FAO Regional Office for Africa

Regional stakeholders gather to discuss women and youth’s engagement in intra-regional trade

Africa Food Systems Forum 2023: Partner Event highlights obstacles on the path to a fair and inclusive African Continental Free Trade Area – as well as solutions

AGRF2023: A multifaceted panel presented concrete solutions to gender and youth-specific obstacles in agribusiness and trade.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) 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. It holds the potential to reduce poverty, create jobs, improve food security, and promote gender equality. Despite this unprecedented potential, it is critical to ensure an inclusive implementation of the AfCFTA that addresses the nuanced and varied challenges that women and youth face. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the Food Trade Coalition for Africa (FTCFA) and TradeMark Africa to dissect gender- and youth-specific obstacles in the trade environment and identify concrete solutions at the 2023 Africa Food Systems Forum (AGRF).

Concrete solutions for concrete obstacles

Currently, 85 percent of the economic activity in Africa is conducted in the informal sector, where women account for nearly 90 percent of the labour force. By creating new formal regulated markets, the AfCFTA will trigger a shift from subsistence-oriented production systems to more market-oriented ones. The agreement can be a powerful force towards closing gender gaps but may also exacerbate existing disparities and discrimination and worsen the condition of women and youth in agrifood. Throughout the discussion moderated by TradeMark Africa Director of Gender, Inclusion and Women, Gloria Atuheirwe, four key action points were highlighted by the panellists to ensure that the agreement works in favour of women and youth, rather than the opposite: capacity building, access to more lucrative work areas, finance, and policy support.

“In order to effectively engage in intra-regional trade, women and youth must understand how the trade system works. They must have access to trainings on sanitary, processing and packaging requirements, non-tariff barriers, crossing border posts, and registration with export authorities,” said Lauren Phillips, FAO Deputy Director of the Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division. Dr. Phillips also highlighted the importance of addressing structural issues through effective and inclusive policymaking: “How can we run, if we do not know how to walk? There are gaps to be closed before addressing the gaps in trade. These include, for example, limited access to land, productive resources, extension services, and digital technologies. Women and youth must also be able to access more lucrative sectors such as wholesale and transport, as well as the meat and soybean-to-poultry value chains”.

With regards to access to finance, Sanne Steemers, Africa Exchange (AFEX) President for the Rest of Africa, highlighted the importance of differentiating and addressing perceived and actual risk of repayment of debt in the agrifood sector: “The perceived risk can be decreased through awareness-raising and education. The actual risk must be tackled by improving agrifood systems in Africa through good practices and by adopting insurance that can cover producers in extreme weather conditions, for example”. Dr. Apollos Nwafor, AGRA Vice-President of Policy and State Capability, also emphasised the absence of financial tools tailored to women and youth-led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Africa due to a lack of protective policies in relation to both creditors and debtors.

The panel also included Gemma Mbegabolawe, Regional Economic Communities Coordinator of the AfCFTA Secretariat, as well as two young Tanzanian agripreneurs: Victoria Mwanukuzi Nyazobe, from Insight Ltd., and Eloge Niyomwungere, Best Food Solution and Generation Africa representative, as well as GoGettaz Impact Award winner. Gemma Mbegabolawe highlighted the Secretariat’s efforts to integrate youth in the decision-making processes around the AfCFTA implementation, in particular the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade. These include, for instance, the AfCFTA Youth Symposium which took place in August of this year. Victoria and Eloge, young yet experienced entrepreneurs, also contributed to the discussion with firsthand accounts of their work in the agrifood trade environment, including their efforts to lift other young entrepreneurs. The diversity of the panel contributed to an enriching conversation with inputs from a variety of perspectives on the trade sphere.

Beyond 8 September 2023: Walking the talk

The 2023 AGRF will come to a close on 8 September, but the recommendations for an improved trade environment for women and youth must not be left on paper. The FAO programme on Empowering women and boosting livelihoods through agricultural trade: Leveraging the AfCFTA (EWAT), implemented in collaboration with the International Trade Centre, is a concrete example of such recommendations taking shape. The EWAT programme aims at providing women traders in the region with the skills and tools they need to take full advantage of the new trading opportunities presented by the AfCFTA. The programme promotes women’s readiness to engage in agrifood trade through capacity building, the promotion of inclusive policy dialogues, financial networking support, and knowledge generation.

The upcoming Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade is also expected to contribute to the protection and empowerment of these groups throughout the implementation of the AfCFTA.

With improved access to markets, finance, productive resources and extension services, women and youth across the region will be in better conditions to expand their businesses and bolster their livelihoods, leading the path to an inclusive and sustainable agrifood systems’ transformation, leaving no one behind.