The Female Face of Rural Agriculture

The Female Face of Rural Agriculture


As cornerstones of their community, research has consistently shown that empowering and investing in rural women significantly increases productivity, reduces hunger and malnutrition, and improves the infrastructure and living standards in rural communities.

Ripple effect

Helping women generate income through productive assets.

One of the major challenges facing women in agriculture is their lack of access to skills development, improved seeds, fertilisers and equipment. This means their yield is on average 10% to 20% less than that of a male farmer.

As a consequence, rural women typically work longer hours than men, placing pressure on their child-caring and domestic responsibilities.

To help alleviate this problem, Tanzanian social entrepreneur Victoria Kisyombe founded micro-leasing business, Sero Lease and Finance (SELFINA). Pioneered in 2002, the business provides exclusively to women entrepreneurs, has issued credit worth $22 million dollars, has trained 46 000 women in business management skills, and has helped 23 000 women out of poverty.

It’s expected to positively impact 440 000 lives by 2014. Best of all, 100% of its revenue is earned.

How it works

Unlike micro-financing, which provides credit for small business owners to make short-term purchases like raw materials, micro-leasing means the lessee doesn’t need to use scarce working capital to buy equipment upfront.

Rather, women become owners of leased equipment and use it as collateral for further borrowing. SELFINA leases equipment such as small tractors, water pumps, irrigation equipment, milling machines, oil extraction machines, bicycles and motorbikes, livestock and poultry.

Throwing a rope


This Brazilian company is tackling education, environment, microfinance, rural development and trade all in one by making rope. And it’s making millions of dollars a year.

Run by Ismael Ferreira, APAEB is a Brazilian co-operative of smallholding sisal farmers – sisal is used to make rope, rugs and brushes.

Founded in the ’80s to remove intermediaries and assist farmers to collectively market their sisal crop, it has since gained export rights, forged links with foreign markets, and built processing plants and a factory to export millions of dollars’ worth of quality, finished products.

A social business at its core, it has an annual budget of $7,5 million (2010) and 96% of its revenue is earned.

Impressive on its own, but this business has directly benefited over 12 000 people in an area where most farmers have 11 hectares or less of dry, infertile soil with limited water resources.

How it works

As an exporter, APAEB links international markets with small agricultural producers by developing lasting relationships, encouraging mutual respect, and producing quality workmanship.

It trains and organises local farmers to manage the growing and manufacturing processes, and has increased financing from banks and donor agencies.

In 1997, it constructed a multimillion dollar carpet factory which increased the co-op’s revenue by 400% and raised the industry price of raw sisal. The operation employs over 800 people and has brought a powerful multiplier effect to a region where about
500 000 people derive their livelihood from sisal.

Tracy Lee Nicol
Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.