FAO Regional Office for Africa

Women as central figures in the roll-out of the African Continental Free Trade Area

FAO hosts a South-South Cooperation dialogue with women traders and key AfCFTA stakeholders to discuss challenges and opportunities

© FAO/Luis Tato

25 February 2022, Accra - The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, which established the largest free-trade area in the world, aims at the creation of a single liberalized market that will change Africa’s commercial and trade practices, accelerating continental economic growth and potentially contributing to eliminating poverty, creating jobs and promoting equality.

Although the agreement presents a valuable and unique opportunity for economic growth, the absence of a chapter dedicated to gender and trade and the shift from subsistence-oriented production systems to more market-oriented ones could leave behind small producers and small agri-business owners, including women. 

In order to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the AfCFTA as well as identify solutions to address the challenges posed by its roll out, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) hosted a dialogue (24-25 February) between the key players in the Africa trade environment and women traders, in collaboration with the African Women Agribusiness Network (AWAN Afrika) and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

The dialogue was held in a hybrid format, with participants gathering in-person in Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire as well as online. Leveraging on FAO expertise on South-South and Triangular cooperation, the event promoted an exchange of lessons learned among countries on gender-sensitive trade policies and economic measures. Throughout five sessions, participants addressed topics related to women and trade in Africa, economic and financial inclusion, market access, technology in agriculture, and the role of Regional Economic Communities.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, opened the event with an important message on inclusivity and fairness, which “are key to achieving sustainable development in agriculture,” he said. He added that “this objective cannot be obtained without accounting for the central role played by women in the sector, including in agriculture markets, trade and value-chain development.”

Throughout the event, government representatives, trade and policy experts, financial institutions, women agricultural traders, the AfCFTA Secretariat and small business owners had a chance to discuss policies and practices which have triggered positive results in the past, such as targeted capacity development for women’s groups and policy makers, and mentoring programmes. Approaches tailored to the African economic reality were identified, and speakers were given the opportunity to network with participants who wish to continue the dialogue beyond the event’s closure.

Session 4: Technology in Agriculture, with SME small business owners and technical expert

By bringing a variety of stakeholders to the table, the webinar triggered a rich, dynamic discussion based on the realities of women producers and agripreneurs, as well as policy and decision makers. Based on the inputs collected, FAO and partners will produce a technical policy brief providing guidance for gender mainstreaming in the roll out of the ongoing National and Regional Frameworks and implementation plans for Boosting Intra-African Trade in Agricultural Commodities and Services to promote gender-sensitive agricultural trade in the single market.