Bridging the Gap for African Women in Business

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“Rural Women”

To start off, I will put an emphasis on the “Rural Woman.” What ever the country produces in the agricultural sector is entirely the effort of Rural Women. Women employment in the agricultural sector accounts for 58% of the 7.3 million workers (National Employment Policy 2011). Rural women in Uganda have a critical role in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. They spend much of their time in the fields toiling to produce food for household and income generation. A significant number of rural women are members of informal groups whereas others subscribe to Cooperative Societies through which they empower themselves socially and economically. Thus, besides contributing to food security, they make meaningful financial contributions to the wellbeing of their families.

Despite the fact that a good percentage of Ugandan women have managed to upgrade in all sectors of the economy, the rural woman has lagged behind. They have poor access to and control of land, lack information on markets, lack access to maternal health, HIV/AIDs, etc.

It was through my personal ambition to uplift the standards of living of the people that I developed a Community Based Organisation called Twezimbe Development Association (TDA). TDA has aspired to meet the basic needs of the people in North Mawokota in order to trigger socio-economic development. The focus has been on improving household incomes, life expectancy, education, and reducing maternal and infant mortality. TDA has also rehabilitated health centers at three sub-counties to enable women access to maternal health services. The projects have also supplied farm inputs and implements to farmers.

Statistics on women

Looking at the current statistics, the African population is estimated at 1.037.694.509 persons. (World Population stats, 2011). Where by the female composition in Africa is at 519.058.499 persons, which is greater than our male counterparts. Whereas Uganda’s population is estimated at 34million people, female composition is attributed at 17.244.861 million people (51.2%). (UBOS).

Statistically data on women is scattered, however, a study on Gender responsiveness in Uganda, indicates that women constitute 51.2% of Uganda’s population, 88.2 % are self employed or unpaid family workers.

Women own 40% of micro and small enterprises, of which most of them are informal. A majority of the women are engaged in the agricultural sector which employs 72% of women.

The questions we need to ask ourselves today are:

  1. How do we position Ugandan women entrepreneurs to tap into the supply chains of MNCs?
  2. Which MNCs are we targeting?
Which sectors can participate, where do we have comparative advantage?
  3. What are the existing challenges and what can be done to address them?

MNCs offer diverse opportunities for key players in their supply chains. They are supposed to integrate corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies within these supply chains.

MNCs are required to comply with domestic laws, ethical standards, and international norms. This theory aims to achieve positive impacts on the environment, consumers, employees, and the communities in general.

In-terms of opportunities and benefits

  1. MNCs offer commercial opportunities for small scale and informal sector players there by boosting their profits.
  2. The MNCs supply chain is ‘predictable’ and sustainable.
  3. If women entrepreneurs tap into this network, they can ably develop their production capacities, access contractual production models that will enhance low risks and promote higher gains. 
Currently in Uganda, Nile Breweries is providing training and capacity building programmes to women suppliers of agricultural inputs. These women are at the moment supply sorghum, maize and barley.

 International MNCs that have supported women


On Sept. 14, 2011, Walmart announced a major global initiative to help empower women economically across its supply chain. The specific goals of this initiative are to open markets for women- owned businesses and increase training and career opportunities for women on farms and in factories. They are providing support to China, India, Bangladesh, Central America, and Brazil.


Research conducted by Starbucks in 2008 showed that their consumers were interested in the ethical conditions under which the company’s promotional goods were produced. In response, the company launched pilot initiatives to source two merchandise lines (basket charms and soft toys) from women’s producer groups in Kenya and Rwanda. These initiatives were appreciated by the press and consumers, and the company is now exploring how they might transfer this model to other product lines and countries

Challenges Women face in supplying to MNCs: Un-formalized businesses

As we all know, women still comprise the majority of entrepreneurs’ in the informal micro and small enterprise economy- the fastest growing job creation sector of Africa.

Uganda’s informal trade with her neighbours was estimated at just under US$777 million, which was 58% of the country’s formal sector exports for the same year. (UBOS 2007)

A significant percentage of women are involved in street and roadside trade within the rural and urban settings. These women are forced on the  streets due to socio-cultural and economic reasons. Many of them are young girls who have dropped out of school and have to support their families.

The challenge of registering a business is attributed to the cost of formalization, which involves various agencies such as URSB, KCCA, MOLG, URA, etc. The procedure is lengthy and cumbersome.


As an agricultural dependent economy, Uganda seeks to expand and further diversify its agricultural potential particularly in food and other agricultural exports. However the private sector (including women), who are the major drivers of the current economic growth (the engine of growth) continue to increasingly encounter more stringent regulations and private standards requirements, not only in relation to food safety and plant & animal health and life, but also in other commodities.

Supply side constrains (Sustainability)

Effective supply chain management is all about delivering the right product in the right quantity and in the right condition with the right documentation to the right place at the right time at the right price. The challenge is that women sometimes fail to sustain the volumes as required by the Buyer.

Other challenges: Poor packaging / lack of innovation & branding, Distrust, Financial illiteracy, and lack of business development skills



Standards have increasingly become crucial elements in facilitating transactions and trade within and between countries. Standards and technical regulations stipulate parameters that products must meet in order for such products to be sold in certain markets, as well as adding to constraints that determine what can or cannot be traded in certain markets and define the procedures that must be followed for exchange of goods and services to take place.

The Government of Uganda, through the MTIC strongly believes that getting the required standards right can greatly improve competitiveness of Uganda’s major traditional and non-traditional exports. Last year the Ministry developed and passed the National standards and quality policy which provides the overall Government framework on standards. The implementation modalities require the Ministry working closely with Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and the Ministry of Agriculture; Animal Industries & Fisheries (MAAIF) to ensure that standards are adhered to with a view of enhancing competitiveness of Ugandan products.

Supermarket Survey

I wish to share with you findings of a supermarket survey undertaken by the MTIC. The purpose was to ascertain whether Ugandan products were given equal shelf space and the outcome indicated that 30% of local produce was able to penetrate the supermarket supply chains of Uganda.

However, some of the products were being placed right at the end of the shelf thereby being invisible to consumers. The reason given was that some of the products were poorly packaged and therefore better placed at the bottom of the shelf.

It was also noted that some suppliers of Ugandan products do not meet supply requirements such as; barcodes, certification & quality marks, expiry dates labels, registered businesses, among others.

Business Registration

Uganda women should be ready to position themselves strategically. This will require formalising their business ventures and meeting all the business and licensing requirements in the domestic and the global supply chains.

The Ministry is committed to continuous dialogue with relevant agencies (URA, URSB, KCCA, and MOLG) to ensure that the business community acquires service delivery efficiently and effectively.

Encourage Contract Farming

It is found that the MNCs deal with relatively large producers; their contracts are biased against farmer groups. Contracting leads to higher farm incomes and labour employment, especially for women. Therefore women should also be encouraged to take up leadership posts in contract farming schemes and producer groups.

Sustainable Business Models

Uganda women entrepreneurs’ and small business owners need to develop sustainable business models to succeed and partner with large companies. Efforts should focus on improving production and quality in order to improve household incomes. Productivity will be enhanced if women have access to training opportunities, and accessibility to land ownership.

Financial Literacy and Business Development Skills

For any person to engage in any business transaction there is need to have the basic business skills upfront. These may include among others, book-keeping, preparing a balance sheet, negotiation skills, financial and banking skills, logistics, etc. The Ministry is working with several Government and private agencies to support initiatives that promote entrepreneurship in schools and institutes of higher learning. More efforts are being undertaken by women associations and others agencies to train women in business. These agencies providing this support – UWEAL, Techno Serve, Enterprise Uganda, Uganda Investment Authority etc.

Innovations & creativity

As consumers tastes and preferences differ as does their desire for new and better brands. Suppliers in MNCs should be creative and innovative to meet new customer demands for high quality goods and services.

Formation of Women Groups: Networking

Encourage formation of women to form groups, such as producer groups, cooperatives, among others; with a view of exchanging and sharing beneficial information. Uganda women suppliers should partner with one another to share best practices that make them more competitive and promote business development with existing and prospective customers.

As I conclude, I wish to appeal to all women present today, to continue being a part of the good course in achieving national, social and economic development, which is a cornerstone to achieving the MDGs.

I leave you with an inspirational quote:

Mary Kay Ash Founder Mary Kay Cosmetics once said Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as for as your mind lets you. What you believe remember, you can achieve”.

Right Honorable Minister for Trade, Industry and Cooperatives

Mrs Ameila Kaymbadde

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