The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Regional Office for Africa has launched a new brief that advocates for seizing the opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) for the economic empowerment of women in agriculture. The publication is launched today to coincide with the International Day for Rural Women which is celebrated every year on 15 October to honour women and girls living in rural areas.
The AfCFTA holds the potential to contribute significantly to eliminating poverty, creating jobs, and improving food security. However, the new publication Seizing the opportunities of the African Continental Free Trade Area for the economic empowerment of women in agriculture warns that the AfCFTA could exacerbate existing gender disparities and discrimination and worsen the condition of women engaged in trade and agriculture if women’s inclusion is not prioritized.
The AfCFTA will change existing trading practices and formalize markets which could preclude women’s access and further relegate them to informal and less lucrative value chains.
“Women must not be left behind,” said FAO Senior Gender Officer Clara Park. “It is of pivotal importance that we create ecosystems of support that enable women to access opportunities created through the AfCFTA and reinvigorate our efforts to address existing gender inequalities in access to and control over land, services, technology, markets and knowledge. We need to bring women and their organizations to the decision making table,” she said.
Women’s key role in Africa’s food production and trade
Around 85 percent of economic activity in Africa is conducted in the informal sector where women account for nearly 90 percent of the informal labour force. Many rural women also sell goods and agricultural produce through informal trade channels and cross-border trade.
The African Continental Free Trade Area agreement establishes the largest free-trade area in the world. The single market aims to enhance intra-African trade, facilitate investment, improve continental economic integration, and boost African countries’ competitiveness in the global market.
Some of the many benefits women can reap by trading under the AfCFTA include moving up the value chain, leveraging networks of women’s associations, upgrading their businesses, and tapping into new markets.
Ensuring women’s inclusion
The publication makes recommendations relevant to stakeholders across the trade sector, including: strategic partnerships to develop innovative solutions and policy recommendations to ensure that the implementation of the AfCFTA agreement will provide opportunities that benefit women; build the capacity of women and women’s organizations so that they are involved in Africa’s trade environment and understand what the AfCFTA agreement entails, including its opportunities and challenges; and engage the private sector to connect with women’s groups involved in agricultural value chains.
FAO recognizes that women play a critical role in food production in Africa. FAO is working with partners to unlock the potential of trade and seize the opportunities of the AfCFTA for rural women.