The role of climate-smart agriculture enterprises in women's empowerment

The role of climate-smart agriculture enterprises in women's empowerment

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Date: 2nd March 2023
Type: Feature
Organisation: Intellecap
Countries: Africa, Kenya, Tanzania

Women in agriculture are often disproportionately affected by climate change and structural gender inequalities impede women’s ability to respond to, adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts. The scaling of climate-smart enterprises with a gender lens would contribute to the transition of East African countries to a low-carbon economy. Under the Gender Equality in a Low Carbon World (GLOW) programme, experts from Intellecap share progress in reorienting the private sector to women's empowerment in climate-smart agricultural solutions in East Africa, specifically from two enterprises in Kenya and Tanzania.

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Climate change continues to be a significant concern globally. The effects of climate change are being experienced in East Africa in the form of increasing temperatures, weather variability, shifting agroecosystem boundaries, invasive crops and pests, and more frequent extreme weather events. On farms, climate change is reducing crop yields, the nutritional quality of major cereals, and livestock. To combat the menace, an integrated approach to managing landscapes - cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries - has been championed in a bid to enhance food security. East Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change as a result of its considerable development constraints. Resilience and coping mechanisms across East Africa remain limited, reflecting structural factors restricting the region's abilities to respond to and recover from shocks. In particular, heavy reliance on rain-fed agriculture increases humanitarian, social, and macroeconomic vulnerabilities to rising temperatures and extreme weather shocks, which most heavily affect the poorest segments of the region’s rapidly growing population.

The scaling of climate-smart enterprises with a gender lens would contribute to the transition of East African countries to a low-carbon economy through women’s economic empowerment. Innovations and enterprises using climate-smart agriculture practices can play a critical role in improving the region’s food security. For this reason, it is imperative to support them in their efforts to scale up. In addition, given women's critical role in the region's food systems ecosystem - as producers, farm labourers, processors, and traders - it also becomes essential for these enterprises to embed a gender lens within their business design and advance gender mainstreaming. This is especially important since women in agriculture are often disproportionately affected by climate change.

Challenges faced by women in agriculture

It is estimated that 50% of the agricultural labour force in East Africa comprises women. Gender imbalances exist in the agriculture value chain and are further exacerbated by climate change. Women smallholder farmers are more vulnerable than men to climatic shocks and stressors as they tend to be more dependent on agriculture and natural resources and have less diversified livelihoods.

Structural gender inequalities impede women’s ability to respond to, adapt to or mitigate climate change impacts. Women tend to have fewer and lower-value assets as well as less access to land, capital, labour, agricultural inputs, and social and institutional networks. Coupled with social norms and gender roles that limit their agency, both at the household and community levels, women’s access to and use of climate-smart technologies is constrained. Subsequently, they have less time to pursue other sources of income as they are stuck in undertaking drudgery-prone activities as unpaid workers on the farm and in their homes. As a result, they face challenges such as limited decision-making power, negligible ownership of and control over land and other productive resources, time poverty and mobility.

Tanzania rice paddy credit Malingering via Flickr
Malingering via Flickr

The role of enterprises making use of gender-transformative approaches

It is in the business interest of enterprises to adopt a gender lens in their operations. Gender-inclusive approaches to business hold the potential for not only positively impacting women engaged in the sector, but also for providing a significant potential for the business growth of climate-smart agricultural enterprises. Evidence suggests that businesses incorporating women in their operations have better profitability and higher returns, more innovation, better decision-making, improved customer responsiveness and retention, and are also able to attract a gender lens.

Supporting climate-smart agricultural enterprises

Intellecap has launched an accelerator programme, ‘Business acceleration through gender mainstreaming’ which aims to support climate-smart agricultural enterprises in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda to scale-up and simultaneously mainstream gender in their operations. This programme is part of the wider ‘Reorienting the private sector to enable climate-smart agricultural solutions to address gender inequalitiesproject under the GLOW programme, supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). 

The accelerator programme has so far selected two enterprises in Kenya and Tanzania operating at the nexus of sustainable agriculture and climate change. The accelerator programme runs for a period of 12 months, for each of the enterprises, divided into 2 phases: the first six months are spent on providing customised technical assistance support and capacity strengthening through training and coaching on business and gender mainstreaming; and the second phase includes impact assessment and monitoring and evaluation to support the businesses in further institutionalising gender mainstreaming and keep track of it as the businesses scale.

Intellecap workshop credit Intellecap via GLOW
Intellecap via GLOW

Enterprises making an impact

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of economic activity in East Africa, accounting for more than 68% in Tanzania and more than 40% in Kenya. Good agricultural practices such as using quality, improved, and resilient seeds and planting material, soil testing, and health conservation, land preparation techniques, safe and efficient use of crop protection products, efficient water use and post-harvest loss management, are fundamental in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. Inadequate implementation of these measures leads to increasing inefficiencies in the use of inputs. This, in turn, leads to increased cost of production, reduced yields, and an overall reduction in incomes due to the reduced yields and increased cost of production.

Alaska Tanzania and Aquarech Ltd in Kenya, two enterprises supported by the programme, are helping farming communities adapt to climate change.

Alaska Tanzania is working to support local women farmers to improve their productivity. Tanzania is the leading producer of rice in East Africa and the fourth largest in hectare. Alaska Tanzania sources rice from a pool of 65 small-scale farmers, of whom 65% are women farmers. The enterprise trains farmers on good agricultural practices, climate change effects and coping mechanisms, including water conservation and effective use of inputs, thereby reducing the cost of inputs. So far, Alaska Tanzania has supported 8,000 paddy farmers through trainings on good agricultural practices, post-harvest losses and climate-smart measures. The enterprise also assists farmers in accessing high-quality inputs, and finance. In addition to the above interventions, Alaska Tanzania, through its Mama Lishe programme is championing gender inclusivity in agriculture by providing access to grants to women in the programme. Through this programme, Alaska Tanzania empowers street food vendors by training them on effective ways of managing their businesses.

Aquarech in Kenya is striving to reduce the vulnerabilities of women fish traders and enhance economic empowerment for women fish farmers. Although fishing is customarily considered a male activity, in Kenya, women play a substantial role in the fisheries sector, making up nearly half of the overall workforce in the fisheries value-chain. Despite their participation in the value chain, persistent gender inequalities exist due to inadequate education and training, cultural and societal norms and lack of financing, which prevent women from fully participating in economic opportunities and decision-making in the sector. This is where Aquarech is playing its part in helping small-scale fish farmers to adapt to climate change while actively championing gender mainstreaming in the sector. 

Aquarech sells high-quality floating fish feed to fish farmers, and sources, aggregates fish from small-scale farmers and sells to fish traders and eateries. It also trains farmers on good aquaculture practices, climate change effects and coping mechanisms, including using improved and more efficient feeds. Aquarech has an online platform, Aquarech farmer app, which allows fish farmers to directly trade with buyers on the platform, enhancing transparency in pricing. It also allows farmers to buy fish feed by placing orders through the platform. Furthermore, the platform offers a precise feeding regime that helps farmers adapt to climate change by monitoring and controlling water temperature. This feature eliminates underfeeding or overfeeding, thereby boosting fish production.

Intellecap workshop2 credit Intellecap via GLOW
Intellecap via GLOW

Challenges and opportunities in gender mainstreaming for the enterprises

While several enterprises offer climate-smart agriculture products and services in East Africa, multiple challenges limit their effective adoption and use: access to relevant and timely information, and inadequate capital are the most critical ones. The gender-impact potential of such products and services often remains unrealised due to the insufficient focus of the business on gender mainstreaming. Stakeholders such as investors lack the evidence to validate such enterprises' investment case and impact on women’s economic empowerment and low carbon development.

Alaska Tanzania faces challenges in sourcing from more women farmers since women have limited access to finance and training on good agricultural practice. Aquarech faces challenges in linking women farmers to inputs and knowledge on good agricultural practice, as most of their suppliers and customers are men. Women traders also face challenges accessing fish due to underlying social issues, like fish for sex required to access fish, and in effect, affecting their equal opportunity to earn a living from fish trading.

Intellecap conducted a needs assessment of these two enterprises which surfaced the opportunities for gender mainstreaming across their operations. Over and above the impact on improving livelihoods of the people in the community, Alaska Tanzania can increase sourcing from women farmers through contract farming, supported by linking the women to capital, markets and agronomy training. For Alaska Tanzania’s women customers, who are micro traders/ street food vendors (known as Mama Lishe), there is an opportunity to scale their businesses by linking them to financing partners and providing capacity-building support on business management.

On the other hand, opportunities for Aquarech can increase access to fish feed for its women fish farmers and improve access to markets for the women fish traders and thus potentially reducing their exposure to fish for sex. In addition, increased use of the digital platform has the potential to better link fish farmers to inputs and advisory services while transparently linking traders to markets.

The enterprises will spend the first six months of the program going through targeted gender-lens business development support. Support includes developing core value propositions through a business model canvas, market analysis and marketing opportunities, scaling strategies (including business planning, growth and operational efficiency), team and partnership management, financial management, capital raising and investor readiness. Intellecap will work with each of the enterprises to develop a Gender Action Plan which will guide them in their gender mainstreaming efforts across their operations.

By gender mainstreaming and including more women as customers and suppliers, the enterprises will increasingly impact women by helping them to cope with climate change.

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