Growing female agripreneurs – how social enterprises support women in rural communities
In celebration of this year’s International Women’s Day, we are spotlighting a unique social enterprise approach from Ghana that promotes female engagement in rural agricultural business (agribusiness). In an inspiring panel session from SEWF 2021 Rural Forum on engaging and involving young women in rural enterprise, Jody Nelson from the Island Food Network (Canada) and Nana Adjoa Sifa from Guzakuza (Ghana) spoke on their entrepreneurial experiences and challenges as women in agriculture.
How hard is it to make agribusiness look good?
Nana in 2015 founded her social enterprise, Guzakuza, in Ghana. But the word “Guzakuza” has an East African origin. Consisting of two Swahili words; “guza” means to grow and ‘kuza’, means to touch. Together, Guzakuza not only represents how growth touches lives and brings positive impact to the growth of agripreneurs, but it also represents how female engagement in agriculture can greatly improve a community in general. Similarly, the Island Food Network, of which Jody works as Coordinator, aims to use more sustainable and resilient food systems to grow and transform rural communities. And for growth to occur, they both agree that we need the engagement of more young and eager female minds.
During the panel discussion, Nana and Jody established that agriculture is not attractive enough to many. And while they work on projects in different parts of the world, both noticed the lack of women and young graduates in the field. There is a need and a gap for social enterprises like Guzakuza and the Island Food network to help women, especially in rural communities, realise the economic potential of farming. Guzakuza’s Ignite programme for example provides young female graduates with the adequate support needed to get into agribusiness. They offer internships, training and mentorship.
Remote communities such as Cape Breton Island in Canada, often experience a large migration of young families to areas with more economic opportunities. In order to retain not only the people but also the culture, the Island Food Network encourages young families, graduates and women to engage in local food initiatives. They support these endeavours through various projects and workshops that teach food knowledge, connect food leaders, promote partnerships and advocate for a more inclusive and diverse food system. As Jody highlighted, sharing the processes of “growing, preparing, and eating food can be the glue that holds a community together”.
Indeed, both Nana and Jody share a similar mission of making agribusiness more attractive especially to young women.
A non-traditional pursuit
However, the most challenging hurdle according to their conversation continues to be the societal mindset regarding females in agriculture. Despite having the desire to enter the sector, many fail due to a lack of support which further fuels a self-perpetuating cycle of negative affirmation. Many don’t believe they can make a living from farming or that it is a profitable occupation. Social enterprises, like Guzakuza and the Island Food Network, are taking important steps in shifting this narrative. With their support and investment in women and their agricultural initiatives, they increase the visibility of ‘She Farmers’, as representation is significant when advocating for change. When asked about what their social enterprises needed most, Nana stressed the importance of more role models and success stories to show people that “it is possible.”
What many don’t realise is that it’s not only farming that these social enterprises invest in. They believe in value chain systems and actively encourage a wide range of expertise and qualifications. To make social and economic impact as a female graduate “you can bring your knowledge in marketing, in accounting, or in whatever field you find yourself in”. Guzakuza is currently collaborating with other partners to issue professional qualifications for young women in agribusiness. And due to a disappearing skill base in remote areas such as Cape Breton, programmes such as Culture Exchange aim to revalue local knowledge holders and upskill the community on cultural practices surrounding small scale food production.
When put into consideration that we are all facing a growing global population, it is important to plant the seeds of organic, sustainable and inclusive farming early in order to strengthen our communities and future generations.
Transcribed and written by Tessa Porter