Adeline Umukunzi is a 28-year-old Rwandan mushroom farmer in Musanze, a district about 100 kilometres north of the capital, Kigali. Women are not often involved in agribusiness in Rwanda.
She explains, “Women have always played a vital role in agriculture, but behind the scenes. We are starting to see more and more female faces in agribusiness.”
Though she developed high potential and locally-adapted innovations in mushroom farming, the young cultivator was unaware of how much her produce was worth to the market. Little did she know that one local food company had purchased most of her produce to process mushroom-based biscuits and nuggets.
As part of Rwandan agriculture’s efforts to enhance agribusiness competitiveness, a growing number of women are now engaged in agribusiness, and many have been able to generate economic benefits throughout the value chain.
Official estimates show that, in Rwanda, more women than men are primarily engaged in agriculture, yet female farmers face more challenges in starting successful agribusinesses than their male counterparts.
Despite these challenges, the latest official trends show that African women are abandoning traditional ways of engaging in agribusiness and adopting an intellectual property approach to transforming food systems on the continent.
Adopting an intellectual property approach to agribusiness means protecting goods or services produced in the sector. Intellectual property mainly deals with trade secrets, an essential component in businesses protecting confidential information to give them a competitive edge.
Olivier Kamana is the permanent secretary in Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources. He says that adopting intellectual property rights allows innovators to generate good profits.
Mr. Kamana says women agripreneurs in Africa could develop commercially-viable products, so there needs to be some intellectual property protection to incentivize these innovators.
In many African countries like Rwanda, where agriculture is the backbone of the national economy, experts stress the need to embrace talent, problem-solving ability, and innovation for women.
Official estimates by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization indicate that around 62% of women in Africa are involved in farming and do the bulk of the work to produce, process, and market food. But competitiveness in the regional intra-African trading space provided by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement requires agribusiness actors to operate more efficiently, which requires investments in new technologies, new ways of fertilizing and watering crops, and new ways of connecting to the global market.
During the first Africa Regional Intellectual Property Conference for Women in Agribusiness, which took place in Kigali in May 2023, delegates expressed the desire to promote innovations in women-led agribusinesses in Africa by helping women understand and use intellectual property to bring their ideas to the world.
Bemanya Twebaze is director general of the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization, He is convinced that intellectual property can be a powerful tool in empowering women and guaranteeing that they benefit from their innovations and creations in the agricultural industry.
Rosine Mwiseneza is a young woman agripreneur and manager of BeeGulf company, based in Kigali. She started beekeeping with only five hives in the Rwamagana district in Eastern Rwanda. Soon after, the number of hives increased to 15, and later to 25.
Ms. Mwiseneza’s company is producing soaps, candles, and glass containers made from raw beeswax, and attempting to use intellectual property rights to protect their innovative processes. She explains, “We are looking to apply for a valid invention patent, and we are confident to get substantial profits from these innovations in the near future.”
This story is adapted from an article written by Aimable Twahirwa for Inter Press Service, called “African Women Seek to Boost Innovation and Creativity in Agribusiness.” To read the full story, go to: https://www.ipsnews.net/2023/06/african-women-seek-to-boost-innovation-and-creativity-in-agribusiness/