Cheap, flexible and growing

Radio: power to the people

Terrestrial radio remains the most popular means of accessing news and entertainment in Africa, even with the advent of the internet

A displaced citizen of Bakassi Peninsula listens
to the ceremony in which the Nigerian
government handed over the Peninsular to
Cameroon after a 15-year dispute
Photo: PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

Of all the media platforms, radio is still, by far, the most pervasive form of media across Africa. It covers a greater geography than any other media form, reaching at least 75% of households in Africa, according to UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report in 2012. At the end of 2018, South Africa, which has more than 100 radio stations, was estimated by Radio Audience Measurements to have 89% radio reach of the adult population, while the EFA report figure for Tanzania is 83% and 85% for Zambia. Africa’s rural areas push these figures far ahead of television, as radio sets are more portable and much cheaper than TV. “The disparity between TV and radio is quite marked in some regions. In Zambia’s rural areas, for example, the coverage is 68% for radio and 26% for TV,” notes Arthur Goldstuck, digital media analyst and director World Wide Worx, a business technology research company. Internet radio has increased radio access further, as even basic-feature smartphones now come with FM radio.

But it clearly presents no real challenge to traditional radio broadcasters, and indeed digital convergence is high on the agenda for the dominant terrestrial radio stations on the continent. Internet radio, comparatively inexpensive and legislatively unhindered as it is to produce, still requires listeners with either a computer or a smartphone with internet access, either via data or Wifi connection. Given that many rural areas in Africa have limited or no access to these privileges, that means internet radio is available only to higher income groups in urban areas. “These groups represent only a small proportion of the radio audience,” says Goldstuck. “Even there, older people still prefer traditional forms of radio listening, which reduces the impact even further. A far greater impact is made by FM radio on feature phones, but it could be argued that this remains a form of traditional radio listening, since the handset is using the same mechanisms, and in effect is performing as a radio, using FM signals, without reliance on the mobile signal.

The only difference is that one typically needs to use earphones to pick it up, with the earphones also acting as antennae.” Thus, for internet radio entrepreneurs, the challenge is not starting up a radio station, which again is cheap and flexible when compared to terrestrial broadcasters, which need studios, licences and are competing for ever more congested FM frequencies. The challenge is expanding the reach of the station to a wide enough audience to make it profitable. “There are also connectivity issues, say when the signal drops for a couple of hours,” says Hendrik Baird, station manager of GaySA online radio, who researched 34 online radio stations in South Africa in 2012. “And a major hindrance is that audiences in Africa, especially the older generation and also potential business partners, perceive that online radio uses a lot of data. There’s a general lack of understanding of how to consume it. So internet radio is not profitable yet… it’ll be a long journey.” That said, the growth of internet radio is undeniable, and advertisers will gradually follow, according to Emma-Jane Robson, director of Awake Online, South Africa’s first online radio advertising sales house feeding 10 online radio stations.

“Online radio also has the ability to cross borders and as wifi spots spread, its reach will keep moving through the continent. Also, online radio affords advertisers far more accurate listenership data about its audiences than traditional radio, so it’s a cost effective platform for them,” Robson says. The most successful radio stations in Africa converge “old” and “new” media, broadcasting terrestrially while offering online platforms that simulcast their programmes, as well as offering ways for their audiences to interact and participate in both TV and radio programming. A good example is Soundcity TV and Radio Network, a Pan-African urban music channel owned by Consolidated Media Associates, Nigeria’s media powerhouse. “TV brands in Nigeria all have radio arms. For us to stay alive, we have to converge media and keep innovating, keeping abreast of the youth segment especially. So we host big events like Nigeria’s biggest pop music award show, and we also sell merchandise. We don’t think of ourselves as a radio station but a multimedia brand,” Jonathan Lyamgohn, Soundcity TV and Radio CEO told the Radio Africa conference last year.

In East Africa, the biggest and most trusted radio station is Radio Citizen FM, a music, news and entertainment station, which started in 1999 as a counter to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, a government mouthpiece. With the most transmission sites for an FM station in Kenya, it boasts the deepest penetration countrywide, but also streams live online, and has Facebook (with more than 362,000 followers) and Twitter (with more than 214,000 followers) accounts. The largest radio station in Africa is the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) radio station Ukhozi FM, with its listenership in excess of 7.7 million. It streams live and offers listeners online podcasts of shows they might have missed, and also has an app for both iPhone and Android phones. Ukhozi FM is also among the top most-viewed radio channels on YouTube, and is placing more emphasis on live and recorded video to gain traction with its social media platforms. “Radio continues to be a strong option for advertisers, but the industry can only strengthen its hand by offering multimedia options such as video.

Video is an easy way to reach a new audience and it’s another outlet for advertisers,” says Charis Apelgren-Coleman, market engagement manager at Kagiso Media Radio, owner of several South African-based radio stations. The power of community radio in Africa is its ability to reach out to people in remote areas, with little or no access to information otherwise. Radio is where people can listen to the news and local music and, more critically perhaps, receive educational information about health, schooling and sustainable development. Most community radio across the continent are funded by external donors, church organisations, international development agencies and some advertising. UNESCO is a big player in this space, supporting and promoting community radio stations as a way to facilitate social communication and support democratic processes within African societies. In Cameroon, for example, UNESCO and the government committed $5.8 million from 2014 until the end of this year (2020) to establishing 15 new community stations and rehabilitating 21 existing ones. The main goals of the project are to encourage positive behavioural transformation, and provide citizenship education during the presidential elections, thus contributing to the fight against violent extremism.

The impact of the project is so great that discussions have begun for the second phase, with Cameroon wanting more than 100 community radio stations. Some of the more successful community stations have become selfsustaining, particularly in South Africa, where a growing number of advertisers choose community over commercial radio to reach their audiences. “Advertising on regional radio can be surprisingly affordable for local small and medium businesses, enabling them to speak to customers in their city or region at a reasonable cost,” says Wayne Bischoff, CEO of Mediamark, a leading multimedia sales house in South Africa. “The affordable cost of ad placements also means brands are able to increase frequency, so they can get their message out more often.” Community stations that have embraced multimedia platforms are also able to expand their revenue bases in the same way as their national counterparts. “Many regional radio stations are now successfully and profitably segmenting regional audiences through multiple touch points such as events, online, and mobile out of home.

Rather than seeing social media, podcasting, streaming and other digital elements as a threat, many broadcasters are integrating them into the mix to increase engagement,” says Bischoff. Not least, community radio is the lifeblood of the African music industry, as it is often where music from the continent is first played and heard. “Community radio stations have great value in making an artist, as they get royalties from their music being played,” says Manaileng Maphike, business development manager of licensing at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa( ICASA). As Muletambo Brian Lingela, director of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in Zambia noted in the Genderlinks Gender Media and Diversity Journal: “Community broadcasters are the preferred source of information for a number of rural and urban communities in SADC (Southern African Development Community) because of their proximity to audiences and independence from government control, which enable them to carry programmes that reflect the aspirations and concerns of the communities they serve.”

So, while the internet might be changing the way radio is broadcast, crossing borders and reshaping the radio advertising landscape, the consensus is that national and regional terrestrial channels will remain dominant, and community stations will always thrive on the continent. They are often the only voice for the particular concerns of far-flung farming communities.

Helen Grange is a seasoned freelance journalist, with a career spanning over 30 years writing for newspapers and magazines in South Africa. Her work appears primarily on Independent Online (IOL), as well as The Citizen and Business Day newspapers, focusing on business trends, women’s empowerment, entrepreneurship and travel. Magazines she has written for include Noseweek, Acumen, Forbes Africa and Estate Living.

Beacon of hope

Democratic Republic of the Congo: tourism

A privately-funded initiative in this central African country is helping to protect a pristine environment

By Helen Grange

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon, but commercial logging and farming have also caused it to be one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. The rapid deforestation of this enormous green lung, spanning approximately 1.5 million square miles, is also a threat to the hundreds of mammalian species living there. Some 39 of them are found nowhere else on earth, including the mountain gorilla, the bonobo—our closest living relative—and the giraffe-like okapi. The unquenchable global thirst for natural resources means that the richly endowed rainforest of the DRC, is, more than ever, a target for traders, legal and illegal. China, in particular, is vigorously invested in logging in the Congo, fetching up to $100,000 for one sizeable tree on the Chinese market, according to Chris Marais, CEO of Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA). However, there is an oasis of hope in a tourism development project in the remote north west of Congo, in the Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

One of Africa’s oldest national parks, it covers about 13,600m2 of pristine rainforest, a wilderness of forest, river, marsh and swamp. And quietly leading this exemplary piece of African conservation work is an unlikely figure, a publicity-averse German philanthropist called Sabine Plattner. Ms Plattner, 65, is the wife of Hasso Plattner, the billionaire co-founder of the software company SAP, and a woman impassioned by nature conservation. She lives on a farm in Yzerfontein in South Africa’s Western Cape province, but has been in and out of the Congo over the past 10 years to attend to her project there. To support the introduction of tourism infrastructure to Odzala- Kokoua National Park, which will ultimately enable the park to sustain itself, she has established the Congo Conservation Company (CCC), a private entity. She is also on the board of Cape Town based LCA, her partner organisation in Odzala- Kokoua National Park.

“Before our intervention here in 2007, this part of the Congo was very neglected. There was no means to generate revenue in Odzala-Kokoua, and the village communities around the forest were disillusioned and unmotivated,” says Paul Telfer, the CEO of CCC and Plattner’s business partner. Since then, Ms Plattner and LCA have contracted Africa Parks Network (APN)—a highly regarded, non-profit company that manages and rehabilitates national parks in Africa) to manage Odzala-Kokoua, and with a multimillion- Euro commitment from Ms Plattner’s own resources—to build three luxury lodges in the park, along with an airstrip and a road. Odzalo-Kokoua Park is home to about 15,000 forest elephants as well as mountain gorillas, bongo (antelope) and other remarkable species of primate and mammal. Ms Plattner’s intention is that all the revenue generated from tourism here goes back into the community.

At present there are no logging concessions in Odzala-Kokoau Park, although a suggestion to grant one might be made to the Congolese government, the owner of the logging concessions, if conservation in the area might benefit from it, says the manager of the park, Leon Lamprecht, of APN. “We support Sabine Plattner’s tourism concession here with the maintenance of infrastructure, and the mere fact that the park is well managed by APN creates a tourism product that can sell to tourists. A logging concession, practiced along ecological principles, may enhance sustainability of the park in future, but for now, we are just managing and overseeing general habituation,” he says. Rainforest conservation aside, Ms Plattner is a household name in the local village communities, as she supports—through her Sabine Plattner African Charities organisation—a variety of additional projects including the construction and operations of community centres that provide early childhood development projects, youth projects and basic skills training.

She has been doing this kind of work for decades, starting with disadvantaged young people in South African communities. This kind of selfless, step-by-step approach has forged a meaningful path for the Congo’s conservation efforts as a whole. Fortunately, the Congolese government is supportive of a more conservative logging policy than was practised in the past. “The Congo has a fairly visionary conservation policy, and the minister of forestry and sustainable development of the Congo (Henri Djombo) is working closely with the parks and NGOs, giving them wide latitude to exercise good conservation practices,” says Mr Telfer. Mr Marais says the “conservation commerce” mode—that is, ploughing tourism revenue back into the community which Ms Plattner pioneered in the Congo—is to be replicated in other parks in the country, including Nouabal-Ndoki National Park of almost 4,000km2.

“Odzala- Kokoau has offered a solution for other parks in the Congo, which would otherwise be threatened due to the pressures of market demand, not only for trees but for bushmeat and ivory. Tourism creates revenue, but also increases vigilance which disables poachers and illegal traders,” says Mr Marais. Tourism in the Congo is growing, albeit markedly more slowly than other destinations on the continent. The UN World Tourism Organisation forecasts 4% growth this year in the tourism industry in Africa, with South Africa in the lead, followed by Morocco, Mauritius and Mahe Island in the Seychelles. A survey by global flight search and travel deals platform, Cheapflights.co.za, found that searches to African countries are coming predominantly from the UK and Germany, with 14% and 13% of all searches to the continent respectively.

South Africans are also travelling more into their own continent, the survey found. Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Morocco were all within the top ten searched African destinations for South Africans, with Congo being among the least popular destinations along with Uganda. Inbound tourists to Congo in 2014 numbered only 373,000, according to the World Bank data. This is unfortunate. Congo, Africa’s second largest country after Algeria, was a prime tourism destination before the 1990s, when the region was stable. It features spectacular tropical rainforests and wildlife, and boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Virunga National Park to the north, where nearly half of the world’s gorilla population lives, and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park outside Bukavu in the west. In the east, volcanic peaks rise thousands of meters above the surrounding rainforest.

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, civil wars, poaching and lack of funding to the parks have since taken a heavy toll on Congo’s tourism, but thanks to the commitment of conservationists like Ms Plattner, ecotourists— people seeking authentic local experiences and opportunities to give back to the communities they visit—are still venturing into this part of the world.

Helen Grange is a freelance journalist writing for newspapers and magazines in South Africa and abroad. Her work appears primarily in The Star, Argus, Daily News and Pretoria News. She also writes for Noseweek, Business Day and Financial Mail and edits magazines for various publishers.

Beacon of hope

Democratic Republic of the Congo: tourism

A privately-funded initiative in this central African country is helping to protect a pristine environment

By Helen Grange

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is home to the second largest rainforest in the world after the Amazon, but commercial logging and farming have also caused it to be one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. The rapid deforestation of this enormous green lung, spanning approximately 1.5 million square miles, is also a threat to the hundreds of mammalian species living there. Some 39 of them are found nowhere else on earth, including the mountain gorilla, the bonobo—our closest living relative—and the giraffe-like okapi. The unquenchable global thirst for natural resources means that the richly endowed rainforest of the DRC, is, more than ever, a target for traders, legal and illegal. China, in particular, is vigorously invested in logging in the Congo, fetching up to $100,000 for one sizeable tree on the Chinese market, according to Chris Marais, CEO of Leadership for Conservation in Africa (LCA). However, there is an oasis of hope in a tourism development project in the remote north west of Congo, in the Odzala-Kokoua National Park.

One of Africa’s oldest national parks, it covers about 13,600m2 of pristine rainforest, a wilderness of forest, river, marsh and swamp. And quietly leading this exemplary piece of African conservation work is an unlikely figure, a publicity-averse German philanthropist called Sabine Plattner. Ms Plattner, 65, is the wife of Hasso Plattner, the billionaire co-founder of the software company SAP, and a woman impassioned by nature conservation. She lives on a farm in Yzerfontein in South Africa’s Western Cape province, but has been in and out of the Congo over the past 10 years to attend to her project there. To support the introduction of tourism infrastructure to Odzala- Kokoua National Park, which will ultimately enable the park to sustain itself, she has established the Congo Conservation Company (CCC), a private entity. She is also on the board of Cape Town based LCA, her partner organisation in Odzala- Kokoua National Park.

“Before our intervention here in 2007, this part of the Congo was very neglected. There was no means to generate revenue in Odzala-Kokoua, and the village communities around the forest were disillusioned and unmotivated,” says Paul Telfer, the CEO of CCC and Plattner’s business partner. Since then, Ms Plattner and LCA have contracted Africa Parks Network (APN)—a highly regarded, non-profit company that manages and rehabilitates national parks in Africa) to manage Odzala-Kokoua, and with a multimillion- Euro commitment from Ms Plattner’s own resources—to build three luxury lodges in the park, along with an airstrip and a road. Odzalo-Kokoua Park is home to about 15,000 forest elephants as well as mountain gorillas, bongo (antelope) and other remarkable species of primate and mammal. Ms Plattner’s intention is that all the revenue generated from tourism here goes back into the community.

At present there are no logging concessions in Odzala-Kokoau Park, although a suggestion to grant one might be made to the Congolese government, the owner of the logging concessions, if conservation in the area might benefit from it, says the manager of the park, Leon Lamprecht, of APN. “We support Sabine Plattner’s tourism concession here with the maintenance of infrastructure, and the mere fact that the park is well managed by APN creates a tourism product that can sell to tourists. A logging concession, practiced along ecological principles, may enhance sustainability of the park in future, but for now, we are just managing and overseeing general habituation,” he says. Rainforest conservation aside, Ms Plattner is a household name in the local village communities, as she supports—through her Sabine Plattner African Charities organisation—a variety of additional projects including the construction and operations of community centres that provide early childhood development projects, youth projects and basic skills training.

She has been doing this kind of work for decades, starting with disadvantaged young people in South African communities. This kind of selfless, step-by-step approach has forged a meaningful path for the Congo’s conservation efforts as a whole. Fortunately, the Congolese government is supportive of a more conservative logging policy than was practised in the past. “The Congo has a fairly visionary conservation policy, and the minister of forestry and sustainable development of the Congo (Henri Djombo) is working closely with the parks and NGOs, giving them wide latitude to exercise good conservation practices,” says Mr Telfer. Mr Marais says the “conservation commerce” mode—that is, ploughing tourism revenue back into the community which Ms Plattner pioneered in the Congo—is to be replicated in other parks in the country, including Nouabal-Ndoki National Park of almost 4,000km2.

“Odzala- Kokoau has offered a solution for other parks in the Congo, which would otherwise be threatened due to the pressures of market demand, not only for trees but for bushmeat and ivory. Tourism creates revenue, but also increases vigilance which disables poachers and illegal traders,” says Mr Marais. Tourism in the Congo is growing, albeit markedly more slowly than other destinations on the continent. The UN World Tourism Organisation forecasts 4% growth this year in the tourism industry in Africa, with South Africa in the lead, followed by Morocco, Mauritius and Mahe Island in the Seychelles. A survey by global flight search and travel deals platform, Cheapflights.co.za, found that searches to African countries are coming predominantly from the UK and Germany, with 14% and 13% of all searches to the continent respectively.

South Africans are also travelling more into their own continent, the survey found. Mauritius, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Seychelles and Morocco were all within the top ten searched African destinations for South Africans, with Congo being among the least popular destinations along with Uganda. Inbound tourists to Congo in 2014 numbered only 373,000, according to the World Bank data. This is unfortunate. Congo, Africa’s second largest country after Algeria, was a prime tourism destination before the 1990s, when the region was stable. It features spectacular tropical rainforests and wildlife, and boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Virunga National Park to the north, where nearly half of the world’s gorilla population lives, and the Kahuzi-Biega National Park outside Bukavu in the west. In the east, volcanic peaks rise thousands of meters above the surrounding rainforest.

In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, civil wars, poaching and lack of funding to the parks have since taken a heavy toll on Congo’s tourism, but thanks to the commitment of conservationists like Ms Plattner, ecotourists— people seeking authentic local experiences and opportunities to give back to the communities they visit—are still venturing into this part of the world.

Helen Grange is a freelance journalist writing for newspapers and magazines in South Africa and abroad. Her work appears primarily in The Star, Argus, Daily News and Pretoria News. She also writes for Noseweek, Business Day and Financial Mail and edits magazines for various publishers.

One step forward, two steps back

SDG 5: gender equality

Higher levels of political representation for women in Africa have not necessarily advanced gender equality, with this disparity most acutely experienced at the grassroots level

The Under Secretary-General of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN WOMEN) Phumzile Mhlambo-Ngcuka, who is from South Africa. Photo: RODGER BOSCH / AFP

By Helen Grange

Gender equality is arguably one of the most elusive of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Most African countries have embraced progressive legislation addressing gender disparity, but the reality is that women remain disenfranchised on a wide scale, with some countries actually regressing in respect of women’s empowerment. Research findings exemplify this vexing situation. The World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index assessed 149 countries according to their levels of women’s economic participation, education, health and political empowerment, and found that as a region, sub-Saharan Africa’s gender gap had widened in 2018 after six years of progress. Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Chad were among the 10 worst- performing countries. Although Zimbabwe (ranked 47th) closed the gap on wages, Mozambique (49th) had fewer women in senior and managerial positions. South Africa was ahead in many gender categories, but its position on wage equality declined to 117 from 114 the previous year, the Global Gender Gap index shows. Similarly, the 2018 SADC Gender Protocol 2018 Barometer, which is produced annually by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance – comprising women’s rights networks in all the 15 SADC countries as well as cross-cutting theme NGOs – shows that women’s representation in economic decision-making has increased by a single percentage point, or from 19% to 20%, over the past decade. According to the report, maternal mortality across most of the Southern African Development Community remains unacceptably high, and is declining too slowly to meet the SDG target of 70 per 100, 000 by 2030. The only exceptions are Mauritius and Seychelles.

“Teenage pregnancy, violence in schools, child labour and inadequate physical infrastructure continue to impact learning, enrolment, performance and completion rates among girls,” Lucia Makamure, a gender and public policy expert from Zimbabwe, told Africa in Fact. She adds that the available evidence shows that member countries in the region have failed to create enabling environments for all children. “For every step forwards for gender equality, there seem to be two steps backwards.” The vision of SDG 5 is that by 2030 men and women should be treated equally in social and economic contexts, as well as in other parts of society – and, in particular, that they should not face discrimination on the basis of their gender. But if current inequities between genders persist, analysts agree this goal will remain unattained for many decades to come. One of the most notable gender inequities in Africa is women’s lack of access to land ownership. Only 13% of women, compared to 40% of men, have sole ownership of all or part of the land they own, according to a 2018 Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems, a joint report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation and the African Union. In Cameroon, for example, women undertake more than 75% of agricultural work but own less than 10% of the land. UNICEF identifies comparable disparities in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Hindered access to education is another root cause of gender inequality on the continent. The latest Unesco Institute for Statistics (UIS) figures reveal that Africa is home to more than half of the global total of out-of-school children of primary school age. Girls are 56% more likely to never have enrolled in school than boys at 42%. Educational equity has not been achieved even in Zimbabwe, which is known for its high literacy rate. “The majority of women have limited access to education, and yet access to education and training has a major impact on women’s potential to access and benefit from income-generating opportunities, which improve their overall wellbeing,” Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Community, SMME Development told media in Harare on International Women’s Day on 8 March this year. Low levels of female education are also a key factor in the slow pace of Africa’s fertility transition to lower birth rates because education delays entry into marriage and increases the chances of employment. “Evidence from 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa shows that increasing women’s education across different socio-economic groups is very effective in reducing overall fertility levels,” write professors Sabu Padmadas and Nyovani Madise in an article published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in April this year.

They add that while it is the economically privileged who attain higher education and have fewer children, the effects of more educational provision gradually trickle down to the less privileged through a diffusion of ideas such as smaller family size and social development. However, against the backdrop of struggle to make significant strides toward the UN’s 2030 SDG 5 goals, some good examples show that efforts continue to push the gender agenda forward. Tunisia recently approved legislation giving women equal inheritance rights, despite resistance from religious and conservative quarters. In Ethiopia, under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, some 50% of parliamentarians are now women; he has also appointed a woman, Sahle-Work Zewde, as president. Yet, at the same time, the sometimes glaring disparities in achieving equality for women are reflected in the fact that significant gender disparity still exists in Ethiopia’s higher education sector. Malawi has adopted a programme that aims to encourage and enable women to engage in agriculture. Botswana now has a special economic empowerment programme for women that aims to assist them in increasing their resources as agricultural producers. In Kenya, technological innovations such as M-Pesa and the Kenya Women’s Finance Trust’s mobile banking solutions have unlocked opportunities for millions of women in the country’s rural areas, who are vigorously responding to these liberating technologies.

Overall, the statistics show that South Africa is the most gender-equal of all Africa’s 55 countries, followed by Rwanda, Namibia, Mauritius and Malawi. However, these scores are misleading if read without a deeper analysis, cautions Professor Deirdre Byrne of the Institute for Gender Studies at the University of South Africa. Indices for human development group education with health, but these need to be disaggregated, she argues. “So it is possible, as in Tunisia, for women to be given special attention in childbirth – thus decreasing the rate of maternal mortality – but not to be as well educated as men,” she told Africa in Fact. Moreover, she adds, higher levels of political representation don’t necessarily advance gender equality at the grassroots level. “The South African parliament has the highest number of women members in Africa. This makes it more likely that these MPs will fight for the concerns of women, but this is not guaranteed.

”Activists at the grassroots level experience this disparity between policy and reality most acutely. In largely isiXhosa township communities in Cape Town, the role of caring for children or other family members still falls mainly or exclusively on the women, which often forces them to leave education early, says Sian Morris, the Cape Town based programme manager for Global Vision International, a social enterprise that runs high-impact volunteer and international education programmes. “Nationally, some 18% of females leave education early to due to family commitments as compared to 0.4% of males,” she told Africa in Fact. Ultimately, the greatest obstacle to gender equality in Africa is patriarchy – which means “the rule of the fathers” – posits Byrne. “Patriarchy is responsible for many damaging assumptions about gender,” she says. Among these assumptions are widespread ideas such as “women are stupid”, “men are emotionally unskilled” and “a woman’s place is in the kitchen and/or looking after the children”. “These assumptions form the foundation for many behaviours that keep women in positions of oppression and subordination, and can only be rooted out through education,” Byrne concludes.

Helen Grange is a freelance journalist writing for newspapers and magazines in South Africa and abroad. Her work appears primarily in The Star, Argus, Daily News and Pretoria News. She also writes for Noseweek, Business Day and Financial Mail and edits magazines for various publishers.

 

Women farmers join agricultural value chains

Women are the backbone of agricultural and rural economies in Africa, yet are often deprived of the means to become self-sufficient

If Africa is to feed itself, and if land rights are to be applied universally, the advancement of African women farmers is a fundamental necessity, and the ability of women to access microfinance is key.

Over the past few years, international banks, financing institutions and micro-funders have increased their focus on the most stubborn obstacle facing female farmers in Africa – the inability to expand beyond subsistence farming due to patriarchal systems that prevent them from owning land and enjoying a degree of control over the means of production, which in turn stifles their ability to leverage finance.

Disrupters of traditional banking practices, and micro-finance funders, are essential in transforming this scenario. Among these one stands out: Echo Network Africa (ENA), formerly Kenya Women Holding (KWH), the brainchild of micro-finance banker and entrepreneur Dr Jennifer Riria.

Over more than three decades, KWH’s subsidiary, Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT), has distinguished itself as the largest micro-finance bank in Africa, having disbursed $1.3bn in loans to more than five million women, some 80% of them living in Kenya’s rural areas. Each loan averages less than $600 – a small amount but it can enable a woman to generate enough profit to feed and educate her children, and often, to scale up to a profitable farming business.

“Our landmark achievement at KWFT and ENA has been to open the banking sector to women,” Riria told Fanaka TV, Kenya’s premier business channel, in August 2018. “If women in Africa are to be empowered, they need to be financially independent. And that means access to resources – to land, to houses, and to businesses.”

The case for women joining agricultural value chains is clear. Women contribute an average of 40% of crop production labour across six sub-Saharan African countries, according to the World Bank’s LSMS-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, and more than 50% in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Yet they produce significantly less than men per hectare, ranging from 23% less in Tanzania to 66% less in Niger, according to the Cost of the Gender Gap report by the World Bank and UN Women, published in 2015.

Male-female differences in farm labour, non-labour inputs (for example, volume and quality of fertiliser and pesticides), childcare responsibilities and crop choice are identified by the World Bank as the chief drivers of Africa’s gender productivity gap. In addition, gender differences in the access, control and use of land also play a role, since having land available is a precondition for entry into agriculture, and determines access to finance. “Credit may be linked to many of these factors, as it can be a pivotal source of liquidity to help women farmers access inputs, including labour, and even to switch into higher-value crops,” says Flore de Préneuf, Communications Lead, Food and Agriculture Global Practice for the World Bank.

According to the World Bank’s statistics, the annual costs of these gaps range from $67 million in Uganda to $105 million in Tanzania. “In other words,” says de Préneuf, “these are the annual gains that could be achieved through parity in agricultural yields. These costly gaps can also drag down welfare: our estimates show that closing farm gaps could lift many individuals out of poverty in Malawi (238,000), Tanzania (80,000), and Uganda (119,000).”

In Kenya, it was the enduring poverty of the female smallholder farmers she grew up with that seeded Riria’s desire to extend them lines of credit. “I left my job at the UN and joined KWH. We began with small loans of two or three dollars, and the women would pay this back and graduate to larger loans. One of our women farmers began with $200 and is now running a manufacturing business, and borrowing over $10,000. Banks, once closed to women, are now finding that women are bankable and creditworthy,” she says.

Microfinance in Africa, a village savings and loans association in Malawi.

One of these farmers is fish farmer Betty Nyongesa, who with loans from KWFT has paid for her children to go to school, built a house, acquired a herd of cattle, and bought a plot of land where she has built a small shop, from where she runs her business. “My community used to believe that a woman was meant to stay at home and take care of the kids. They never thought that we could be the backbone of our community,” Nyongesa told her interviewer in an ENA documentary. “Kenya Women has empowered us, and our men now respect us.”

KWFT today has a network of 245 offices spread out across 45 of Kenya’s 47 counties, and as at December 2017, it had a loan book of $192 million, assets valued at $286 million and deposits of $162 million. ENA, meanwhile, is the development arm that bolsters KWFT’s micro-financing activities, collaborating with broad community-based organisations (CBOs) and alliances to innovate viable initiatives and provide mentorship to women in the agricultural and entrepreneurship sectors.

“The KWFT clients (801,317) are all members of ENA, because women need more than finance, they need knowledge of business and accounting practices, and access to the markets and digital support systems,” says Riria. Digital technology is proving revolutionary for women farmers across the continent, giving them access to both finance and knowledge. “Our banking services can now be taken to the women in their villages, where they can do their own banking online,” Riria says.

There is a proliferation of other initiatives in this space. In May 2018, the World Bank approved a $70m e-agriculture project in Côte d’Ivoire, which will help women farmers and other beneficiaries harness new technologies to learn about farm practices, find linkages to buyers, and access digital financial services. “This project will ensure that farmers have timely information on key aspects of the agriculture value chain such as the seed market,” says Pierre Laporte, World Bank country director for Côte d’Ivoire.

A feasibility study is also being done on integrating information communication technology (ICTs) into two large World Bank investment programmes: the Irrigation Development and Support Project (IDSP) in Zambia and the Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project (KAPAP), with the specific aim of strengthening women’s participation in commodity value chains.

Meanwhile, one of the recommendations of a 2017 World Bank report, Mobile Technologies and Digitized Data to Promote Access to Finance for Women in Agriculture, is to leverage, through digitisation, the strong role that collective savings groups play in rural women’s lives. The aim is to increase their efficiency and transparency and enable women to ultimately build their own digital financial profiles.

Third-party credit scoring companies that use smartphone data for analysis, such as Lenddo, which provides credit scoring to banks and MFIs, as well as direct lenders such as Tala, are also being encouraged to expand their services to women in the agricultural sector. According to the report, investment is called for to design gender-responsive bundled and customised service offerings that meet the financial priorities and life-cycle needs of women farmers. Currently, products are designed around cycles most relevant to men.

Finally, the report recommends: “Drive the collection and use of digitised data to expand bank offerings and financing to women in agriculture. The trend in alternative credit scoring holds promise for women, who, research corroborates, frequently lack fixed collateral and financial histories they can present to a lender.”

As these interventions transform the agricultural sector in Africa, its female farmers will begin to make far more significant contributions to their agricultural economies. In Kenya, Riria and her organisations, KWFT and ENA, have set Kenya’s 2022 general election as their deadline to make a marked difference in women’s political and financial power overall.

“Women can now benefit from a ‘democracy fund’ that we have set up to train and facilitate women to become more competitive and to take up political leadership positions, ahead of the 2022 general election,” Riria told Kenya’s Daily Nation news channel in March 2018.

HELEN GRANGE is a freelance journalist writing for newspapers and magazines in South Africa and abroad. Her work appears primarily in The Star, Argus, Daily News and Pretoria News. She also writes for Noseweek, Business Day and Financial Mail and edits magazines for various publishers.