Empowering Women in Agribusiness During a Pandemic

By Irene Mirembe

The idea to engage and educate women in pathways to sustainable economic development originated from a lively discussion in Accra, Ghana during the Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminar (Alumni TIES) on “Strengthening Business and Trade for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa” in June 2019.

In collaboration with fellow Alumni TIES participants, Nomuntu Ndhlovu from South Africa and Thubelihle Ndlovu from Zimbabwe, we devised the Empower Women, Transform Uganda project (EWTU), which was funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State. The goal of the project was to strengthen the business and trade practices of women entrepreneurs in their local communities by educating them on financial literacy and smart, sustainable agricultural practices as well as instilling a culture of saving.

Beginning in February 2020, EWTU conducted practical hands-on training in financial literacy skills with 50 women entrepreneurs working in agribusiness in Mabuye, Luweero District, Uganda. After the training and during group sessions, 50% of the participants realized they were conducting their agribusinesses at a financial loss. They strategized with one another to address the inefficiencies in their respective businesses and formulate ways to increase their profits for the next agricultural season.

Project leader, Irene Mirembe, conducts the financial literacy training for participants.

In addition to trainings, participants formed accountability groups compromised of ten women each with selected leaders for each group. As group leaders, these selected women visited a demonstration farm in Kawuku,

Wakiso District where they discovered different ways to use agricultural waste to improve productivity. Following this experience, the group leaders returned to their groups and shared the skills they received through further training and demonstrations.

Unfortunately, in March, the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted the remainder of the trainings scheduled. We were forced to postpone sessions and activities that were planned for the 2020 wet season and deferred them to the 2021 season. The pandemic also delayed the travel of the rest of the project team from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Despite these setbacks, we continued to hold training sessions when possible, and the enthusiastic participants are already applying their newly acquired skills to their agribusinesses during the lockdown.

Prior to the pandemic, we arranged to host 1,000 people from the local community to educate them on climate change. In September 2020, we adjusted the approach to this training, the project team members and participants travelled to numerous households to teach them about the importance of planting trees and the effect bush burning has on their agribusinesses. The project team also distributed eucalyptus, prunus Africana, and grevillea seedlings to all participants; over 4,000 seedlings were distributed to the households in the communities.

Community members gather for the climate change awareness session where staff distributed tree seedlings to households in Mabuye, Luweero District, Uganda.

To conduct our next training during COVID, we required the permission of the Residential District Commissioner and the Uganda police. After receiving approval and ensuring social distancing, use of face masks, and continuous sanitation, participants received training on how to deal with crop pests and diseases to ensure the prosperity of their agribusinesses. An agricultural specialist trained and demonstrated to the women how to organically prepare pesticides and herbicides and detailed the use of different pesticides in farming. We were permitted to train 35 women and they educated the other women in their respective groups.

Participants gather for training from an agricultural specialist.

Going forward, we plan to officially launch the next phase of our project, the Saving and Credit Cooperative, in January 2021. As we reflect on the project thus far, it has yielded positive results as many women have increased their farming acreage and have started to save more aggressively. One group has even accessed capital to buy farm inputs for planting during this wet season. It is clear that empowering women generates a multiplier effect and sets a positive example for future generations. When we invest in women, communities prosper!

Empower Women, Transform Uganda is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.