What SMEs Can Do to Empower Women in Agriculture

Securing food, water, and energy is a responsibility that falls disproportionately on women. For most rural women, agriculture is how these resources are obtained, income is generated, and employment is secured. And yet, women have less access to natural resources and opportunities that would improve their agricultural activities. Additionally, climate change places a greater and gender-biased threat on women’s livelihoods as women must take on additional burdens.

On average women spend about 85% of their time each day on household food preparation, childcare, and other household chores. The burden of this work, in contrast to men’s, limits their potential to take advantage of new opportunities.

For this year’s International Rural Women’s Day, Batanayi Gwangwawa, Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor for WE4F Southern and Central Africa Hub, shares 5 actionable ways that businesses can promote and support rural women to achieve sustainable development and build climate resilience.

  1. Enable access to microfinance – Access to finances is important in empowering women rural farmers. It is also important for financing to take into consideration some limitations that would be specific to women, like the lack of collateral (  Taking the time to research and understand the needs of rural women, which make up the majority of innovators’ customer bases, allows your business to offer appropriate products and services.
  2. Facilitate digital inclusion and agritech skillsDigital access enables farmers to access information on early warnings about floods, droughts, and weather patterns. Endless opportunities for rural women are available in the digital world but if they cannot access them, then it is in vain. The so-called digital gender gap is most noticeable in Africa, where the ITU estimates that 37% of men have internet access but only 20% of women[1]. Illiteracy and limited skills in using complex devices are still barriers in most rural communities. The right blend of technologies and customer research can better serve different end users. A 2012 report by Dalberg and Intel, states that more than 30% of mobile-only female internet users surveyed globally are able to earn additional income through the internet[2]. As part of the work that SMEs do in rural communities, it may be important to do regular digital literacy coaching clinics with the objective being to increase women’s digital access and literacy. Digital literacy helps expand opportunities for women to take more ownership of their lives and improve their economic well-being.
  3. Conduct training and capacity-building programs, – whether in the field or the office, gender training is needed to understand the roles of rural women and analyze their contributions to the household. The World Bank advocates for training and awareness raising for both men and women about the societal value and benefits of empowering women. To increase productivity, SMEs can provide training on safety, prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse, and prevention of gender-based violence. This is crucial for SMEs whose model utilizes women field-based agents who interact face-to-face with customer segments at the grassroots. When these women feel safe and know that they are protected, they perform better, and SMEs can retain them for longer, leading to the positive performance of the SMEs.
  4. Promote leadership of women in activities – Rural women are an essential part of the solution to promoting inclusivity and sustainable practices. Their knowledge and experience can be leveraged to create a more sustainable future for all[3]. One example of this is the Great Green Wall initiative, an African-led project aimed at restoring degraded land across the Sahel region. Women played a critical role in this project, leading and providing expertise in conservation projects, which helped to sustainably restore land, reduce poverty, and improve food security for Sahel communities.
  5. Increase representation – ensure that the content, format, or presentation of information is done in a way that would be of interest to women clients. This may require you to adapt content to local needs by tailored messaging and using appropriate communication channels like radio, pictorials, informal gatherings, cooperative meetings etc.

Uplifting rural women translates into water, food and energy for their families, communities, and the entire region. Only through their empowerment can we truly achieve sustainable progress and create a world where every woman is granted equal opportunities.

By focusing on promoting women’s economic empowerment, access to agri-knowledge, and economic opportunities, SMEs can contribute towards the creation of a more equitable and inclusive society. For companies interested in aligning their work to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the empowerment of rural women directly contributes to the achievement of several SDGs; chief amongst them, SDG 1 (poverty eradication) 2(zero hunger) 5 (gender equality), SDG 6 (water security), and 7(affordable and clean energy).

The WE4F Southern and Central Africa Open Call for Innovations invites businesses that are taking steps like these to empower rural women and others at the base of the pyramid to apply. To date, 60% of the companies supported by WE4F S/CA Hub are women-led and/or -owned companies. In addition, these innovators and WE4F actively promote women’s leadership by providing technical assistance for more gender-inclusive and responsive practices and supporting training and mentorship activities that improve knowledge levels about agriculture, participation in agriculture value chain, and access to markets. Join the cohort Calls for Innovations and Prizes – SCA – Water and Energy for Food Grand Challenge (we4f.org).