As the COVID-19 pandemic struck Africa and food challenges linked to broken supply chains became a reality, the most affected people were women and children.
Panellists at the Advancing Gender and Nutrition session of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) confirmed that women were overburdened with the responsibility of feeding their families as food prices soared amidst a diminishing supply as a result of containment measures, including lockdowns. "Women are disproportionately affected by spending time spent in chores and by the complete loss of employment and income. But the most nutritionally vulnerable groups are children, especially those who used to depend on schools for their meal rations, and now must wait on their parents for food," said Olav Kjørven, the Chief Strategy Officer at the EAT Foundation.
With the pandemic likely to last the medium to long-term, the panellists agreed on the need for immediate solutions to cushion women, especially, from further consequences. For working solutions, the speakers recommended consulting the target group - African women in this case - who would then help identify their biggest challenges and recommend the key areas of assistance.
"Mothers are incredibly inventive in how they preserve the nutritional value of food, by finding ways of substituting and stretching... there are some innovative things that people do... we could learn a lot more in terms of those innovations and the processing techniques being used and how they could be scaled up... we need to listen and learn and see how we can find innovation in this moment," said Prof. Sheryl Hendriks, Director of the Institute for Food Nutrition and Well-being at the University of Pretoria.
In the second half of the session, the conversation shifted to women in business and finance, where it was majorly accepted that women disproportionately face challenges in access to business financial support.
Marieme Esther Dassanou, Coordinator of Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), noted that although some financial institutions are beginning to see women entrepreneurs as valid clients, the level of interest is not yet enough to meet the demand.
"Today, in the continent, there are financial institutions that specifically target women entrepreneurs. However, they are nowhere near the levels that we want to see," she said.
Among the early steps to fast-track the growth of financial support for women-led enterprises, particularly those in agribusiness, the panellists said it was the establishment of databases that make a correlation to capacity to repay loans and their business models.
Prioritizing data-led research, according to Dominique Charron, the Vice President of Programs and Partnerships at IDRC Français, would help recognize women as a key part of the envisioned agricultural transformation.
"Research has a real role in overcoming and understanding what the barriers are to big solutions and gender financing is a big solution," Dr. Charron said.