Stories tagged: access to markets

How Young Women Can Find Opportunities in African Agriculture

By Dace Mahanay, Regional Program Director at STRYDE.

Jennifer, a young mother from Gulu, Uganda, faced bleak prospects after her husband passed away. She had been kicked out of her home by her in-laws and had no job with which to support her family. Without a high school education, she was not optimistic about finding opportunities. “Even casual jobs were not easy to come by, because…not many economically engaging activities were taking place within my village,” she said.

Across sub-Saharan Africa, millions of young women like Jennifer are sidelined from economic opportunities. The International Labor Organization found that one third of young women in the region are not working, studying or receiving training, more than double the rate of their male peers. With more than 6 million young women coming of working age every year, African economies must create more new jobs and business opportunities for them.

But it’s a steep challenge. Across Africa, women generally have less access to education, training, financial services, and assets than men do. In Jennifer’s home country of Uganda, for instance, women own just 5 percent of the land, though they perform much of the labor on family farms. Cultural and traditional views of gender roles can also limit women’s opportunities. Addressing the problem, therefore, requires not only building individual capacity, but also changing the mindsets of families and communities and forging inclusive networks.

That is the mindset behind an entrepreneurship program that has trained tens of thousands of young people across Africa and is now helping local institutions adopt this approach: the Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) program. Since 2011, Mastercard Foundation and TechnoServe have partnered on STRYDE to equip young people in rural communities across Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda with the business and personal skills they need to develop economic opportunities in their communities.

The results of the first phase of the project were striking: the 15,000 STRYDE graduates had achieved average income increases of 133 percent, with 96 percent of participants reporting increased savings. The percentage of “idle” youth (those neither working nor studying) fell by 80 percent. A second phase of the project, which will reach 48,000 additional young people by the time it is completed, is also showing positive results.

Importantly, both female and male graduates have exhibited significant gains. The success of women in the STRYDE program can be attributed to three main factors:

Building skills and personal effectiveness

STRYDE participants receive three months of training on business skills, like saving and managing finances, but also on “soft skills”, like personal effectiveness and goal-setting. The participants also receive nine months of tailored “aftercare” and mentorship support to reinforce the content of the training and support youth in opportunity identification. This focus on both hard and soft skills is especially important for women, who typically receive little encouragement to think entrepreneurially.

Jennifer moved back with her parents and enrolled in the STRYDE program. She soon began to see economic opportunities all around her.

“As a family, we had a chunk of land. But I had never thought of agriculture as business, but for only growing food for household consumption,” Jennifer said. After receiving training, she asked to use an acre of her brother’s idle land to try her hand at commercial farming. Now, she earns more than $800 per harvest season from her eggplants, okra, and tomatoes, and she can pay for her children’s school fees. “My children are now assured of a better future thanks to the knowledge and skills that I acquired during the training,” she said.

Engaging families

In some households, husbands, parents, and in-laws view women’s roles as primarily domestic, and do not see why young women should attend training, work outside the home, or access family resources for a business. In many cases, these family members exercise a sort of veto power over the ambitions of women.

As a result, STRYDE has worked to engage both men and women on the issue of gender. A training module – “We Can Fly” –  helps participants understand the impact of gender norms and highlights concrete benefits of women and men both contributing economically and making decisions together.

In Rwanda, for instance, a STRYDE participant named Philippe decided to start a new business growing and selling vegetables alongside his wife. He asked her to go into business with him, he explained, because of how the program had changed his ideas around gender. Previously, he thought a woman’s role was at home. After seeing the success that female STRYDE participants were achieving in their businesses, however, he realized that his wife could also contribute to the family’s income.

Building strong networks and access to markets

Farmers and entrepreneurs need access to customers and suppliers, as well as mentors and peers who can offer advice. Unfortunately, in rural Africa, women tend to have fewer of these linkages.

The STRYDE program takes several steps to address this. First, the mixed-gender training encourages male and female participants to build connections. Because men tend to have larger business networks at the beginning, the female STRYDE participants can take advantage of those linkages. The program’s aftercare component is also designed to improve access to networks and markets–for example, by providing young women with tradeskills training from established entrepreneurs or introducing participants to outgrower schemes.

Networks were key to the success of Rose, a STRYDE graduate in Kenya. Before joining the program, Rose worked in her uncle’s agrovet shop. But after going through the training, she decided to go into business herself.

With her new business skills, Rose was able to successfully apply for a small loan to start her own agrovet store. She credits the program with strengthening her communication and negotiation skills, which helped her attract customers. She now supplies animal feeds to two cooperatives, an important source of income for her. ““I am now able to pay school fees for my   three siblings, who are still in school. I am happy to have lessened the burden of raising my young brothers and sisters on my mother, a single mother who really struggled to put us through school,” she said.

The impact of gender equality

Women entrepreneurs like Rose are not only helping themselves and their families; they are also providing essential services for others. This proves an essential point: empowering women economically not only benefits individuals and communities, but society as a whole. According to a UNDP report, closing the gender gap in pay and access to paid work would add an extra $95 billion to the economies of sub-Saharan Africa every year.

By equipping women with the right skills and mindset, addressing gender norms in households and communities, and ensuring that women have access to networks and markets, we can help close that gap.

This article originally appeared on the Chicago Council’s Food for Thought blog.

How to Help Small-Scale Farmers Surmount Trade Barriers in Mexico

In this guest post, Francis Mendez, Director of Fairtrasa Mexico explains the successful model her organisation uses to help small farmers in Mexico reach big markets. 

In my home state of Michoacán, Mexico, many small-scale farmers struggle with poverty and lack of resources. While large agricultural companies and more advanced small-scale farmers are able to sell their products on international markets, many farmers remain marginalized. They lack the proper resources, know-how, and infrastructure to develop their farms and businesses. If they do sell their products, it is to local “middlemen” who pay them negligibly, if at all.

Since 2005, Fairtrasa Mexico (of which I’ve served as Director since 2011) has been dedicated to helping marginalized small-scale farmers empower themselves by producing and exporting certified produce. In almost every case, the farmers we work with have no experience in how to achieve certification for their produce, nor in exportation itself.

This means they are excluded from the benefits of being part of the global food supply chain, such as the ability to earn a significantly higher income than on local markets, and to re-invest this income in farm, business, and community development.

These farmers need help joining the global food supply chain in a sustainable way. At Fairtrasa Mexico, we give farmers the support, resources, and logistical help they need to become certified exporters. In essence, we helps them surmount trade barriers. This has been our model since our company was founded in 2005.

Our work is not easy. We exist in a region riddled with crime and violence. We operate on a for-profit business model, re-investing much of our profit in needy farmers. Our partner farmers have been burned by “outsider” companies in the past, so gaining their trust takes work and time.

Yet our model has been successful and impactful for twelve years, and I see several keys to that success.

International Certifications

For marginalized small-scale farmers, international certifications such as Organic, GlobalGAP, and GRASP are tickets to joining the global food supply chain, as they can be the key to fetching much higher prices – sometimes as high as 25-30% more. And the impact goes beyond the economic: by complying with international standards, farmers professionalize their operations and improve the environmental sustainability of their farms.

However, obtaining these certifications is difficult and costly for marginalized farmers. This is where Fairtrasa can help, by leading them through the application and compliance processes. In Mexico, we focus on helping farmers achieve organic certification for fruit, by carrying out on-farm analyses on their behalf and keeping track of administrative documents, at no cost to the farmer. In some cases, we cover most or all of the costs of certification. When they obtain and maintain these certifications, enormous market opportunities open to them.

Customized Training

Fairtrasa Mexico provides trainings tailored to the specific needs and development levels of our farmers. Our in-house agronomist performs a technical assessment for each farmer, and gives recommendations for optimizing production through sustainable techniques. He then provides or coordinates customized training workshops, and visits each farmer on his or her farm at least once a month. This training focuses on yield optimization, quality control, and meeting the certified standards.

Financial Support

Lack of financing is a huge barrier to many small-scale farmers. They simply do not have the financial resources to plant their fields, obtain certifications, and begin exporting. Fairtrasa Mexico addresses this issue mostly by giving small loans to farmers. In 2016, for example, we loaned a total of US$30,000 toward the costs of fertilizers, pruning, equipment, and staffing, among other aspects of the production and export processes.

Quality Before Quantity

While it’s vitally important to help small-scale farmers improve their yields and export volumes, it’s equally important to help them achieve professional-level quality control. Farmers need to produce consistently high-quality fruit in order to sell on international markets. Even a single bad avocado can lead a buyer to return a container of otherwise high-quality fruit—and a single rejected container can be devastating for upstart exporters. Over the last 12 years, Fairtrasa has learned that it’s essential for farmers to perfect their quality control before expanding their output for export. Patience and attention to detail are therefore extremely important.

Building Trust

Providing training, financing, and support to small-scale farmers is crucial. Yet there is something even more fundamental: the farmers’ trust in us. Many small-scale farmers have had bad experiences with fruit buyers in the past, who often made promises they didn’t keep. In my experience, these are the keys to gaining farmers’ trust:

  • Keep your word: The society of our partner farmers is founded on the value of an individual’s word. If you don’t keep your word with farmers—even once—you will lose them. If you keep your word with farmers, you will begin gaining their trust. This is the essential groundwork for a building a long-term relationship.
  • Locals for locals: Fairtrasa’s founder, Patrick Struebi, came to Mexico from Switzerland in 2005. Although he founded the company by gaining the trust of local, small-scale avocado growers, he immediately understood the importance of finding local leaders to lead our social enterprise. As Fairtrasa replicated its model in Peru, Chile, and the Dominican Republic, the principle has stayed the same. We are emotionally and practically invested in the farmers’ success.
  • Demonstrate and lead by example: One of our team members is our in-house agronomist, Jose Luis Villagomez Solano, whoc is also a farmer in his own right. He owns a prosperous avocado farm where he utilizes sustainable techniques. When he visits our farmers and recommends best practices, he backs it up with his experience and output.

A Passionate Team

Underlying and fuelling our social enterprise is the passion and commitment of our team. Every day is a learning experience. Every day is a battle. But when we see the impact of helping marginalized small-scale farmers surmount trade barriers and thrive within the global food supply chain, it only makes us more passionate about the work we do.

This article originally appeared in WFO’s F@rmletter.