Lisa Karanja, Senior Director at TradeMark East Africa
A key point to have come out of the World Trade Organisation’s 10th ministerial meeting – WTO MC10 – that took place in Nairobi this week was the role that East African women can play in alleviating poverty across the region.
World Bank research suggests that women reinvest 90% of their income, compared to 30 to 40% for men, yet they often find themselves facing much higher barriers to participation in the economy.
As Senior Director for Business Competitiveness at TradeMark East Africa, my responsibility is to champion the empowerment of women traders across the region, not only as a means to accelerate economic growth, but also as an effective means to secure sustainable development.
The benefits of empowering women are clear and have been evident in the recent success stories across the region, from Tabitha Karanja of Keroche Breweries to Susan Mureithi from Suera Flowers.
We have already started to see the benefits of recent efforts to boost trade across the region, with trade between the East African Community (EAC) increasing from £1.7bn in 2004 to £5.7bn in 2014 but it is clear women are not fully participating in this trade and still face additional barriers to entry.
Most notable of these are lower levels of education and training, access to information with regards to their rights, difficultly in securing loans and finance due to land and property regulations that favour men, and more broadly discrimination and security concerns.
As an organisation we are committed to reducing these and an investment of $4.5m in our program Women in Trade aims to support 25,000 women traders across East Africa by the end of 2016.
By providing women the information and training they need to develop a business plan, educating them on export regulations and border crossing procedures, and helping them to form cooperatives and join trade associations, which will help them access networks to pursue opportunities and secure financing, we make real impact in securing sustainable economic growth and poverty alleviation across the region.
Please see: www.trademarkea.com for more information
Jane Mutiso, Executive Director of Woni Fruit and Vegetables
28 years ago my husband and I bought a small farm that had once been used to Asian vegetables for the export market. It was a hobby, but one that quickly became all encompassing.
We started producing and exporting the same crops to one customer in the United Kingdom. We put our family savings into the business and began increasing our production levels.
Through the Horticultural Crops Development Agency we were introduced to four new customers but it was not long before the business hit serious challenges, which unfortunately are the same challenges many young traders still face today.
Firstly, getting adequate information on the market that would enable us to tailor our product accordingly was almost impossible. There were no sources and few organisations who were in a position to help us.
Secondly, trying to communicate with our customers, suppliers and staff members around the country was inefficient and expensive. There were no support structures in place to manage this.
There were also a number of other issues which you would not think about, such as foreign exchange systems, gaining space on flights to transport goods and the restrictions placed on smaller firms by larger more established companies.
We had a tough time at the beginning but today Woni Fruit and Vegetables is an exporter of fruit and vegetables from okra to avocados across Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
I am using the experience I went through to support others. Aside from mentoring a number of young women starting out, I also work with 1000 households of small-scale farmers to get their produce to market.
There is a huge opportunity to make a real difference to the growth rates of Eastern Africa and that is a hugely exciting development.
Please see: www.woni.co.ke for more information