Fatma Ben Rejeb is the Chief Executive Officer of the Pan-African Farmers’ Organisation (PAFO). PAFO is a network of Farmers’ Organisations across the African continent that aims to improve communication, collaboration and information/knowledge sharing among stakeholders. It is Africa’s first continent-wide farmers’ organisation and is an important instrument for rallying direct farmer engagement on Africa’s growth and development agenda. Fatma spoke to ICT Update about PAFO’s work with women and digitalisation.
What role do women play in the vision of PAFO (Pan-African Farmers’ Organisation)?
As you know, women have a significant place in agricultural production and processing in Africa. All our members are aware of this, and have support activities for women producers and processors, in both the formal and informal sectors.
The PAFO Constitution assigns women a seat on the PAFO Board of Directors. Moreover, our gender strategy in support of rural women was developed in an inclusive manner and was the subject of broad consultations.
With some of our partners, we are working to create a network of women entrepreneurs and to set up meetings with donors, investors and technology providers. We also develop funding projects and approach donors.
In our youth strategy, we also have a significant number of young women who are active in the rural and agricultural sector.
As CEO of PAFO, what are your objectives?
My aim is to encourage as many women as possible to apply for management positions and to strengthen their management and administrative skills. We need to lay the foundations for the next generation, with a good example given by the EAFF (Eastern African Farmers’ Federation), whose current president is a young female entrepreneur. I count on her, and on the women leaders in all the regional networks, to lead the way.
Even though most of the elected and leadership functions are still held by men, the members of African organisations support women and encourage them in their progress. However, traditions remain entrenched and it remains difficult for some rural women to establish themselves as leaders.
How is digital technology integrated into your strategy?
It’s obviously a priority. We work in close collaboration with the CTA and Agricord on issues of integrated rural development. We cannot talk about sustainable development nowadays without taking digital dimensions into account. We’d like to strengthen the adoption of information and communication technologies, and the involvement in digitalisation, of an increasing number of women producers and processors so as to optimise their production, reduce post-harvest losses, and improve marketing.
The aim is to connect and network all of our members. In order to achieve this, digitalisation remains an important tool, particularly for accessing information, statistics, market data, prices, etc. Different partnerships then need to be studied and tested. Drone applications in support of cooperatives in rural areas have proved very effective. However, we need to bear in mind that more than 80% of farms are small and family-run. Our strategies need to reflect this reality by offering affordable solutions.
All of our networks are aware of digitalisation. We advocate support for grass-roots projects that support digitalisation for agricultural development and take into account the realities in rural areas.
Have you noticed a difference in adoption of digital tools between men and women in agriculture?
No, there is no difference. However, it’s important to note that the rural world is divided into three categories, whose relation to digital varies enormously:
- Producers who have no formal education, for whom we need to provide support. It’s even more difficult for women because the weight of tradition, or the family’s financial constraints, often bring their education to a premature end. However, for anything to do with digital, we need intensive support, irrespective of gender.
- Graduates: they have the knowledge and the skills. The challenge here lies in the need to create the necessary environment and infrastructure to convince them to stay in rural areas. They can then inject life into the environment and contribute to its development;
- Entrepreneurs in the sectors of production, processing and services linked to agriculture: for this group, many of whom are already successful through their own efforts, it is essential to scale up and adapt techniques to their own farms.
Can you give us some examples of good practices or inspiring experiences that could be replicated through PAFO and the regional networks?
We identify and document success stories in the different regions through Continental Briefings. We then look for funding to scale them up, as there are insufficient resources at farm level.
Here are some examples:
- In West Africa, a young woman entrepreneur launched her own business (Kati Farm) in Uganda. First, she developed ways for drying fish more effectively before setting up a cooperative that produces fish sausages both for domestic markets and for export.
- In Central Africa, a women’s cooperative in Cameroon, SOCOOPMATPA, works on processed cassava products. Thanks to the partnership consortium between PAFO, CTA and Agricord, and after working to improve quality, this cooperative has signed agreements with a number of chefs who now use its processed cassava products in their hotels and restaurants.
- In West Africa, scientific research has supported women processing soya into milk; helping them to develop a technique to preserve the milk for up to six months.
- In Southern Africa, the Lakeshore Agro-Processing Enterprise (LAPE) in Malawi is managed by a young woman who works in agricultural processing (sunflower, soya, cassava).
In North Africa, several women entrepreneurs head farms or processing companies in Tunisia. In addition, several women’s cooperatives in Morocco work in the processing of argan oil.
These examples should inspire us, and we have to promote and capitalise the experience. I’m thinking in particular of “Access Agriculture”. They showed us how much can be done, even with a limited budget, through short films of 3, 4, 5 minutes, which have now been translated into several local languages. It’s amazing! My challenge is to set up this type of communication within PAFO by strengthening our knowledge management spaces. Today, all you need is a small battery and piece of white cloth to show a video in a rural village using a “smart projector”. Donors are not aware of everything that is being achieved and using video to show examples implemented in the field is a great way to promote them.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge for women in agriculture?
From education to training, through access to the means of production, to land, water, funding – everything is difficult for women.
Walking 10km a day to fetch water is not a dignified life! In the framework of the CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme) from Maputo (2003) to Malabo (2014), African heads of state have promised to allocate 10% of their budget to agriculture, yet major infrastructures are the only ones to benefit. Investment in rural development is inseparable from agriculture. It’s not just about building roads, but ensuring a dignified way of life, especially for women for whom inequalities persist in access to land, to education, to health, all in addition to the difficulty of their tasks. This is why we need a strong and mindful civil society, which ensures the inclusion of women. However, even with the best will in the world, this civil society is not a substitute for the state.