FAO Regional Office for Africa

Boosting women’s engagement in trade and promoting inclusive economic development in Africa

New joint programme by FAO and ITC seeks to empower women and enhance their livelihoods in the African Continental Free Trade Area


5 April 2022, Accra– The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has combined efforts with the International Trade Centre (ITC) SheTrades Initiative to support women in overcoming gender-based obstacles in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

A new joint programme launched today will promote women’s readiness to engage in negotiations around the AfCFTA, as well as their access to capacity building and higher-productivity activities, capitalizing on the new opportunities in regional trade created by the agreement. Spanning over 12 months, the collaboration aims to empower women producers, processors, and traders in agriculture and agro-processing value chains via initiatives which will bring together a wide variety of stakeholders. Through continental private-public sector dialogues, FAO and ITC will present recommendations for mainstreaming gender in trade policies to government representatives. The dialogues will also enable women’s groups to articulate their needs, challenges and priorities so that policymakers can determine appropriate measures to improve the business environment for women. FAO and ITC will also host capacity building sessions for women’s associations and cooperatives on trade procedures for small enterprises, compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, access to finance and investment, e-commerce and digitalization, and practical market research. The sessions will include a training of trainers to ensure long-term sustainability of the learning processes.

“Some of the benefits that women can reap by trading under the AfCFTA include moving up the value chain, leveraging networks of women’s associations, upgrading their businesses, and tapping into new markets and investment opportunities. However, by creating new formal regulated markets, the AfCFTA will trigger a structural shift in the way certain economic activities and businesses are conducted in Africa. Currently, 85 percent of economic activity in Africa is carried out in the informal sector where women account for nearly 90 percent of the labour force, and their specific needs and challenges are not yet adequately considered in trade policy frameworks,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Africa.

Inclusive value chains for inclusive economic development

In addition to the dialogues and training sessions, value chains with a high potential for women to flourish will be analysed in depth to identify women’s current roles, barriers and opportunities, and potential synergies. The studies will be used to mobilize human and financial resources towards the enhanced engagement of women in the selected value chains. The studies will also provide a basis for capacity building activities for women producers interested in trading within these markets. So far, cassava, fish, maize, poultry, livestock and rice have been identified as promising value chains.

“Our objective is to support countries in negotiating and implementing an inclusive AfCFTA: an AfCFTA that opens opportunities for women to participate in African trade, move up regional value chains and reap more benefits for themselves and their communities. ITC has already done significant work with women producers and their associations to empower them to benefit from the AfCFTA and I look forward to this partnership with FAO to reach more women in the agricultural sector,” said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of ITC.

The farmer leader Yagu Bangura poses in front of seed bags stored at the warehouse of the Tauropanneh Agri-business Centre in Bombali District, Sierra Leone © Sebastian Liste

The AfCFTA spans over 54 countries and supports a market of over 1.4 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of USD 2.5 trillion and growing. While the new free trade area presents a ground-breaking opportunity to boost Africa’s share of global trade and achieve the goals of Agenda 2063, such objectives can only be accomplished if the implementation of the agreement is fair and inclusive. Currently, women in business in Africa face challenges related to working in the informal sector, complying with legal requirements, and accessing market information, training and finance, among other issues.

The FAO-ITC gender and trade programme is a solid representation of FAO’s ongoing efforts to mainstream gender equality in regional agricultural sector policies and programmes while promoting concrete opportunities for boosting women’s livelihoods and capacities in value chains and agribusiness in the continent. The programme also builds on ITC’s SheTrades Initiative and One Trade Africa programme. The SheTrades Initiative works to foster more inclusive business and policy ecosystems and increase the competitiveness of women entrepreneurs and women producers and connect them to markets, and the One Trade Africa programme works to empower, enhance and enable MSMEs to access business opportunities in Africa. Through this collaboration, FAO and ITC hope to to accelerate the many benefits and economic growth associated with the roll-out of the AfCFTA.