In the fight against hunger and poverty, women are key players. They are the backbone of rural societies, laboring as they grow and process food, and make sure their children are well-fed and well-nourished. Today, we celebrate the International Day of Rural Women, fighting each to produce food and remain an integral part of agricultural societies across Africa. Too often, however, women lack the opportunities to improve their skills, gain access to bigger markets, and have a greater stake in the value chain. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “rural women play key roles as food producers but continue to lag behind in all development indicators.” For decades, the U.S. African Development Foundation has helped create pathways to prosperity, supporting African-led development that grows small community enterprises, many of them entirely women-owned, by providing seed capital and technical assistance. Our grassroots approach aims to strengthen African civil society by equipping these women’s groups to grow their cooperatives and advance their own priorities for agricultural investment.
After withstanding two decades of civil war in northern Uganda, the women of Hope Development Initiative banded together and formed a small rice-growing cooperative, ensuring these 200 women have a little money in their pockets and food in their children’s bellies. Many of these women had been pushed to the fringes of society, as disabled, widowed or abandoned females but this strength in numbers ensures that these women work together to unlock their leadership and entrepreneurial potential. USADF provided targeted assistance to grow this cooperative to produce higher outputs and better agricultural practices. Recently, one of the leading founders of Hope Development Initiative was recognized for the Global CEO Award in agriculture for her work to engage women to earn a decent income and fight injustice.
In Senegal, USADF has just relaunched a program to support rural women and economic development in the southern region of Casamance. Following decades of conflict in the region, businesses are just starting to reemerge and many women are at the helm. Casa Ecologie, a juice-processing facility outside of Ziguinchour, is a women’s cooperative not only growing their juice-making enterprise, but creating local jobs and training youth. With so few organizations on the ground, Casa Ecologie looked to USADF for an investment to build a new processing facility and scale operations. These women are key to fighting poverty and sparking robust economic activity in a post-conflict area.
Finally, we travel to Rwanda, to Izihirwe Fromagerie Cooperative. In Rwanda, a small but hilly country in east Africa, cows are an important source of income and food security, with value added products such as cheese and yogurt. In 1992, 18 women formed a small cooperative (IFC) to produce and sell dairy products, reinvest their profits into a small revolving loan fund. The 1994 genocide forced the group’s closure, but today the women have reunited and are illustrating the community’s resilience. USADF stood by these partners and with a small investment, this irrepressible group of women are empowering their community to rebuild, training others on cheese-making techniques and creating employment opportunities for members.