By Linda Manda, Sector Head of Agribusiness, Corporate and Investment Banking, at Standard Bank
The now-operational African Continental Free-trade Area (AfCFTA) provides policymakers with a new opportunity to empower women farmers, promote gender equality, increase productivity and ensure food security across the continent.
Following a short delay due to COVID-19, the trading bloc came into effect at the start of 2021. By removing tariffs on goods traded within the continent, improving border processes, and smoothing regulations and processes, AfCFTA will facilitate the growth of intra-African trade, which remains extremely low compared to other regions.
Importantly, we believe it could promote gender equality as it removes barriers to trade that disproportionately affect women. For the time being, a significant portion of intra-African trade is informal and agriculture based. Rural women play an important role in this value chain.
The formalisation and expansion of intra-African trade will lift economic growth rates and provide a much larger internal market for Africa’s agricultural producers. Over time, we expect that Africa will progress from being a net importer of food to being self-sufficient, and ultimately a net exporter.
The continent has massive untapped potential in the sector. In fact, as much as 60% of the world’s uncultivated land is in Africa, with between 480 million and 840 million hectares of unused agricultural land that could be used to increase production by up to three times the current output, provided that ‘climate-smart’ production methods are employed.
As the sector gains momentum, we must ensure that women farmers are given the opportunity to participate in this growth story. This means that policymakers, communities and other stakeholders should move fast to address issues such as unequal access to land resources and education. Steps should also be taken to ensure that businesswomen – farmers included – are able to safely and seamlessly cross African borders.
The financial services sector also has an important role to play. In addition to providing financial assistance, banks can facilitate the growth of women-owned farms in other ways.
Through our Climate Smart Agriculture programme with UN Women, Standard Bank is equipping women farmers in Africa with the skills and resources needed to grow their operations in a sustainable manner.
This programme is aimed at empowering more than 50,000 women farmers in Malawi, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa through modern and environmentally friendly farming technologies that increase yields and incomes across the value chain.
A key challenge that the initiative is addressing is access to information – a major barrier to Africa’s small-scale women farmers. To reach their full potential, women farmers need equitable access to information and data on consumer trends, crop yields, soil health, weather patterns, good farming practices, seasonality, market proximity, and market prices.
And since climate change is expected to have a disproportionate impact on emerging markets including Africa, access to drought-resistant seeds and environmentally friendly fertilisers and appropriate technologies will be critical.
The Climate Smart Agriculture has made great progress in this regard.
In Malawi, close to 6,000 women farmers have received support in the use of high-yield and drought-resistant groundnut seeds; the implementation of modern farming methods that conserve moisture and maximise land use; use of weather forecast information for the timely planting of groundnuts; use of market information and financial literacy sessions; and the adoption of modern farming technologies.
In Nigeria, the project is currently supporting 2,300 women beneficiary agri-business groups and cooperatives to increase the productivity and profitability of their operations within the rice and shea nut value chains. It will ultimately deliver assistance to 12,500 rural women in the country.
In Uganda, 1,400 women have been equipped with the skills and technologies needed to run successful aquaculture operations. Over a quarter of a million high-quality fish fingerlings – of the Tilapia species – are being grown by the beneficiaries, using aquaculture technologies. The women have been supported through technical training, mentorship programmes, access to inputs including feeds, accommodation and business management skills.
In South Africa, the project delivered agricultural inputs to 2,753 women farmers in the first half of 2020. The inputs include drought-resistant seeds of various crops, organic manure, farming equipment, and training on climate-smart agriculture.
The project resonates with Standard Bank’s purpose – driving Africa’s growth. It is also closely aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly regarding gender equality, access to decent work, and economic growth.
The Climate Smart Agriculture programme is demonstrating the power of partnerships in tackling societal issues. Going forwards, partnerships between governments, civil society organisations and the private sector will be key to unlocking the potential of Africa’s women farmers – and the continent as a whole.