Women are being left behind. Investment in women works. And we cannot be patient any more.
These were the three key messages to be drawn from a policy symposium covering women in agribusiness and financial inclusion at AGRF 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Leading the way – both in opening the session and in terms of passion – was Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Senior Programme Specialist at IDRC (Canada’s International Development Research Centre).

Attacking the status quo, she said: “Far too often, we hear the phrase ‘We must make women bankable’. Instead, I say it’s high time that we made financial services ‘womenable’.”

She also called upon the banking industry and society as a whole to stop assuming that female agricultural entrepreneurs and businesswomen are only interested in subsistence farming and therefore in minor borrowing needs. “Let’s not relegate women to micro,” she said.

According to the Hon. Mamadou Sangafowa Coulibaly, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Côte d’Ivoire, his experience suggests that quite the opposite approach would be more appropriate. As he said, “Women have proven to be better economic agents than men.”
A possible reason for this was proposed by scientist, sweet-potato entrepreneur and 2016 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Maria Andrade, who described an experiment in which men and women were asked how they would spend a gift of $100. The male response mainly involved beer. Females really stretched the money, primarily around family needs.
Despite this clear advantage in terms of financial sense, women’s access to financial services continues to lag far behind that of men. In Zambia, for example, just 26 percent of female farmers have a bank account, compared with 49 percent of males. Meanwhile, there are only five countries in Africa where the proportion of female business-owners exceeds just 10 percent of the male share.
According to the Rt. Hon. Lord Paul Boateng, former British Cabinet Minister, former High Commissioner to South Africa and Chair of the AECF (Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund) Board, the time for any further patience is over. “Women farmers in Africa are in no better place today than my paternal grandmother was in Ghana 60 year ago,” he said.
This is why the AECF has adopted a gender-lens approach, integrating gender analysis in all investment activities, implementing an inclusive investment process that allows equal access to finance.
A similarly intentional approach is underway at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where Executive Director Rodger Voohries called for a sector that includes everyone and benefits everybody.
Currently, he said, poverty is sexist. In times of crisis, women start to suffer first and recover more slowly. But he sees real hope that Africa can rapidly close its financial inclusion gap. “We’ve already seen Africa lead the world in the mobile-finance revolution, and I believe we’re going to see Africa lead again.”
One tool that might help in this area was described by H.E Sara Hradecky, High Commissioner of Canada to Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda, and Ambassador to Somalia. This is a psychometric test that strips any gender bias out of lending decisions by identifying an individual’s likelihood of repaying a loan.
“It means many more women without collateral are receiving the finance they need,” she said.
Dr. Njuki is confident that another powerful tool is one that can revolutionise female business progress – bundled support services that bring together training, mentoring and access to finance. She described a research project that showed just 57 percent of recipients went on to launch a business if provided with either training or financial access in isolation. Taking the bundled approach drove that figure up to 93 percent.
Food for thought.