FAO Regional Office for Africa

Empowering women and boosting livelihoods through agricultural trade: Leveraging the AfCFTA (EWAT)

A joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – International Trade Centre (ITC) programme



The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement is a powerful roadmap which promises to boost the livelihoods of African people. The agreement spans over 54 countries and supports a market of over 1.4 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of USD 3.4 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.

In low-income countries, women make up 48 percent of the rural agricultural workforce. In addition, they account for 70 percent of informal cross-border traders in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNDP, 2020) and are prevalent among owners of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). As producers, processors and traders, they play a critical role in agrifood systems. Nevertheless, they face multiple challenges, including those related to working primarily in the informal sector, access to finance, markets and market information and training, and compliance with trade and food safety standards. To ensure that the implementation of the AfCFTA is fair and inclusive, gender-based constraints must be removed and women must have an active voice in decision-making processes. Implementing entities and governments must conduct gender analyses and prioritize women's needs and challenges, facilitating their transition to and engagement in increasingly formal markets and value chains.

Some of the challenges faced by African women in agriculture and agro-processing value chains include:

  • Limited access to productive resources
  • Limited access to capital, technologies and knowledge to upgrade their businesses
  • Unpaid, domestic and care work
  • Exclusion from local and national decision-making processes
  • Lower literacy and education levels
  • Limited or no access to information and technical trainings
  • Higher risk of exposure to gender-based violence


Empower women to seize new trade opportunities in the context of the AfCFTA by:

  • promoting policies and initiatives to remove gender-based constraints in the agrifood sector and change the discriminatory socio-cultural norms underpinning them;
  • promoting women’s readiness to engage in negotiations around the AfCFTA; and
  • build women’s capacity and access to  higher productivity activities and finance.

Work areas

  • Capacity building: FAO and ITC hosted online capacity building sessions for women’s business associations and cooperatives. The sessions included the training of trainers to ensure long-term sustainability of the learning processes. Physical in-country trainings for women processors and traders in the selected value chains were also conducted to increase their access to market intelligence and improved business development.
  • Knowledge generation: Value chains with a high potential for women producers and traders to flourish were analysed in depth to identify women’s current roles, barriers and opportunities, and potential opportunities for upgrades. Policy briefs were also drafted based on in-depth studies on trade facilitation and non-tariff measures, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and technical barriers to trade.
  • Awareness-raising and increased dialogue: Through private-public sector dialogues and webinars engaging a variety of stakeholders, FAO and ITC presented opportunities and recommendations for making the AfCFTA implementation gender-responsive. The dialogues enabled women’s groups to articulate their needs and priorities in trade so that policymakers can design appropriate measures to improve the business environment for women.
  • Access to finance: Introduced in Phase II, this new component will support selected women-led businesses and enterprises in the agri-food sector to develop sound business plans and improve their investment readiness. Business-to-business (B2B) meetings between the women-led MSMEs and financial institutions will be organized, to share the business plans and attract the interest of financial institutions in investing. This access to finance component also aims at supporting financial institutions to design and/or tailor gender-responsive financial services and products.

Phase I (Dec 2021 – Feb 2023)

Press release

South-South and Triangular Cooperation webinar: Seizing the opportunities of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement for women traders:

Capacity building – in-person:

Malawi: 102 participants

Ghana: 56 participants

Nigeria: 42 participants

Video: Empowering women and boosting livelihoods through agricultural trade: Leveraging the AfCFTA, Ghana

Virtual events:

October 2022

  • Trade Facilitation Measures
  • Unpacking AfCFTA-SPS Requirements for Women Entrepreneurs: Focus on Food Safety

November 2022

  • Non-Tariff Measures
  • Technical Barriers to Trade

December 2022

  • Roundtables: Soy to poultry and fisheries value chains

February 2023

  • Policy dialogue: Making trade facilitation & non-tariff measures gender-responsive in the agrifood sector
  • Policy dialogue: Gender dimensions of sanitary and phytosanitary measures & technical barriers to trade in the agrifood sector

To be published soon:

Value chain studies:

  • A Mapping of Soybean-to-Poultry Value Chains in Malawi and South Africa
  • A Mapping of Fisheries Value Chains in Ghana and Nigeria
  • A Study of Women’s Participation in Soybean-to-Poultry Value Chains in Malawi and South Africa
  • A Study of Women’s Participation in Fisheries Value Chains in Malawi and South Africa

Policy briefs on:

Phase II (Jan 2023 – Dec 2023)

Resources and useful links

OpEd by Abebe Haile-Gabriel: Seizing the opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area for Africa’s women