A panel of gender, nutrition and food specialists explored food access challenges that vulnerable groups such as women and children face in Africa's urban areas, at the African Green Revolution Forum held last week.
The online discussion had an added urgency in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to organizers of Africa's largest agriculture conference.
African Development Bank Director for Agriculture and Agro-Industry Dr. Martin Fregene, Bank Coordinator of the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative Esther Dassanou joined representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Harvest Plus and the Rockefeller Foundation, as well as other experts, for the panel sessions, held Wednesday, 9 September.
The first of two sessions looked at the role of nutrition and gender in Africa's food systems, the role of partnerships in making food accessible to vulnerable populations, the importance of building strong food systems, providing local governments with new financial instruments, and tools to support local food systems.
In his remarks to the digital audience, Fregene talked about the Bank's contribution to address food access on the continent, such as the TAAT program, which provides quality seed to farmers for better crop yields, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program, a partnership with the World Bank group, which supports sustainable agriculture that benefits poor and vulnerable smallholder farmers in developing countries, particularly women.
Fregene said small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a pivotal role in the food systems value chain and mentioned the Bank's instruments to help SMEs address challenges such as financing and infrastructure.
"SMEs require robust supply chains and high productivity for them to be able to deliver food at the volume and the price that urban poor can afford. That means increased productivity of the farmers - and that means also better inputs, good seeds, certified seeds," he said.
Arun Baral, representing HarvestPlus, stressed the importance of providing women with tools and technologies, such as bio-fortified seeds and gardening techniques, to create sustainable and nutritious food ecosystems in their communities.
In the second half of the session, attendees agreed that women face overwhelming challenges in accessing financial support.
In his keynote address to the audience, Peter Macdougall, Assistant Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Canada, mentioned the importance of gender-based finance in the agriculture sector to bring sustainability in Africa.
"Women financing is an imperative for us at the Ministry because we know that women make up 42% of the overall agriculture sector," he said.
AFAWA Coordinator Dassanou said there was a vast financing gap.
"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.
The second session's panelists agreed that one of the solutions to fast-track the growth of financial support for women-led and owned enterprises, particularly in agribusiness, is to establish databases to encourage banks to lend money to women.
The second session panelists agreed that prioritizing data-led research to fast-track financial support for women, would help recognize women as a key part of the envisioned agricultural transformation.
The African Green Revolution Forum was held online for the first time 8-11 September.