The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Invest in Women, the “Phoenixes” in our Food Systems!

By Hilary Barry
Secretary General & Founder LadyAgri Impact Investment Hub

LadyAgri is a non-profit association supporting women in agri-value chains and women-led agri-businesses across Africa and Small Island Developing States. Of these businesses, 75 percent are women-led and 25 percent have strong gender-smart inclusive business models (including women employees, farmers, processors, distributors, customers). LadyAgri also works with policy makers, the FAO and donors as well as local banks, development finance institutions and social impact investors to measure their ‘real appetite’ to invest in women in agri-business and in food supply chains.

We have delved through the lasagna layers of ‘gender washing’ and glossy brochures with smiling women CEOs and happy women farmers holding smart phones to digitally include them in the formal financial economy. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was very clear that the ‘bottom line’ which interested investors were large agri-corporates operating in Africa and Small Island Developing States, which from a purely economic perspective were big ticket sizes, low risk as borrowers and well placed in the international global food and commodity supply chains.

Up until the crisis broke, an invisible or hidden group of uninteresting ‘Cinderellas’--women farmers, women cooperatives and women-led SMEs operating in the mid-stream of our food supply chains--were not invited to dance at the ‘Investment Ball’. The market disruption of imports and exports to African countries changed the rules of the game and put a spotlight on these women as the ‘real heroes’, the ‘Prima Ballerinas’ who continue to ensure a steady food supply to local and regional markets across Africa.

Suddenly those ‘feeding’ the local population, putting food on the tables during this crisis, yes, trading in local currency, became visible. Our LadyAgri women entrepreneurs grow fonio, cassava and rice, process peanuts and cashew, produce attieké, injera and invaluable soap--a simple but perhaps life-saving everyday item made from local ingredients such as shea butter or cocoa butter. They are the invisible drivers of the international commodity supply chains ensuring you have good coffee, spices, tropical fruit and sweet chocolate.

During this COVID-19 crisis, lo and behold, we have been reminded that you cannot drink ‘crude oil’ or eat ‘decorative flowers’! Some African Union member countries took a protectionist stance on food imports and agri-trade in 2019 by closing borders with neighboring countries despite the backdrop of the AfCFTA. With COVID-19 imposed isolation, the same countries struggled to feed their large urban populations. There was a reality check on which countries enjoyed food sovereignty and those facing rapid food insecurity. 

Remember the Malabo Declaration, whereby countries committed to investing 10% of GDP in agriculture? The pandemic quickly showed the results of years of lack of investment in the local food supply system and in the ‘unseen heroes’ who produce and feed the local population every day: women!

For so many rural young people who migrated to the urban ‘promised’ land of milk and honey, they sadly discovered that cities do not produce either. Maybe a reversed exodus, like we witnessed in India, from urban to rural areas was the best indicator that basic needs like food production and sustainable food supply can only be met by investing in rural areas.  Not investing in agriculture is no longer an option. Not investing in food systems and those who are the ‘guardians’ of this fragile system, women, is the biggest socio-economic risk we can take right now.

Women need and deserve access to technical capacity building, appropriate and affordable finance, access to quality seed, agri-inputs, modern production and processing equipment and reliable energy. This is the mission of LadyAgri, because without women’s access to the necessary resources, the Sustainable Development Goals will never be achieved. The SDGs are only 8-9 years away, and yet climate change is the loudest ticking clock and already directly impacting our food production system with women on the frontline fighting the crisis.

It may be a simplistic view of the world, but at LadyAgri we tend to believe that now is the time to forget the search for ‘unicorns’ and start looking and investing in ‘phoenixes’ in Africa and Small Island Developing States. The phoenixes being women throughout the food system, from women farmers to women-led SMEs, as day in, day out they prove their resilience and recovery capacity to rise from the ashes of this pandemic the ensuing economic crisis. It’s no coincidence that ‘Mother Nature’ is female and women feed the planet.

The old ‘norms’ are over, ashes… There is no better time to rethink the power dynamics in our food system. We need to bring capital to impact and not impact to capital. Women matter because women act. Women are the links holding agri-food supply chains together in a world that has been turned upside down and inside out. It is time to ask ‘Cinderella’ to the ball and invest in women.

This is a lioness’s roar added to the open letter of the 24 World Food Prize Laureates to President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Samantha Power. We raise the voice of women to be heard by our international leaders, our governments, influencers, gender-smart philanthropists, the investment and financial community, agri-tech equipment providers, agri-buyers and suppliers who want to #BuildBackBetter.

Investing in women is simply smart economics. Come and look through our lens!

LadyAgri International Women's Day 2021 VIDEO


03/17/2021 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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