Date released
16 June 2023

An Australia–Canada program that fosters innovation and business skills among women and young people is generating new business and employment opportunities in these agricultural communities.

The initiative, Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF), is a partnership between ACIAR and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). It funds research in food security, resilience and gender equity for smallholder farmers.

Ms Mercy Rurii, CultiAF program officer at IDRC, explained that CultiAF projects have a two-step approach. The first focuses on finding innovations and technologies that can improve productivity, nutrition, water management and adaptation to climate change impacts on smallholder agricultural workers.

The second step refines and scales up the identified innovations and technologies, with gender considerations central to every project.

Malawi fish processing

A recent project in Malawi in south-eastern Africa scaled up the adoption of improved fish processing technologies.

‘Fish processing was done in the open, in unsanitary conditions with exposure to pests and dust,’ said Ms Rurii. ‘So we looked at what was required to improve the conditions, provide longer shelf life and meet the standards to supply higher-value supermarkets.’

The project showed that improved access to fish smoking kilns and solar tent dryers was an effective way to reduce post-harvest losses, estimated at around 34%. Losses negatively impacted both the fish supply and incomes, especially for women who are often more involved in fish processing than men.

The CultiAF project then looked at ways to increase access to these technologies. This included finding a way for women to access the financial resources needed to build or install the kilns and solar dryer. Negotiations resulted in finding a bank that would offer a 2% lower interest rate for women.

The finance was further supported by the bank, which provided dedicated resources specialising in agricultural financing and financial literacy training for the project’s participants.

‘You need to make sure they understand the process – filling in questionnaires, financial tracking, keeping books. The project gave us a platform to begin to understand what you need to build a financial inclusion project for women,’ said Ms Rurii.

A smiling woman holding seedlings
The CultiAF youth agripreneurs program has helped Ms Sylla Aisha build her lettuce-growing business. Photo: Georgina Smith

Youth agripreneurship in Kenya

A youth agripreneurs project in Kenya also had gender-inclusive financial guidance at its core. The project was designed to encourage more young people under 35 to engage in agribusiness.

Professor Amos Njuguna, project leader and professor of finance at the United States International University, Africa, said a successful small project focused on business training for youth in fish and poultry value chains.

This was then scaled up over 18 months, expanding the value chains eligible for business training and adding financing and mentorship.

‘The training helped people develop business plans, but sometimes they needed someone to connect them to finance resources, or someone to guide them further as they implemented what they had learned,’ said Professor Njuguna.

‘The main objective was to determine whether the investment in training, mentorship and access to finance for young people can contribute to two things: better business performance and employment creation.’

A potato farmer in a blue coat smiling with his produce
A young agripreneur in Nairobi, Mr Samuel Thuo Irungu collects potatoes from rural areas to sell to town businesses. Photo: Georgina Smith, CIAT

Gender-inclusive aspects were embedded into the project from the start, using feedback from beneficiaries to inform the programming. For example, men generally wanted the training to be away from their home districts, but 85% of women wanted the training to be near their homes due to caregiving responsibilities and attachment to their environment.

The project also found that men were more likely to receive funding than women, so the project also included de-risking participants. This was achieved by teaching financial literacy and including finance providers from the beginning so they could communicate what they were looking for. It also allowed the finance providers to see how the program prepared participants to achieve business success.

Professor Njuguna said the program has had lasting impacts through creating businesses that go on to employ other young people. It has been used by local governments to improve their agribusiness strategies and has created mentors who can continue to train more people.

‘Some women who participated in the program have gone on to translate the learning materials into their local language and start training fellow women,’ said Professor Njuguna. ‘And, for me, that’s huge when someone decides “now I can do even more than smallholder farming and train others within my region”.’

These projects demonstrate how innovative research can be tailored to meet local needs, consider the different needs of male and female participants and contribute to successful outcomes, with the participants themselves carrying the work forward and continuing the momentum for change. Dr Leah Ndungu, ACIAR Regional Manager, Eastern and Southern Africa, highlighted this as part of the ongoing value of the CultiAF program, which leverages the collaborative investment of ACIAR and IDRC for greater impact.

‘CultiAF supports innovative research with the potential for breakthrough results that could be effectively scaled up and easily adopted along the value chain to improve food security in Eastern and Southern Africa,’ said Dr Ndungu.

ACIAR PROJECT: ‘Business models for scaling improved fish processing technologies in Malawi’ (GP/2019/170); ‘The effectiveness of the Metro Agri-Food Living Lab for gender inclusive youth entrepreneurship development in Kenya’ (GP/2019/172)