Supporting Business Opportunities For Rural Women In East And Southern Africa: The Case of Zimbabwe, Uganda And Kenya

Development Partner: International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

Time Frame: Two year project (2016-2018)

Project Brief:

This is a study that is being conducted in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda. It aims to support the economic empowerment of rural women in agriculture in East and Southern Africa, through identification and promotion of business enterprises and the creation of decent sustainable jobs. Specifically the study aims to:

  1. Examine the structural barriers that constrain women from becoming more innovative and limit their ability to take advantage of the opportunities available for business development;
  2. Identify and explore the opportunities that exist off - farm for rural women, including activities that tend to be male dominated and of higher value;
  3. Contribute to evidence based policy advocacy on designing innovative interventions to empower rural women in business enterprises;
  4. Build and enhance the entrepreneurial capacity of the women owned/managed businesses in rural areas;
  5. Document and disseminate best practises that empower rural women to participate in business enterprises.


Seventy per cent (70%) of Africa’s population rely on agriculture for food and income majority of who are poor smallholder farmers. Women constitute a high population and form a large and cheap labour force in both commercial and subsistence agriculture which keeps them in poverty and vulnerable to economic shocks.

African agriculture faces a myriad of challenges which include: Degraded soils, unpredictable rainfall and unreliable markets. Women are equally faced with many challenges as they provide cheap labour in large commercial farms, lack access to credit facilities and agricultural farm inputs in agriculture among other challenges pushes them to live in poverty hence disadvantaged and impoverished.

Currently in Africa there is emphasis on public-private institutional women empowerment in the agricultural sector in line with African union Malabo declaration commits to reduce poverty by 50% by the year 2025. In 2015, the theme of women empowerment and development towards 2063 was developed. Unfortunately, African agriculture is not modernising at a pace that would support women continuing to coexist gainfully within it.

Agricultural actions at individual, national, regional and international level must be geared towards enhancing its viability and competitiveness as well as enhancing its sustainability economically and environmentally. Rural households and marketing institutions work within the larger framework of patriarchal systems that largely favour men in terms of access and control hence women and girls cannot excel in spite of the policy and legal reforms. Sub-Saharan African economies are affected disproportionately in equalities in agriculture because agriculture constitutes a bigger part of their economies compared to other regions.

Agriculture constitutes over 60 per cent of employment meaning that gender inequalities inherent in it affect a bigger part of the population of “employed” women than men (who have better opportunities in non-agricultural sectors of the economy). Based on results from selected African countries, to the employment of women, women are better strategically positioned to benefit from reforms towards modernizing agriculture. Women dominate many of the high-value agricultural commodity chains in sub Saharan Africa despite the occupational segregation and discrimination in rural labour markets.

New forms of value chain and agro processing have created evidence that there are better job opportunities created in countries than existed before. Economic development and rising incomes leads to demand for high value products, processed products and pre-prepared foods that re-position agriculture to modernise towards processing and packaging This leads to vertical increase in food supply chain linking suppliers, producers, processors, distributors and retailers which tend to expand and modernise related employment opportunities but women still overrepresented in unpaid seasonal part time work. Women employment is increasing in part because women in rural Africa have experience working in agriculture and the e trend where low labour costs by women attracts business.

Past & Current Partners


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The Centre | Collaborative Centre for Gender and Development

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(Behind New Safaricom House),

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P.O. Box 27559-00506,

Nairobi, Kenya.

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