In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of women’s participation in agriculture and trade, particularly in developing countries. In Africa, where women play a critical role in agricultural production and food security, initiatives to support their engagement in trade have become increasingly important in the wake of the establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
AfCFTA, which was launched in 2019, aims to create a single market for goods and services, facilitate the free movement of people, and promote regional economic integration across the continent. With the AfCFTA spanning over 54 countries and supporting a market of over 1.4 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of USD 2.5 trillion and growing, there is no doubt that it presents a ground-breaking opportunity to boost Africa’s share of global trade and achieve the goals of Agenda 2063.
However, to ensure that this potential is fully realized, it is essential that the AfCFTA is implemented in a fair and inclusive manner that takes into account the specific challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and traders in the agri-food sector in Africa. These challenges include working in the informal sector, complying with legal requirements, accessing market information, training, and finance, among others.
To address these challenges and promote women’s participation in the AfCFTA, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) SheTrades Initiative launched the Empowering women and boosting livelihoods through agricultural trade: Leveraging the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) (EWAT) programme in 2021. The programme was developed with the objective of promoting women’s participation in the AfCFTA, increasing their access to capacity building and higher-productivity activities, and capitalizing on the new opportunities in regional trade created by the AfCFTA agreement.
Spanning across four countries, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, and South Africa, the EWAT programme has made significant progress in the past 12 months. It focused on mapping and analyzing priority regional value chains, developing and disseminating policy recommendations, and building the capacity of formal and informal women producers, processors, entrepreneurs, and traders.
Through three in-person capacity building events, 160 women involved in the agrifood sector were trained in Malawi, Ghana, and Nigeria. The topics covered during these trainings included available tools and resources to simplify trade under AfCFTA, rights of traders when using border posts, gender-based violence, harassment, and corruption in cross-border trade, among others. As a result, in Ghana, women reported a 45 percent increase in awareness of the benefits of the AfCFTA, 69 percent had an increase in knowledge on company registration for exporting, and 55 percent increased their knowledge on food safety.
The programme also made significant progress in the production and dissemination of knowledge. While there has been a growing body of literature on women’s participation in trade, few studies have been done to better understand the potential challenges and opportunities available to women – particularly those in the agrifood sector – under AfCFTA. The EWAT programme collected meaningful data and insights on the nature of women’s participation in the soybean and fisheries value chains, and considerations on how to make these value chains more inclusive. In addition, four policy briefs have been drafted with recommendations on increasing the gender-responsiveness of trade facilitation, non-tariff measures, barriers to trade, and sanitary and phytosanitary standards.
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