Youth initiative in agribusiness helping transform African agriculture

Mercy Haruna Wakawa from Borno State, Nigeria, was looking forward to getting a job after graduating from the University of Maiduguri where she studied Food Science and Technology. After so many futile efforts to get a job, and almost at the point of giving up, she got the opportunity to participate in enterprise development training with other youths from Borno State in September 2014.

“I was not keen but enlisted for the training just to be part of anything. I did not know that something meaningful was going to come out of it. The training was organized by the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) at the IITA Kano Station (in northern Nigeria). It was a three-week, mind-changing, intensive training, which covered topics in agribusiness, entrepreneurship, ICT in agribusiness, fish farming, and science-driven agricultural practices,” she said.

“After the training, with counselling and encouragement, I reluctantly ventured into postharvest processing of groundnut. The business took off in January 2016. I was given a starter package by N2Africa, a project implemented by IITA.”

Today, she is the founder and Managing Director of a successful agribusiness company, Confianza Global Resources, that processes groundnut into oil and cake for livestock feed. Her journey into agribusiness started with the interventions of the IITA Youth Agripreneur program and N2Africa.

Mercy says groundnut processing is a profitable business. Confianza Global Resources currently employs four youths from the host community. The business has also created livelihood opportunities for many women in groundnut processing and marketing in the host and neighboring communities.

Zaccheus Izuwa is the proprietor of Sorgi Enterprises, which is into grain supply, seed production, and consultancy. He started the business in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, after incubation with IITA in 2015. The business found a niche in production and aggregation of sorghum grains, making its first sale in 2016. Sorgi aims to become the leading producer and supplier of clean high-quality sorghum grains in West Africa. It now provides seeds and grains to big private sector partners such as Honeywell Flour Mills and Guinness Nigeria Ltd., and to the IITA Business Incubation Platform, IITA’s commercialization arm, which produces Aflasafe, a biocontrol product that controls aflatoxin, and NoduMax, a bioinoculant that fixes nitrogen to improve the yield of legumes, such as soybean.

According to Izuwa it was the challenge of youth unemployment across Nigeria and Africa at large and the ever increasing hunger threat that were the major propelling force for his business. “I want to employ other youths and also contribute in the fight against hunger and malnutrition in Nigeria through this business.”

“Sorgi Enterprise is evidence of the fact that youth without prior exposure to agriculture can be actively engaged in the sector through adequate mentoring and coaching. Our academic qualifications and enthusiasm can help ensure success in the way we go about our businesses.”

Top Notch Poultry, a feed-to-fork broiler business invested $120,000 to increase its revenue from $90,000 to $200,000, and has 9 staff which it hopes to increase to 26 by year’s end. The company is building a small-scale commercial reference-farm with feed mill, parent stock, incubation, hatching, growing, processing and retail/food units for research, training, and franchising. The business adopts the latest industry innovations, including a multi-cracker for cutting feed rather than milling, on-farm hatching, and the use of energy efficient panel brooders which imitate the natural environment in which the birds grow.

With support from IITA’s Youth Agripreneur program, and a fully repaid start-up loan of $14,000 in January 2017, the company now sells 500 chickens per week. “We want to grow the business this year to 1,000 chickens per week, and seek further investment to train other youth and establish a revolving fund to establish their own franchises,” explains Ibukun Agbotoba, youth agripreneur and co-owner.

These youth agricultural entrepreneurs or “agripreneurs” all went through IITA’s youth incubation program, a model that is attracting the attention of many development organizations and funders. This formula for youth engagement in agriculture is being adopted by other development projects and government programs promoting job creation and employment, including Nigeria and the other sub-Saharan African countries.

These stories are repeated in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa where the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and IYA have started a chapter or trained youth in agricultural business and value chain enterprises or provided start-up packages.

IITA will showcase to stakeholders in the agricultural sector in Germany how it is contributing to the transformation and development of African agriculture through agricultural innovations that meet the continent’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, natural degradation, and youth unemployment.

The side event will take place after the IITA Board of Trustees meeting scheduled on 26 April at the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, in Germany, which is hosting the meeting.

The IITA Director General, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, will give a presentation titled the ‘African Agricultural Transformation: The IITA Agripreneur Approach to Job Creation.’ Sanginga will talk on how IITA trained, mentored, and coached unemployed young people such as Mercy, Zaccheus, and Ibukun, to embrace agriculture as a business and create jobs and wealth. Zaccheus and Ibukun will also be presenting on their stories and experiences in setting up their agribusinesses.

According to Sanginga, “Part of the challenges facing Africa is the ageing population of the active food-producing farmers which is roughly 60 years. We need a new generation of farmers to produce our food in the future. Also, the rate of food importation in the continent is $35 billion per year, which is estimated to increase to $110 billion if nothing is done by 2025. Yet the continent has over 60 percent of the arable land in the world and over 60 percent of the young people—who constitute the larger percentage of the population in Africa—are jobless and not contributing to its economic development,” he said.

“We need to mobilize this dynamic, vibrant, resilient, and active sector of our population, give them support to succeed in agribusiness and innovative agricultural enterprises through training, incubation, and start-ups, and ensure Africa’s, if not the world’s food supplies in the future,” Sanginga reiterated.

IITA established the IITA Youth Agripreneurs in 2012 to train young people from diverse academic backgrounds towards revitalizing the agricultural sector through food production, food safety, as well as research and technology dissemination to African farmers.

“By breeding a younger and more innovative and educated generation of farmers, IITA is helping ensure that the young people take over from the older generation of farmers, and industrialize the sector through the establishment of self-sustainable agribusiness enterprises which give young people the opportunity to create jobs for others,” explained Prof. Christian Borgemeister, ZEF Director and a member of the IITA Board.

IITA and IYA have trained over 2,000 youth in countries like DR Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Tanzania along various value chains, many of them establishing agribusiness enterprises.

For instance, the N2Africa project, which work through partnerships using effective production technologies including inoculants (NoduMax) and phosphorus fertilizers, has a strong focus on engaging youth as agents of change towards increased food production, improved livelihoods, and reduced unemployment. This is done through mentorship and capacity building on new agricultural production technologies, entrepreneurship development, provision of starter packages, and facilitating access to credit. More than 120 trained youth are currently employed in agribusiness activities in the northern part of Nigeria.

In the same vein, IITA set up the Business Incubation Platform (BIP) in its headquarters in Ibadan, to scale out its research and technologies to help ensure that 11 million people are raised out of poverty and redirect the sustainable use of 7.5 million hectares of degraded land. BIP hires young men and women in its operations, who are also trained in various aspects of agricultural production, processing, marketing, and networking; and works with start-up agribusinesses set up by youth that have undergone incubation with IITA and IYA.

The model has since been adopted by the African Development Bank for a continent-wide youth-in-agribusiness initiative known as ENABLE Youth Program. ENABLE Youth aims to use over $1 billion to provide over 8 million agribusiness jobs and support agricultural enterprises within 5 years for unemployed young women and men.

Researchers develop a new way to describe plantain diversity in DRC

Researchers studying the morphological (structure and form) diversity of plantain in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have developed an innovative way to describe plantain diversity using descriptors based on performance, grouping them into main, secondary, and rare descriptors.

The morphological identification of plantain cultivars is important since molecular tools appear to have little value in supporting research in plantain taxonomy to differentiate plantain cultivars.

Three new descriptors

In the new system, three sets of descriptors are used: the first are the main descriptors such as bunch size and orientation, plant size and height, which allow a quick and easy separation of plantain cultivars.

Bunch type was a major striking difference and quickly separated plantain cultivars into three main types. Other striking differences were the size of the pseudostem or trunk (giant, medium-sized, and small-sized) and the bunch orientation (which was generally pendulous or subhorizontal, and rarely horizontal and erect).

The secondary descriptors allow the differentiation of one cultivar from another within the same main group of bunch type, pseudostem size, or bunch orientation. Multiple secondary descriptors include pseudostem color, immature fruit peel color, fruit shape, fruit apex, fruit position, number of hands, fruit size, number of fingers per hand, and flower relicts at the fruit apex.

The third set are the rare descriptors, which allow the differentiation of one cultivar from all the others in the subgroup.

According to the researchers, this approach proved useful in differentiating the nearly 100 plantain accessions in the collection of the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS) in DRC. This approach makes cultivar description logical and faster because it moves from general to particular characteristics.

The study, titled The morphological diversity of plantain in the Democratic Republic of Congo by J.G. Adheka, D.B. Dhed’a, D. Karamura, G. Blomme, R. Swennen, and E. De Langhe, focused on the morphological characterization of plantain cultivars collected in the period 2005–2014 in 280 villages across nine provinces of DRC. These cultivars were established in two field collections at UNIKIS.

Picture of A False Horn plantain variety called Tala Lola from Central DR Congo
A False Horn plantain variety called ‘Tala Lola’ from Central DR Congo

Most of the collected cultivars were French plantains (64 out of 98), followed by False Horn (23) and Horn (10) plantains.

Banana cultivars are usually described using Descriptors for bananas (Musa spp.) developed by IPGRI-INIBAP/CIRAD in 1996. The researchers had adapted these existing descriptors to better differentiate the variation and improve future research on plantains. This new work, published in Scientia Horticulturae, however, showed that this descriptor list is not appropriate for describing variation within the plantain subgroup, with 77 out of a total of 117 descriptors not considered useful.

The researchers believe that this existing descriptor list for banana will also not be appropriate in describing variation within other subgroups of banana, like the East African Highland banana, Pacific plantain, etc.

The observed variation was reproduced in the collection during succeeding cycles and confirmed the stability of the cultivars, as well as the value of the new descriptors. The classification of the plantain cultivars at the UNIKIS collection can be used as a standard for investigating plantain diversity for the entire African continent.

Large plantain diversity in DRC

The study results showed that the humid zone of DRC contains an exceptionally large diversity of plantains among the edible Musa subgroups. This means that DRC also has the largest diversity of plantains in Africa. The 100 different cultivars covered in the study represent just a part of the entire plantain variability zone in DRC. More cultivars are expected to be found in regions of the country that still need to be explored. The researchers believe that the diversity of plantain in DRC could be substantially larger than 120 cultivars.

Picture of A Horn plantain variety called Ikpolo Noir found in DR Congo
A Horn plantain variety called ‘Ikpolo Noir’ found in DR Congo

Plantain characterization data from DRC offer a platform for reflections on the pan-African scale of plantain diversity. Assessing and characterizing the complete plantain diversity in Africa is possible by compiling characterization results of all Central and West African countries whereby UNIKIS in DRC will play a key role given its expertise and access to the largest plantain variability.

Since the planting of all accessions in one location is not feasible due to financial constraints, the researchers encouraged plantain curators to continue intensive contact, with regular exchange visits and discussions, to progressively reach an agreement on classification, synonymy, and uniqueness of all plantain cultivars.

In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 30 million people depend on banana as the principal source of dietary carbohydrate, with small-scale farmers making up the vast majority of banana and plantain producers. They grow the crop mainly for home consumption or for local markets. In West and Central Africa, about two-thirds of the banana cultivated and produced are plantain, which need to be processed and/or cooked for consumption.

The other third consists of dessert and other cooking bananas. In Africa, the major producing countries are Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, and Côte d’Ivoire. According to the FAO, production of plantain in these countries ranks high (12.3 million tons in 2014) among the starchy staples.

The study was conducted as part of a collaboration of researchers from University of Kisangani (UNIKIS), IITA, Bioversity International, and the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, Division of Crop Biotechnics, Katholieke Universiteit, Belgium.

Media contact: Katherine Lopez,

IITA and partners conduct first proteomic investigation in plantain and banana

Scientists from IITA and partner institutions have carried out the first known proteomic investigation into plantain. The results of the study are featured in a paper, titled “The plantain proteome, a focus on allele specific proteins obtained from plantain fruits” by N.A. Campos, R. Swennen, and S.C. Carpentier. Proteomics entails the study of the expression of proteins in a cell or organism. This is important because proteins are responsible for both the structure and the functions of all living things.

Picture of Plantain fruit. Nádia Campos, KU Leuven.
Plantain fruit. Nádia Campos, KU Leuven.

IITA banana breeder Rony Swennen said the identification and public release of the plantain fruit proteome is an important step for plantain varietal selection and breeding. He said the research is important because little attention has been given to postharvest research in plantain, a staple especially in Central and West Africa and Latin America, which grows most of the world’s plantains.

Fruit development and maturation in plantain is hardly studied unlike in the more popular dessert banana. As a result, he said plantain suffers from many pests and diseases, although it is currently bred for higher yield. The acceptance of new plantain hybrids by farmers needs to be accelerated, hence the importance of better understanding the fruit physiology of plantain to develop hybrids that are more acceptable to consumers and have a better shelf life.

The proteomic research into plantain used an easy and reproducible procedure for protein extraction and identification, resulting in the first proteome (set of proteins) of plantain fruits. The results were compared with the proteome from the dessert banana Cavendish.

The scientists found that both the plantain and Cavendish cultivars were relatively close genetically but showed contrasting phenotypic or physical differences such as size, texture, color of fruit, and flavor. These characteristics, the scientists said, comes from a different physiology and maturation process.

The plantain fruit preserves more starch for longer periods than sweet banana. The type of starch also differs. According to the scientists, there are two types of starch in banana: resistant starch (RS) and non-resistant starch. This classification is linked to the capacity to be digested by the human body. Plantain degrades RS faster, but at maturation, is richer in resistant starch.

The paper concluded that an improved understanding of the fruit maturation process may yield benefits for public health, farming, and agricultural business.

The study was conducted as part of a collaboration of researchers from IITA, the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, Division of Crop Biotechnics, Katholieke Universiteit, Belgium, and SYBIOMA: Facility for SYstems BIOlogy based MAss spectrometry, KU Leuven.

Media contact: Katherine Lopez,

Interview with Sounkoura Adetonah, Gender Specialist, IITA-Benin on female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa (International Women’s Day 2018)

1. Today is International Women’s Day. How would you assess the role and progress of female farmers in sub-Saharan Africa?

Nowadays, the integration of gender and especially the consideration of women is a very important, and sometimes key aspect, in inclusive agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 78% of women in sub-Saharan Africa are economically active in agriculture, compared to only 64% of men. According to the FAO (1995), women are responsible for more than 50% of agricultural food production in the world and sub-Saharan is no exception. Moreover, women now constitute the majority of smallholder farmers, providing most of the labor and managing most farming activities on a daily basis. Nevertheless, a complex set of rights, obligations, and considerations reflect the social norms, which identify the prescriptions and the division of labor between men and women in agriculture value chains.

2. What has changed despite the strides research institutes have made in introducing various farming techniques and easy to use technologies?

In spite of the strides of research institutes at national and international levels, women often have very limited access to resources, innovations, and to profitable channels. They also have difficulty engaging in more lucrative activities. With limited financial resources, improved technologies are very expensive and not available for them. Since men have more access to information and inputs compared to women, they are more likely to adopt a technology than women.

3. What can be done to improve the lot of the rural farmers?

All social groups must have access to the same opportunities, access to markets for inputs and products. With the introduction of an inclusive funding model, women can have greater access to technology and credit through their organizations. Direct and indirect jobs will be created including those related to services (agricultural advice, use of agricultural machinery, management of cooperatives, brokerage service, information system and insurance) and the empowerment of women will be strengthened.

4. What is your perception of African women farmers?

African women farmers are key contributors to economic growth and global food security, but they still face many challenges. There are significant gender disparities in the way that key resources essential for success in agriculture are distributed across Africa. Access to land, inputs, assets, markets, information and knowledge, time, decision-making authority, and income still present a challenge for women in the sector. The limited access to agricultural extension services prevents many women from adopting the technologies that would help them increase their yields. For example, an estimated yield gap between men and women of 20 to 30% has been observed, and this hinders the growth of the agricultural sector in many developing countries. Also, female farmers receive only 5% of all agricultural extension services, and only 15% of the world’s extension agents are women. In addition, only 10% of total aid received by the agricultural and fisheries sectors goes to women. Women generally use lower levels of technology because of difficulties in access, cultural restrictions on use, or regard for women’s crops and livestock as low research priorities. In terms of the training and education, African women are less educated and trained.

5. What does International Women’s Day (8 March) mean to you and an average woman?

International Women’s Day (IWD) (8 March) is a great day for all women. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The campaign theme for this year is #PressforProgress, International Women’s Day is not country, group, or organization specific. It belongs to all groups collectively, everywhere. So together, let’s all be tenacious in accelerating gender parity.

Happy Women’s Day to all women!

Sparing a thought for rural female farmers (International Women’s Day 2018)

by Adebola Adewole

Today is International Women’s Day. March 8 is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. In agriculture, what does gender parity look like? Has there been a significant improvement in the income and lives of rural female farmers? Are they at par with their male counterparts? These questions are germane because the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 78% of women in sub-Saharan Africa are economically active in agriculture against 64% of men. According to the FAO, women are responsible for more than 50% of agricultural food production in the world and sub-Saharan Africa. Yet they still occupy the lowest rungs of the economic ladder and are considered the poorest of the poor.

These women are the bedrock of food and nutritional security as farmers, producers, processors, harvesters, weeders, and retailers in many African countries. They produce the bulk of the food eaten in urban centers through subsistence farming. Then what has changed? Maria Ayodele, IITA Pathologist retorted: “Nothing has changed. There has not been any material and financial improvement in the lives of the rural women farmers as they still wallow in abject poverty because of lack of empowerment and capacity building and failure of government and local leadership authority. We simply do not care.”

She explained further: “Go to any community in Oyo State, women still fry gari in huts, with firewood. There may be only one hydraulic press in a community, which the women will queue up to use. Government or the rich people should provide more of such for the people to use. Yet we say we are celebrating women when we have failed to empower them in these communities.”

Due to the global economic recession, African countries now have a renewed interest in making agriculture a substantial source of revenue. They are partnering with various science and development agencies that include research institutions to develop agriculture. They may have contributed marginally to rural women farmers’ improved livelihoods. “Research institutes have never been geared towards infrastructural development of communities but to provide plant materials of improved varieties like cassava, maize, and other crops,” says Ayodele.

In spite of the strides of research institutes at national and international levels, Sounkoura Adetonah, Gender Specialist, IITA Benin says, “Women often have very limited access to resources, innovations, and profitable channels. They also have difficulty engaging in more lucrative activities. With limited financial resources, new technologies are very expensive and not available for them. Men have more access to information and inputs in relation to women. They are more likely to adopt a new technology than women.

Traditions and culture seemingly conspire to undermine the socioeconomic life of the women. In this age and time, women cannot own land in many communities, neither can they rent. They have nothing to increase the acreage of their farm land. Chief among these factors impinging on their material upliftment and improved livelihood according to Ayodele are “Patriarchal society, insensitivity of government, and politicization of agriculture.”

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day with speeches, music, and poetry, some women believe the day is not worth celebrating. This is because a higher percentage of women are suffering and live in poverty, discriminated against, with a lack of gender parity with men. Bussie Maziya-Dixon quips: “What are we celebrating? Rural women farmers are not worth celebrating because of their dire situation. Nothing has changed”.  Ayodele adds, “International Women’s Day celebrates the progress women have made in all fields of endeavor. But as we celebrate this day, we should think about how to empower the rural women, change our attitude and perception of them as they are the bedrock of African agriculture.” This is a day of reflection and self-evaluation for all women in the world and above all women researchers at IITA.

The resilient women of DRC

by Renee Bullock and Bonaventure Munzunghirwa

The Democratic Republic of Congo is often preceded by its reputation of being unsafe, violent, and unstable. Having lived in Bukavu, the capital South Kivu, for over two years, I have seen women and men’s tenacity, resilience, and tremendous warmth, a side of DRC that often does not reach the press. Bukavu is a bustling town of over 1 million. Upon leaving town, one soon sees verdant, rolling green hills stretching for miles (Photo 1).

Picture of Walungu territory
Figure 1. Walungu territory (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Rural women have witnessed war and loss, yet persevere in the face of hardship. When men went to fight in the Congo War that ended in 2003, many women remained on the farm and took up roles previously reserved for men. After the war, women engaged in collective action and economic activities. Despite women’s vibrant economic activity, their access to productive resources is limited, and even when women earn their own income, they may not independently decide how to use it because of prohibitive gender norms that sanction women and girls’ ownership and control of resources.

The project “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” is a pilot intervention that began in 2017 with the aim of enhancing women’s financial capabilities, which refers to the “attitude, knowledge, skills, and self-efficacy needed to make and exercise money management decisions that best fit the circumstances of one’s life”. The main objective of the project is to support women’s empowerment through improvements in financial capability using a combination of approaches in which entrepreneurial knowledge, skills, and attitude are addressed to support positive behavioral changes in household financial decisions. Although women often engage in business and savings, household relations with spouses may constrain women’s opportunity to decide how to spend their money. Such practices can undermine development objectives to improve gender parity.

Twenty-six women from two villages participate in the project; their ages range from 28 to 65 and 67% of the women project beneficiaries are illiterate. Fourteen of the women are married, and seven are widows. The other women manage households while their husbands migrate in search of work, often in mines. Husbands may not return for years at a time.

The women face many challenges, but they are not insurmountable. To build women’s financial capabilities so that they may empower themselves and press for progress in their lives, the project was designed to build women and men’s capacity and change behavior so women gain greater support in their enterprise and savings activities. Men participated in training and gender dialogue groups (GDGs) were used to discuss decision-making and planning of a household budget, for example. In the 4 months since the project started women formed two groups, started businesses of selling rice, beans, flour, and banana, among others, and are saving in a formal account. For half of the women, this is their first experience of owning a savings account; only 27% of the beneficiaries’ households received credit in the last 2 years. One group named themselves Rhugwasanye, which in the local language Mashi, means “Let’s help each other”. The 14 members saved US$275. In addition, women support each other in social, economic, and health issues (Fig. 2).

Picture of Gulimwentuga Women's group
Figure 2. Gulimwentuga Women’s group (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Widows generally share their resources and make decisions with influential men in their household, including their sons, or brothers-in-law. But, as Mapendo* said, “I am a widow but I always asked for my children’s advice. Since the training, I put into practice the lessons from the training and I can decide on my own and inform my children.”

Picture of Martha sells banana seedlings
Figure 3. Martha sells banana seedlings (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Martha[1] is a widow who worked as a banana seed provider until her husband died 5 years ago (Fig. 3). Through the project and the startup capital provided she was able to restart her business. She purchased 1‒2 month-old seedlings from a local banana plantation one day per week and sells to women coming from town. This is her first experience of saving through a formal savings scheme and she has saved a modest $20, which she will use to purchase iron sheets.

Judith* is a widow who also works in the banana value chain (Fig. 4). She buys unripe bananas and ripens them to sell to those who brew beer. This is also her first experience in a savings group. She said, “Before the intervention, I didn’t know the importance of saving.” Both women aspire to increase their sales and the scale of their business.

Picture of Judith sells bananas to brew beer
Figure 4. Judith sells bananas to brew beer (Photo: Renee Bullock, IITA)

Eve* is a married woman who is among the top savers in her group, selling rice and beans. Of her husband who participated in the project’s joint training, she said “There has been improvement because today I bring my share, he brings his share, and we decide jointly. Before, he decided by himself.” Her husband supports her. She explained, “If I save, then his income will be used for other household needs.”

Although the project is relatively new, many lessons have been learnt and there is reason to celebrate the successes of women who are pressing for change. Women are making positive changes in their relationships in their household, within their community, and with their fellow group members. These relations are important to women’s ability to improve their financial capabilities. Relationships affect a woman’s capacity to manage her income, whether for business or for savings. Projects must incorporate holistic approaches to tackle poverty’s most pressing issues, across geographies. Through such interventions and women’s and men’s collective efforts, we can #PressforProgress and attain gender parity.

Note: The project “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

*Not real name

Women’s group in DRC press for economic change

by Renee Bullock, Rosalie Biaba, and Kanigula Mubagwa

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress. Women in DRC are now able to press for economic change in their lives and the lives of their families, to transition from poverty to better, healthier livelihoods through a jointly led project that focuses on health and agriculture. This will be the first in a series of blogs that will feature highlights from the project.

The International Center for Advanced Research and Training (ICART) and IITA have partnered in a project titled “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.” The 2-year pilot program began in 2017 and engages 450 women in three peri-urban locations surrounding Kinshasa, DR Congo. The primary aim of the project is to economically empower women who work in the sex trade by enhancing their access to financial, agricultural, and health services.

Logo of International Center for Advanced Research and Training

Financial hardship is a major driver for women’s entry into sex work. This project addresses economic, health, and gender issues through a unique, holistic livelihood approach to better support women’s transition from sex work to alternative income-generating opportunities.

In the project, female sex workers are aged from 20 to 38, and 84% of them are single. Most independently control the income earned (78%). Their average weekly income ranges from US$12 to 200. Most (99%) of the women want to transition out of this work; they want change.

This project supports women and girls’ efforts by improving their access and participation in savings schemes, establishing new social networks, especially collective action through the creation of women’s groups (10‒15 women each); and through the provision of knowledge and skills’ development. To date, the project has provided training sessions on improved agricultural skills and food processing. Peri-urban agriculture and food processing feature as important, alternative income-generating activities in the project. Currently, 1.5 hectares have been planted with cassava that will be processed into flour to prepare baked goods to sell. A group leader in Kimvula (photo below) learned improved techniques to cultivate cassava and vegetables. She depends on agriculture to support her livelihood and plans to one day own her own plot of land to cultivate. In addition, vegetables have been planted on 0.5 ha to improve the nutritional status of women and their families.

Group 4 President in the cassava field, Kimvula
Group 4 President in the cassava field, Kimvula (Photo: Rosalie Biaba Apasa)

IITA Youth Agripreneurs-Kinshasa (IYAKIN) conducted three training sessions that focused on the production of donuts, bread, bread that incorporates high quality cassava flour (HQCF), and soybean milk. Anna*, 28 and mother of one, attended a training on how to prepare donuts. She then began to sell and noted that the income enabled her to pay rent, school fees for her daughter as well as save. She aspires to expand her business and to sell in a better location to increase her profits.

Picture of Anna sells donuts in front of her house
Anna sells donuts in front of her house. (Photo: Rosalie Biaba Apasa)

Savings is a critical aspect of the project and women have been encouraged to save for at least one year. To date women have collectively saved over $1808.

Fifty young women are receiving vocational training in dress making, hair styling, and literacy. Kungwa, aged 19, is an orphan and is raising two children on her own. She has learned to sew through her engagement in the program and is now earning and managing an income that is sufficient to support her and her family. She would like to open a tailoring business.

Picture of Kungwa sews for a living
Kungwa sews for a living (Photo: Rosalie Biaba)

Through this project, women are empowered to press for change, to transition from vulnerable conditions to better livelihoods. More projects that holistically address economic, health, and social aspects are needed to prepare these women for lasting, sustainable change.

Note: The project “Strengthening Livelihood Strategies of Vulnerable Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo” is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bad news for Fusarium wilt: “Breeding Better Bananas” means business

Hi pests and diseases, it’s your nasty cousin Fusarium. I’ve got an update for you from banana fields and scientists’ labs in Arusha, Tanzania. Its rather mixed news, I am afraid, as the humans seem to be making some progress.

First, some good news. Coffee prices and profits are down so many farmers are interested to switch to bananas. That could mean a bigger area to attack. And once I can get into the soil in their fields, I can stay for at least sixty years. Isn’t it great?

Fortunately, most farmers still aren’t aware that I am spreading in their irrigation water and even on their pruning tools. And climate change seems to be giving me a helping hand, because farmers are irrigating more since it has been so dry. I’m on the move, and you don’t have to take my word for it. According to Akida Meya, of The Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology (NM-AIST). “Since last year Fusarium wilt is making a breakthrough in higher lands on Mount Meru above 1,200 meters where it hadn’t gotten a foothold before.”

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“Big brothers” come back to IITA for commercialization

Reconnection and commercialization met on 1820 October when Dr Moctar Touré from Senegal, and Mr Birama Sidibé from Mali, long-time friends of IITA DG Nteranya Sanginga, visited Ibadan to initiate a partnershipsupport relationship with the Institute that would benefit many start-up businesses in Africa.

Picture of DG Sanginga welcoming his old friends.
DG Sanginga welcoming his old friends.

The duo were warmly received by DG Sanginga, who gleefully welcomed his old friend Touré, with whom he had interacted in the past around African agricultural research for development.

“I am very pleased to see you again

after a long time, and knowing that you want to partner with IITA as a private sector actor is delightful news. Your interest is clearly in line with IITA’s vision in terms of engaging the private sector and extending the products of IITA research to the end users,” said DG Sanginga.

Corroborating DG Sanginga’s stance, Mr Sidibé said IITA has helped many private sector organizations grow.

“There is only one door to knock on for opportunities, technical excellence, and high technology: IITA’s door. We are pleased with the leadership vision here and seek a strategic partnership, mentorship, and training from IITA,” he said.

Dr Touré expressed his aspiration for a winwin partnership with IITA. “It is important to note that we are looking for a winwin partnership with IITA, the sort of partnership that will open new doors and opportunities for many start-up businesses, similar to the one we are initiating back home,” he disclosed.

The duo went on a tour around IITA that showcased various interventions and technologies. They described the tour as impressive and fascinating, and applauded DG Sanginga for the rapid growth of the Institute.

Dr Touré is currently a member of the Senegalese National Academy of Sciences, the African Academy of Sciences, and the Global Science Academy. He was a former World Bank Executive and chair of the Africa Harvest’s Board of Directors. Mr Sidibé, on the other hand, is an executive of AGROBIOTECH (Bamako, Mali) and was a former Director of Shelter Africa, and former VP of the Islamic Development Bank. They are both engaged in setting up a commercial propagation tissue culture lab with the capacity to supply commercial farmers in the ECOWAS region with certified drought- and disease-resistant planting materials.


DG Sanginga: I didn’t want to be a farmer…

In the July edition of the monthly E-Magazine of the World Farmers’ Organization F@rmletter, DG Nteranya Sanginga revealed that crude agricultural practices made the sector unattractive to him as a young boy in the DR Congo.

Picture of DG Sanginga
DG Sanginga

“As a farm boy growing up in the DR Congo, I have experienced and seen how farming can be a backbreaking and labor-intensive chore for my family and the millions of African smallholder farmers. That’s why I chose not to be a farmer,” DG Sanginga recounted.

But thanks to modernization, DG Sanginga says he is fulfilled today working in the sector, assisting young men and women to create profitable business ventures from agriculture and helping to better the lives of millions of smallholder farmers around the world dependent on the sector to eke out a living.

He also said the rich climatic and arable land endowments of sub-Saharan Africa are resources that could be channeled to make agriculture more innovative, exciting, and profitable.

DG Sanginga emphasized the need for the youth to dominate the agricultural value chains, noting that for a sector that feeds the world and ensures food and nutrition security, the involvement of vibrant young men and women should be unquestioned.

He cited the IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) as ambassadors of the sort of change that modern-day agricultural practices require and said that the IYA model is a testament that when empowered, young people can turn a seemingly unattractive venture into a goldmine.

DG Sanginga enjoined relevant stakeholders, policymakers, and communities to rise up to the challenge and to support, promote, and replicate the model.

He also prescribed that stakeholders should provide institutional support, training, access to finance, land, favorable policies, programs and infrastructures that would enable the youth to see farming as a business and also motivate them to take up agriculture on a commercial scale.

He concluded by advising that “there should be a determined effort to ensure that the younger generations tap into the potentials of agriculture. That is the only way we can save the agriculture sector, ensure food security, and increase agricultural productivity when our ageing farmers are gone.” Read the full feature here.