Story: ITC continues to empower women in West Africa amid COVID-19 pandemic

20 May 2020
ITC News
KOICA-funded SheTrades West Africa project continues to support MSMEs and farmers in agricultural value chains

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 is having a profound impact on economic activity across the world, and increasingly is some of the most vulnerable economies. As the pandemic continues to fuel global disruption, emerging research indicates that women’s productive and economic lives will be disproportionately affected. The compounded economic effects of the ongoing crisis are felt especially by women because they generally earn less, hold insecure und more unpaid jobs, consequently making them less resilient to such shocks.

For West African countries, plummeting worldwide demand is causing a slowdown in major economic sectors, including in the food supply chains. Faced with such challenges, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades West Africa project has embarked on leveraging alternative approaches in its efforts to improve the livelihoods of 10,000 women.

Funded by the Government of South Korea, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the SheTrades West Africa project is supporting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and women farmers in the cashew, cassava and shea sectors in Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Cashew farmers in Cote d’Ivoire are already feeling the pinch of the pandemic, witnessing an unprecedented drop in cashew consumption, which is directly affecting their livelihoods.

Tuo Kolotcholoman, a cashew farmer, states: ‘Every year we harvest and sell cashew from February to the end of April. This year we cannot sell our cashew after harvesting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we are now holding onto our stock as there is no demand. Buying stopped one month ago. Cashew along with cotton are the main sources of income in our region so this is risking our livelihoods.’

To help farmers like Kolotcholoman, SheTrades West Africa is working with regional service providers such as Balmed in Sierra Leone among others, to provide farmers with inputs for crop and income diversification and enable multimarket linkages to minimise the impact of COIVD-19 and protect their livelihoods.

Seydi Nabe of Ictus & Co, a Guinean company producing shea butter products, said: ‘We are impacted both positively and negatively by the COVID-19 crisis. On the positive side, our product protects against hands dryness due to frequent hand washing and the application of disinfectant gels. On the other hand, we are experiencing a slowdown in commercial activities due to containment, which has caused a temporary halt in transport of our products to customers in Europe and America. This has led to a drop in sales abroad.’

With capacity building workshops currently on standby, SheTrades West Africa is supporting MSMEs by providing beneficiaries with one on one technical support, access to market information and learning using a range of digital solutions. A key part of this help is to ensure access to information on potential new markets and enabling the companies to react to swiftly in response to the changing developments of the pandemic. In addition, the project is continuing its support to governments, helping them to implement gender-responsive trade policies that will strengthen opportunities for women entrepreneurs in the medium to long term and beyond the pandemic.