive Director, Mrs Ndodeye Bassey-Obongha stressed the need for increased investments in women as they make up 43 per cent of the agriculture labour force.
Although women have a large role in food production in many sub-Saharan African countries, she maintained that they will continue to have less access to land, fertilisers, seeds, credit and extension services than men.
She said: “Women’s economic participation and their ownership and control over productive assets speed up development, help overcome poverty, reduce inequalities and improve children’s nutrition, health, and school attendance.”
She explained that the organisation, Project Awake, is a community-driven project whose target beneficiaries are women “agric-preneurs”.
Project Awake implementation, she added, is done in agro enterprise clusters. Each cluster is made up of 10 villages selected along mandate crop geographical mapping within each local government area.
The project has created 2,960 women agribusiness owners from 183 cooperatives created in the 18 local government areas(LGAs) of Cross River State. In addition, she said the project has facilitated access to credit loan through bank linkages for 2,196 women farmers.
For instance, she said one of the organisations, Mossi Women Cooperative, engaged in cassava farming received $2,896.74 as loan and had increased their farm size from 1.5 to 2.5 hectares.
Another group, Beyin Business Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society (MPCS),she mentioned, could only
buy only a maximum of 20 bags of rice for storage, but with the loan of N930, 000 ($4,730.42), they added N1, 000,000 ($5,086.47) from their savings and bought up to 413 bags of rice for the first time which they had processed and sold, raising a revenue of N3, 500,000 ($17,802.64) during the trading cycle.
One of the highlights of the event was the unveiling of Women Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEEIN), a programme designed by the Lagos State Government in partnership with AWIEF to facilitate access to finance and other services needed by women entrepreneurs.
Source : ThenationonlineThenationonline