MEDA partners with The Mastercard Foundation to create thousands of jobs through funding investments in Africa for women and youth entrepreneurs

Accra, Ghana – MEDA is pleased to announce that the USD $200 million Mastercard Foundation Africa Growth Fund launched today. The Fund of Funds (FOF) initiative will help advance the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy, which aims to enable 30 million young people in Africa, particularly young women, to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030.

Funded by the Mastercard Foundation, Mennonite Economic Development Associates of Canada (MEDA) will lead the Fund of Funds project with support from its other partners. MEDA’s partners include Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P), Entrepreneurial Solutions Partners (ESP), the Criterion Institute, Genesis Analytics, and Africa Communications Media Group (ACG). An expert investment committee from the African continent will oversee the project.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a vital role on the African continent. Yet, they lack access to the finance they need to grow their businesses. In particular, women and youth SMEs face barriers to accessing this resource. Eliminating this barrier to finance can close the funding gap, increase economic growth, and reduce poverty among women and youth.

President and CEO of MEDA, Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, underscores how this partnership will create decent work and economic empowerment on the African continent.

“We need to do everything it takes now to build a continent with shared prosperity and sustainable, inclusive growth. This Fund of Funds will strengthen and empower a new crop of African investment vehicles to create decent work for women and youth via investments in small and medium-sized enterprises.”

– Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, President and CEO, MEDA

By working with the Mastercard Foundation, MEDA will foster positive social and environmental outcomes for women and youth-owned SMEs. It will further strengthen the African investment ecosystem. Lastly, MEDA’s work with the Mastercard Foundation FOF project will advance its goal of creating or sustaining decent work for 500,000 people by 2030 and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Read the full press release to learn more about this announcement.

The Mastercard Foundation Africa Growth Fund is an initiative of the Mastercard Foundation and a consortium of partners. Led by the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), The Mastercard Foundation Africa Growth Fund and other partners include:

COP27 – Why Moving too Slow on Climate Change is not an option

In 2015, the world came together in Paris, France at the 21st Annual Conference of Parties (COP21) to implement the Paris Agreement. This legally binding international treaty on climate change committed 196 countries to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. It was expected that every COP after the COP21 would build on this impressive achievement.

Despite the ambitious start, there have been great setbacks. This year at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, countries failed to agree to phase out all fossil fuels. British politician Alok Sharma, who presided over COP26, was clear about this failure at COP27: “Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary? Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase-down of coal? Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels? Not in this text.” Instead, there was a loophole created in the final CoP27 text that omitted any reference to phasing out fossil fuels. As a result, it was argued that oil and gas executives, greenwashing corporations, and large emitting countries ended up winning at this year’s COP.

We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator

– Antonio Guterres

At the opening of COP27, Secretary-General António Guterres summed up the progress of climate action: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” Guterres is not being sensationalistic. According to Climate Action Tracker, there is a 95% probability that the world will not meet the agreed goal of containing global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In fact, the world is on a trajectory of +2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The key takeaway from COP27 is that we are not ready to seriously reduce our emissions, and more specifically, phase out fossil fuels. Fortunately, we are ready to address the impacts of our climate inaction with compensation.

Above: A visual representation of climate warming projections (Photo credit: Climate Action Tracker)

What was achieved at COP27

The most significant achievement that emerged from COP27 was to provide “Loss and damage” funding for countries most impacted by climate disasters. This Loss and damage funding will play an important role at alleviating the environmental harm that countries in the Global North have made on the planet, at the expense of countries in the Global South who have contributed the fewest emissions yet are paying the highest price for climate change.

“‘Loss and damage’ is a term used by the United Nations to describe the harms inflicted by climate change that go beyond what people can adapt to. It can include lives lost; monetary costs from the destruction of infrastructure, buildings, crops and other property; and the loss of entire places or ways of life.”

MIT Climate Portal

Another positive outcome of COP27 was the recommendations from the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities (HLEG). Set up by the UN Secretary General Guterres and chaired by former Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna, the group proposed ten standards and criteria that organizations needed to meet to achieve net zero emissions. An important purpose of the group is to ensure that corporate net-zero pledges are met and to combat “greenwashing” or misrepresenting one’s company or organization’s environmental efforts. The group will further ensure businesses cannot pick and choose what they want to measure and as a result, claim to be net zero while expanding fossil fuel or deforestation activities.

Above: Members of the the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments
of Non-State Entities (HLEG) and UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres.
(Photo credit: United Nations Climate Action)

The impact of climate change around the world

The global mean temperature in 2022 is estimated to be about 1.15°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, making it the 6th hottest year on record. This year, while not the hottest on record, provided the Global North with a glimpse of what a warmer world will look like. The U.S., Canada, and Europe experienced historic floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, and drought. This summer, major rivers in China, the US, and Europe dried up.

The extreme impacts of climate change are being felt most severely in the Global South, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Here, countries are the most vulnerable and have the fewest resources to adapt. Large floods impacted countries in South Asia this year, with Pakistan suffering unprecedented floods. One-third of the country was underwater during the historic floods that affected the country since the monsoon season began in mid-June. Floods have affected approximately 33 million people and killed at least 1,718 as of Oct. 14th. Soon after the floods subsided, the country was hit with a withering drought that wiped out its remaining crops. Despite being responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan is among the countries worst affected by extreme weather events due to climate change.

Above: Data provided by the United Nations Satellite Centre which shows large areas of Pakistan
impacted by floods. (Photo credit: ABC News Graphic: Jarrod Fankhauser).

Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents in the world to climate change. In 2022, the continent has experienced countless extreme weather and disasters, including devastating droughts and floods that have affected millions and killed thousands.Media has consistently covered the multi-year drought affecting the Western U.S. while far less media coverage has been given to the multi-year drought affecting the East and Horn of Africa.

Above: The surviving solar array at Mamboleo farms, a Tanzanian company supported through the SSBVC project.
A devastating flood in 2021 knocked out the newly installed solar pumps and most of the farm equipment.

What does this mean for MEDA?

Climate change greatly impacts our work. MEDA’s projects are on the front line in the fight against climate change as it strives to create decent work within agri-food market systems. Climate change worsens vulnerabilities and reduces the resiliency of our clients, particularly women, youth, and other marginalized groups.

Yet, despite the challenges, MEDA is committed to fight climate change and ensure that its clients around the world can adapt. In Part Two, we will look at where and how MEDA can create positive impacts for our planet and our clients in the Global South.

Stay connected with us to read our second installment that will be released soon. If you’re interested in reading more, look no further. Check out MEDA’s Storehouse for more great content about how entrepreneurs and farmers are using their skills and talents to build prosperous businesses and livelihoods.

MEDA promotes gender equality at an impact investing forum in Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala – MEDA was a co-sponsor and presenter of the Gender Lens Investing Forum and the Latin America Impact Investment Forum 2022 (GLI Forum LATAM) in Latin America. This forum took place from November 7th-10th. In partnership with The Latin America Impact Investment Forum (FLII), and co-organized by Pro Mujer and Alterna, the forum served as a key platform for learning, discussion, and networking on impact investing in Latin America and the Caribbean. The event focused on how gender lens investing is an effective driver of equality and economic development in the region.

During the forum, MEDA led discussions related to innovative finance solutions that can spur long-term economic, social, and environmental impact. Jessica Villanueva, MEDA’s Senior Director for Technical Areas of Practice, served as moderator during “The Unattended Segment: Using Innovative Financial Models to Reach Women-Led SMEs in Central America” seminar, with the participation of Veronica Herrera from MiCredito, Lauren Murphy from the International Center for Research on Women, and Maria Denise Duarte from Agora Partnerships. Jessica also represented MEDA in the panel “Reimagining Inclusive Finance with Gender Lens” alongside David Cabrera and Margarita Zaldaña from Centromype, and Alex Silva and Georgina Vasquez from OMTRIX. Catherine Walker, MEDA’s Senior Manager, Global Program Operations, moderated the “From ESG integration to impact: understanding gender-climate nexus in sustainable finance” panel with the participation of Magaly Lamyin from The Deetken Group, Cynthia Leon from Add Value, and Alejandra Ramirez from NESsT.

The forum focused on the access to financing challenges women-owned SMEs face when making their businesses more competitive and environmentally sustainable. Despite SMEs’ vital role in emerging economies, there is still a $300 billion financing gap worldwide for formal, women-owned businesses. Women-owned businesses from the Global South also have difficulty accessing climate finance to become more climate-change resilient. Access to climate finance is critical – women are highly vulnerable to environmental impacts, including climate variability and natural disasters.

By providing women with greater decision-making powers and access to capital, they can act as “agents of change” in their households and communities to foster sustainable development. Access to these resources can also enhance their economic potential, reduce inequality, and strengthen climate finance’s impact and effectiveness.

MEDA ensures its projects create equitable and sustainable economic growth for communities in Central America and beyond. With support from Global Affairs Canada, MEDA’s WE4CA project will reach 5,000 women and young women in Central America, including rural and indigenous populations in the regenerative agriculture and light manufacturing sectors as well as support the continued uptake of GLI approaches within the region. We further support rural people, especially women, in Nicaragua through the Technolinks+ project.

MEDA’s Gender Equality mainstreaming Framework (GEM), provides a practical toolkit for assessing gender equality, and identifying, implementing, and measuring gender equality mainstreaming strategies within companies while applying an environment and climate change lens. The toolkit was recently updated to include a more integrated approach to Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) with a stronger environmental lens.

Nadia Guerch, MEDA Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, enthusiastically supports the role of the forum in facilitating meaningful conversation and ideas among like-minded partners in the gender lens investment space.

“MEDA is pleased to co-sponsor and participate in this forum alongside like-minded practitioners and investors to continue building the business case for gender lens investing,” says Nadia Guerch, MEDA Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “With a focus on agri-food systems, MEDA seeks to contribute to sustainable and equitable economic growth, leveraging investment strategically in areas that can promote greater gender equality and empower individuals to manage natural resources sustainably and address climate change.”

– Nadia Guerch

MEDA firmly believes that combining climate and gender policies can unlock huge untapped opportunities, provide good investment returns, and contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes. Using this approach, we can help build healthy and sustainable livelihoods, businesses, and decent work opportunities for small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs.

The future of the global food system

A couple of weeks ago, MEDA’s Annual Convention allowed us to see our colleagues, friends, and supporters in person for the first time since 2019. We heard from engaging speakers and participated in various tours and networking events. As part of the Convention, I was one of the speakers at the “Addressing the risks in our global food systems and what it means for entrepreneurs” seminar. Along with my great colleagues, we had an opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face in the current global food system (GFS).

To put it mildly, we live in challenging times: In 2021, 2.3 billion people globally (29.3% of the global population) did not have regular access to safe and nutritious food. This represents 350 million more compared to before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, climate change’s impact on weather systems, including the worst drought in 40 years in East Africa, devastated food systems and caused tremendous human suffering. The War in Ukraine and its knock-on effects on global supply chains compound this suffering.

The food crisis has also worsened inequalities in our global food system. 150 million more women and girls experience higher levels of hunger than men and boys (compared with 2018). A much higher prevalence of hunger is concentrated in the Global South. Globally, 690 million people go to bed hungry, despite producing enough food. Healthy diets are not affordable to three billion people globally (Highly processed foods are cheaper). Those who work in the GFS, especially women and youth who are essential participants in the production process, receive few benefits.

The GFS has a large carbon footprint and is not sustainable since they produce about 29% of the global greenhouse gases. Climate change and conflict further reduce the gains in the GFS and impact sustainability. The quality of the global food supply is also substandard. Costly and unaffordable healthy diets are linked with increased food insecurity and malnutrition, including stunted growth and obesity. Women are also disproportionately affected.

So, what can we do?

The worsening global food and nutrition crisis requires us to rethink how our domestic, regional, and international food systems are structured. The GFS needs a dramatic transformation. We cannot feed a growing world by just producing more food.

MEDA’s work

MEDA strives to build more sustainable food systems. It focuses on making food systems fairer by working with local actors to address the root causes of inequality. This change leads to sustainable social, environmental, and economic benefits for small-scale food producers and food sector workers, or MEDA’s Triple Impact Approach in agri-food market systems. MEDA’s Triple Impact approach is key to meeting our goal of creating and sustaining decent work for half a million people, 60% of whom will be women and 30% youth, as outlined in our strategic plan.

Moving forward

There are many opportunities to build a more sustainable global food system, but it comes at a cost. Higher-income countries must fulfill their climate change commitments and help lower and middle-income countries adapt. Financing opportunities for SMEs, particularly women and youth-led SMEs, can spur development.

We already see some movement: Vibrant SMEs tackle these challenges head-on, and world leaders have renewed commitments to build a sustainable global food system. There is also the first UN Food Systems Summit organized in 2021 and AfCFTA, Grow Asia, and Food System Programme-One Planet partnerships.

The time to act is now.

We must develop a sustainable and resilient food system, environmentally sustainable agriculture, sustainable agri-food value chains, and inclusive food systems. We also need to improve food production, particularly for women and youth, to reduce food loss and waste, raise incomes equitably, and improve health and nutrition. It is time to make our agri-food system sustainable and safe for all.

MEDA celebrates entrepreneurship in Lancaster, PA

Lancaster, PA– Under the theme, “Celebrating Entrepreneurship,” MEDA celebrated its first in-person Annual Convention since 2019. From November 3rd-6th, this well-attended event included an engaging lineup of speakers and activities. Attendees listened to dynamic speakers and participated in various tours and networking events.

Below are some of the event’s highlights:

  • MEDA’s Year in Review highlighted MEDA’s challenges and achievements during the last year. The Executive Leadership team provided an in-depth overview of MEDA’s long-term goals, including the North-South shift, the need to be more inclusive while remaining consistent with our values and staying focused on our mission, and MEDA’s overarching goal of creating or sustaining decent work for 500,000 people by 2030. The Year in Review also underscored the strong progress that is being made and the hard work that has gotten MEDA to this point.
  • The convention’s seminars focused on diverse topics, such as gender lens investing, the role of faith during uncertainty, and how localization can benefit international development projects. Also included in the convention’s lineup were in-depth breakdowns of MEDA’s projects by its project staff experts, such as Helal Ahsan -Ul-Haque, David Eagle, and Nadia Guerch.
  • This year’s pitch competition highlighted five finalists with highly innovative ideas. They were Diana Orembe, co-founder of Novfeed; Joji B. Pantoja, CEO and co-founder of Coffee for Peace; Fedrick Lainson Kibona, founder of Frecha Milling Group; Jolenta Joseph, Managing Director and Nutritionist of Sanavita, and Fortunatha Mmari, the Co-Founder & Managing Director of AFCO. After much deliberation, the judges announced a tie between Diana Orembe of NovFeed and Jolenta Joseph of Sanavita. Diana’s Novfeed was selected for its innovative concept of transforming organic waste into alternative protein ingredients. Similarly, Jolenta’s Sanavita company was chosen for its focus on childhood and maternal nutrition. The USD $15,000 prize was increased to USD $20,000, considering both competitors’ exceptional pitches.
  • The convention featured keynote addresses by Dr. JoAnn Flett, Executive Director, Center for Faithful Business, Seattle Pacific University, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Managing Partner of Sahel Capital and Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd., and Kenneth Hochstetler, President, and CEO of Everence®. Dr. Flett provided attendees with insights into the connection of faith in business. Ndidi Nwuneli provided a stirring address for why wealth creation, and not poverty alleviation, matters more in Africa. Lastly, Kenneth Hochstetler gave an engaging speech on the value of resilience in uncertain times.

MEDA thanks its 2022 event sponsors, attendees, plenary speakers, seminar presenters, and panel guests who made this year’s convention possible. It also extends sincere gratitude for the generous support of its private donors; their crucial support enabled MEDA to fulfill its mission of providing business solutions to poverty.

Stay connected

We’re celebrating our 70th anniversary in Toronto next year! Mark your calendars for Convention on November 2-5th, 2023, in Toronto, Canada. To keep up-to-date on Convention-related and other MEDA news, sign up for MEDAzine, our monthly newsletter, or our bi-monthly Marketplace magazine.

Five lessons we learned from the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) Investor Forum in the Netherlands

My colleague Vymala Thuron and I were pleased to attend the GIIN Forum 2022 as MEDA representatives. For MEDA, using finance for social and environmental change is critical as we work in agri-food systems where we need to ensure these considerations are mainstreamed in each of our interventions including when deploying capital.

Gender equality and climate action were at the center of every conversation this past week. Everyone at the conference (regardless of the sector, region, or size of the funds) believes that gender and climate must be a part of the business model. However, as Colleen Ostrowski from Visa Foundation mentioned, translating these concepts to achieve meaningful and comprehensive integration in the investment decision-making process is still a work in progress.

Here are five lessons that I learned from the event

1. Building community requires radical collaboration and intentionality

Amit Bouri from GIIN explicitly requested everyone in the room to make a commitment to help each other to achieve success even with small actions. GIIN is a large network and looking at the diversity of participants at the event was promising. It is clear that to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we need collective effort, shared goals and values, and partnerships that use creative delivery models.

2. Redefining impact is necessary

We need to redefine what impact means for each business and how we will refine the strategy to achieve and measure impact. Concrete results are critical to illustrate impact but also recognize that it is a journey, and the journey is different for everyone. Yet, we need clear roadmaps and ambitious goals to push ourselves to be bold and better every day. Erica Orton from the Fair Food Network shared how impact goals at the level of each person/family are critical when it is related to food security and agriculture. When small-scale producers earn living wages and their families can secure basic services, this change can make a concrete difference in their communities and future.

3. Standardization is relevant, and simplicity is best

It was clear that we need to develop principles and indicators that could apply to the industry as a whole and that we can all align with not only benchmarking but to improve our models and have shared guidelines to shape our interventions. Maria Teresa Zappia from Blue Orchard emphasized how donors and investors can find data overwhelming. Lean data can do a better job of showcasing impact and illustrating the progress that is being made.

4. More demand side participation and conversations are needed

Conversations are happening with an authentic desire to meaningfully contribute with investments to create a better and sustainable world but still within the offer side (capital providers). I would love to see more active and intentional participation from the demand side and the women-led businesses and producers that are accessing or not accessing capital voices from the Global South. Being intentional in bringing these voices to conversations will help to deploy capital in different ways, such as capital that is used to transition to sustainable agriculture.

5. Localization matters

Promoting and catalyzing local capital is critical for low-and middle-income countries to prosper. Most funds are still located in Europe or North America, and hopefully, we can incentivize local capital providers and decision makers to develop policies and regulations to promote more local capital. Organizations like the Collaborative for Frontier Finance (CFF) are doing a great job of promoting local capital in Africa.

Congratulations to the GIIN team for this event and its thoughtful agenda. We learned from diverse experiences around the world about how impact investing is making a difference in the lives of many people, especially in emerging markets.

If you’re looking for something else to read, look no further. The Storehouse is packed with content that discusses how entrepreneurship can improve businesses and livelihoods for businesspeople and farmers in the Global South.

Leaving no one behind on World Food Day 2022

This year’s growing season was particularly difficult for farmers around the world. With supply disruptions caused partly by sanctions against Belarus and Russa, synthetic fertilizer prices skyrocketed, doubling their prices at the beginning of the growing season in April and May 2022.

This past summer was also among the hottest years on record, with many parts of the Horn of Africa, Europe, China, and North America experiencing severe droughts, while South Asian countries like Pakistan having devastating floods. These issues, combined with an ongoing pandemic and international tensions, have affected global food security.

But there are still many unanswered questions. Questions like what else is driving food insecurity? And how are our current practices within the agri-food market systems contributing to the problems in the first place? And lastly, how is the agri-food sector contributing to climate change and market shocks?

Considering the theme for this year’s World Food Day is “Leave NO ONE behind,” we’ll look more deeply into understanding what factors are driving these issues and what we can do to make our food systems work better for everyone.

Food market prices

Above: shoppers at a busy market

Many countries expanded their agricultural policy in the last decades to increase crop production to cope with increased food demand from higher population growth. As a result, between 1965 and 2000, agricultural production doubled, but mainly but mainly through extensification (using more land for agriculture) rather than intensification (growing more crops or raising more animals on agricultural lands). This extensification has led to an increased need for arable land and subsequent deforestation. Yet, despite all the negative impacts of agricultural production on our natural ecosystems, the prices of most food commodities have decreased in the last century. A family in the United States (US) in the 1940s would have spent on average 20% of its disposable income on food. Now, this number is less than 10%. Comparatively, income wages in the US have increased by more than 45% in the last four decades. This decrease in the percentage of income for food shows us how the full cost of food is not fully reflected in international markets. On the other hand, some households in the Global South, like in Nigeria, spend over half of their household income on food. Understanding these discrepancies in economic growth and the cost of food will help us value food more fairly.

Climate change and biodiversity loss

Above: the impact of climate change

Our global food system is an important contributor to climate change and the primary driver of biodiversity loss. Indeed, approximately 26% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions result from food and agriculture, and agriculture was identified as the main threat to 86% of the 28,000 species at risk of extinction. Yet, looking to indigenous ecological knowledge practices might provide a solution. Understanding how indigenous populations can safeguard 80% of terrestrial biodiversity on only 22% of the Earth’s land surface will support us to build more resilient food systems.

A dependence on synthetic fertilizers

Above: a farmer spraying vegetables in the garden with herbicides.

The surge in chemical fertilizer prices affected farmers because our agricultural lands have become dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. With the advent of synthetic fertilizer use, which has increased steadily since the 1950s and 60s, the health of our soils and water ecosystems has decreased. Chemical fertilizers kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil that convert detritus into nutrient-rich organic material, ultimately leading to a decline in soil organic matter. Nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium-based (NPK) fertilizers leach into groundwater and increase their toxicity, causing water pollution. They also disrupt aquatic ecosystems by seeping into bodies of water, such as rivers and lakes, causing massive algal growth which can lead to dead zones.

Chemical fertilizers are also important contributors to climate change since more than 80% of nitrogen is lost to the environment prior to food consumption (e.g., during food production). When combined with oxygen, nitrogen becomes a potent greenhouse gas and nitrous oxide (N2O) is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Understanding this dependence on synthetic fertilizers and minimizing their use will lead to more prosperous food systems. A paradigm shift is required in how agricultural production is organized from chemically produced to organic food production.

High tillage and soil compaction

Preparing land for agriculture is not an easy task. With the emergence of new tools and technologies, the last century saw a change in farmland preparation methods from shallow-hand and livestock-plowing of land to deep, tractor-plowing. High tillage, compounded by the change from fallow rotational systems to permanently farmed systems, has led to important issues such as soil compaction. Soil compaction increases the density of the topsoil, hampers water infiltration and retention, and minimizes seedling emergence and root growth, ultimately reducing yields. Minimizing tillage and building soil structure for water and nutrient flow and microbial activity will promote healthy food.

Food loss and waste

Above: food waste

Our food distribution systems and consumption patterns are leading to food loss and waste, which also amounts to 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. The global percentage of food lost after harvesting at the farm, transport, storage, wholesale, and processing levels was estimated at 13.3% in 2020, while regions such as sub-Saharan Africa face losses as high as 21.4%. In fact, it is estimated that 3.4 billion acres (1.4 billion hectares) of land – 28% of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is eventually lost or wasted. Understanding the root causes of food loss and waste will increase the efficiency of our global food systems.

Financial strain

Currently, the global food system compromises the food security of food-producing communities. In addition to leading to dire consequences for the natural ecosystems and climate change, many of the problems lead to financial strain on farmers. Climate stressors and dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides affect not only our ecosystems but farmers’ financial health and overall well-being as well. The growing problem of suicide among the international community of farmers has received well-deserved media attention in recent years since farmers and ranchers are at a higher risk for suicide than others. As women and youth farmers are included and empowered within our global food systems, these issues cannot be taken lightly and must be considered when supporting farmer resiliency.

How to address global food insecurity

Above: healthy soil

Food production is critical to making food available everywhere in the world without leaving anyone behind. However, simply producing more food is not a solution. Food must also be produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. In fact, the quality of production is essential for healthy diets. Food is more nutritious when produced regeneratively and when the soil in which it is grown is healthy. The careful use of inputs for production that keep the ecosystem in balance is essential. There is enough food that is already produced, but loss and waste are an issue. Making food available while leaving no one behind requires efficient food distribution systems.

MEDA acknowledges the drivers of food insecurity and the interconnections between market and financial constraints, gender, and social barriers, and environmental and climate issues. As a result, MEDA promotes a Triple Impact Approach for Decent Work in Agri-food Market Systems.

In the technical assistance provided to farmers, MEDA makes sure to understand the drivers and challenges that they face. We then identify areas within the agricultural production systems where best practices – e.g., as relates to water, soil, and crop management – can be implemented. By strengthening the capacities of farmers on these environmentally sustainable practices, providing access to finance and incentives to acquire appropriate technologies, and fostering market conditions that are inclusive, MEDA creates the conditions for food security, healthy agricultural systems, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and decent and sustainable work for farmers and entrepreneurs worldwide.

Looking for something else to read? Check out our Storehouse to read blogs, news and other content that focuses on providing farmers and entrepreneurs with the tools to create prosperous livelihoods and businesses.

Why MEDA works with rural women

On the International Day of Rural Women, it is important to highlight the contributions that women make in agricultural sectors around the world. They grow, process, and produce much of the food that fuels our societies. Yet, they are often unrecognized and marginalized because of restrictive gender norms.

Celebrating the International Day of Rural Women is an important step in bringing to light the critical challenges that rural women face. Below we discuss the important impact that rural women make in the agri-food sectors around the world, the challenges they face, and ways to overcome these challenges to make our agricultural systems more equitable.

The impact that rural women make in the agri-food sector

Agricultural production is dominated by women. On average, women comprise more than 40% of the agricultural labor force in the Global South and rural women make up more than 40% of the labor force in many low-and middle-income economies. Women account for about 70% of total agricultural production and marketing in Ghana, making them central to food security and economic development.

The hurdles rural women face in the agri-food sector

Despite their importance to the labor force of agri-food market systems, rural women are disproportionately affected by poverty, and face many barriers to participating in the agricultural labor market. Two of the biggest hurdles that prevent women from gaining economic empowerment and gender equity include their lack of access to resources (land, finance, and education) and the social norms that prevent them from participating in household and community decision-making.

A lack of access to resources

Women face challenges in gaining equitable access to resources within the agri-food sector. They often lack access to higher-quality land and financial resources to purchase technology and have limited access to quality inputs and high-value market opportunities.

The patrilineal kinship, inheritance, dowry systems, and other practices mean that access to resources and privileges consistently favors men over women. This is supported by the alarming statistic that less than 15% of the world’s landholders are women. The adult male-centered systems of governance (chieftaincy-based, pluralist democracy) leave women under-represented in important decision-making forums.

Women also lack equitable access to other important resources, such as education, entrepreneurial training, and finance. This reality is compounded by inadequate government and private sector services including extension, market information, and health services. In addition to these barriers, there may be an expectation that women are subservient to male family members, meaning they have fewer opportunities and less control over their agriculture efforts and their benefits.

Restrictive social norms

Women’s contributions are often overlooked or ignored by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, as well as community leaders, extension workers, agricultural planners, and policymakers. Traditional norms, religious beliefs, and social practices dictate that men inherit land rights, leaving women controlling very small amounts of highly unproductive land – just six percent in the Northern Region of Ghana, for example. Wives and daughters are obligated to contribute significant labor in the fields of their husbands and fathers, but men retain control over major agricultural decisions.

In Ghana, productivity is also constrained by social norms that dictate that women plant their plots only after men’s plots have been planted. Frequently, this means women miss ideal planting times. Even after planting is complete, they must often work on their husband’s land before tending to their own crops.

Men, women, government authorities, and extension service providers do not consider women to be farmers. Rather, the most common term used to describe women’s role in agriculture is ‘supplementary’ to the efforts of male farmers. This bias against recognizing women’s full contributions and rights goes well beyond agriculture.

Yet, the benefits of fully harnessing the economic potential of women in the agri-food sector are significant. A study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that if women had access to the same productive resources as men, yields on their farms could be increased by 20 to 30%. This, in turn, could raise total agricultural output in low-and middle-income countries by 2.5 to 4%, reducing global hunger by 12 to 17%.

Moving forward – how to make agri-food markets more equitable

To improve equity for rural women, we should create conditions by supporting men and women to have a voice in how resources are used in development. It also means positioning them to participate in decision-making that will guarantee policies that promote fair access to agriculture and natural resources. Gender, poverty, and institutions are interlinked and cannot be dealt with independently. Recent themes from the International Day of Rural Women, focusing on claiming rights to sustainable development and cultivating good food for all, remain relevant and appropriate. Supporting rural women to secure access to productive resources, decision making among others will address some of the root causes of marginalization. At national levels, governments need to move beyond rhetoric to take practical measures to address the challenges of women. At the community and household level, women and men’s voices should both contribute to decisions on how resources are accessed and utilized.

MEDA prioritizes working with rural women to support them to overcome these persistent and systemic barriers. In the face of these multiple challenges, MEDA supports rural women to build and grow enterprises in the agri-food market system by pushing key levers of change, including:

  • Women’s access to and control over resources, including productive assets, skill building opportunities, market opportunities, appropriate and reliable inputs and services
  • Women’s agency, or the ability to make and act on decisions related to resources, and to participate in household decisions on business, agriculture and income
  • A more just and equitable enabling environment, including positive and enabling attitudes, behaviors, social norms, policies and institutions

MEDA’s programs reflect these priorities. Examples of our work include GROW2 in Northern Ghana, building on the success of the recently completed GROW project, which increases women’s access to productive land, vital agricultural inputs, and higher value markets for their products. In Nicaragua, the Technolinks+ project is enhancing the economic empowerment of rural women by strengthening their knowledge, skills and attitudes through training, economic incentives, access to technology and business entrepreneurship. The RIISA project in the Philippines aims to support 5,400 smallholder farmers (40% women) with market linkages and training to increase their farming incomes.

To truly recognize the value that rural women around the world bring to agricultural systems, we need to address the systemic barriers that prevent them from achieving their potential. Creating awareness of rural women’s participation in the development process with a focus on their needs and rights, highlighting their contributions to sustainable development, promoting household food security, safeguarding traditional knowledge, biodiversity, and peacebuilding are important steps to make our agri-food systems and societies more equitable and prosperous.

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Connecting impact investment and agricultural development: MEDA bridges the gap

In 2020, MEDA launched a bold Strategic Plan, Towards an Equal World. The plan outlines our ambitious goal of creating or sustaining decent work for half a million people in emerging economies by 2030 by strengthening agri-food market systems, working in partnership with others to drive system-level impact, and most importantly, shifting decision-making from the Global North to the Global South.

Strengthened programming

This strategy has provided MEDA and our stakeholders with a platform to critically reflect and reimagine how our 70-year approach to economic development can evolve. One of the four pillars of our strategy is strengthened programming. Integral to the success of this pillar is our intention to align our impact investments with our donor-funded programming. As the only NGO that has been impact investing for as long as we have been implementing development programming, we see the linkages between the two areas and are frustrated by the artificial barriers that exist between the largely donor-funded world of agricultural development projects and the impact investing world seeking strong returns and impact.

Most agricultural development projects seek sustainable and inclusive growth for the sector and the smallholder farmers who participate in the projects although that growth is often limited by a lack of access to capital. Many impact investment funds seek technical assistance support to help reduce the risk to their investments by helping small agribusinesses to improve their financial and technical skills. However, they often lack an understanding of the wider systemic challenges. These challenges and the opportunities for greater synergy were highlighted in a report by Gatsby Africa which noted that there is significant untapped potential for greater transformational impact if development programming and investment-focused programming collaborate more effectively. For MEDA, because we do both investing and programming, we have been able to overcome some of the challenges of coordination outlined in the Gatsby Africa report, such as a lack of coordination between the two areas.

Understanding market systems and local context

To further advance this approach, we leverage our deep understanding of the market systems in which we work. We gain this knowledge through an integrated market systems assessment done with local partners that identify gaps and opportunities, power dynamics, market risks, community vulnerabilities, and adaptation strategies. Responding to this assessment, programming such as technical assistance to firms, small farmer co-ops, and agri-businesses is paired with strong ESG lensed impact investments designed to meet the identified needs.

This approach is unique and much needed as in our view, much impact investing is driven by enterprise-focused finance that fails to account for the systems within which enterprises operate. Ultimately, we believe that to invest successfully in agri-food market systems we need to understand and address the bottlenecks and weaknesses to channel finance to where it can do the greatest impact and create the most equitable and sustainable returns. In addition, a great deal of donor programming fails to consider an investment readiness lens which limits its ultimate impact and sustainability.

For this approach to be effective, it must be led by our staff and partners in country, in assessments and co-creation of solutions and investment sourcing and placing. Our recently launched Resilience and Inclusion through Investment for Sustainable Agrikultura (RIISA) and Leveraging Equality for Gender-Inclusive Economic Development (LEGEND) projects demonstrate this approach.

MEDA’s work in the Philippines

In RIISA, our local team will act as an innovative financing convener by hosting a series of conversations for cacao stakeholders so that they can learn, share, and ultimately form independent partnerships with each other. Additionally, they will tap into regionalized impact investment associations to build market intelligence networks and ultimately source information about localized cacao deals. MEDA will then apply this market intelligence to uncover previously hidden opportunities and encourage other investors to participate in co-investment and/or follow-on investment opportunities so that capital continues to flow. MEDA’s focus on having its in-country team play an intermediary role by brokering these relations is critical for ensuring the sustainability of the project’s capital shifts as ultimately local stakeholders will need to carry forward these market linkages and continue supporting each other.

MEDA’s work in Kenya

In LEGEND, our in-country team will act as an innovative financing tester by leading the ideation and experimentation of two agri-food financing models: investing in financial institutions and investing in funds. We will work with local financial institutions to launch and/or expand the reach of their financial products and investment readiness programming so that they are on-lending to small medium enterprises (SMEs) that are owned and/or operated by women, youth and/or other socially marginalized actors. The purpose of such efforts will be to ensure that SMEs, particularly those owned and/or operated by persons from non-traditional backgrounds are no longer underserved. In parallel, we will invest in funds and leverage its in-country team’s relationships with fund managers and their portfolio companies to deliver culturally appropriate gender and environmental lens trainings. Providing targeted coaching and using financing at multiple levels of a value chain can help to change the conversation on what is considered acceptable business norms.

Going forward

Both projects illustrate how this alignment between investments and programming is not just a simple process change, it represents an evolution in our trajectory towards achieving our goal of creating or sustaining 500,000 decent jobs by 2030. By continuing to shift power from the Global North to the Global South, forging and harnessing local partnerships to achieve systems-level impact and making agri-food market systems more resilient and sustainable, we will be better equipped to provide decent work opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs in the Global South and help fulfill the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Why The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFL) matters

Every day, we waste good food. Globally, about one-third of all food produced for human consumption is either lost or wasted. This amounts to around 1.3 billion tons every year that is wasted.

While enough food is produced to feed the world, more than three billion people worldwide do not have access to healthy food. Nearly 690 million suffer from hunger, while two billion consume unhealthy diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in diet-related obesity and noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

As the world’s population grows and incomes rise, there will be greater demand for food. But to meet this growing demand for food, the global agri-food system needs to change. The International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste (IDAFL), is an important call to action for everyone in the food system to work together to cut food loss and waste for a more sustainable agri-food system.

The causes of food loss and waste

So, what causes food loss and waste (FLW)? In short, many things. One of the main causes is inefficient agri-food systems. From production to consumption, food waste occurs in our food systems.

There are many direct causes of FLW. They include inadequate resources in production, poor scheduling and timing of harvesting operations, less efficient harvesting and handling practices, and substandard storage conditions and temperature management around perishable products.

Then there are the secondary causes. These include inadequate equipment, transport, and storage capacity, inefficient organization, coordination, and communication between food supply chain actors, and inadequate infrastructure.

There are systemic causes too, which happen when the structures that enable food to be produced and delivered to consumers break down or are inefficient. This includes inadequacies in the institutional, policy, and regulatory frameworks that are required to coordinate actors, enable investments, and support the adoption of improved practices along the food supply chain. Emergencies and crises such as pandemics, natural disasters, and conflicts can disrupt food supply chains and can also lead to increased levels of FLW.

The impact of FLW

The impact of food loss and waste is severe on many fronts. FLW takes a huge toll on the economy. The annual market value of food that is lost or wasted globally is estimated to be hundreds of billions of dollars. FLW can also lead to a lower gross domestic product (GDP) in the agriculture sector. And the economic costs of FLW for households are severe. Money spent on food that is thrown out is also felt by households, as well as by businesses along the food supply chain.

Food loss and waste also take a significant toll on the environment. It contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and represents a waste of resources used in food production, such as land, water, and energy. FLW is responsible for an estimated 8 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions and consumes one-quarter of freshwater used by agriculture each year. Food that is lost or wasted also uses significant expanses of land, degrades natural ecosystems and contributes to biodiversity loss. Producing excess food also means more CO₂ emissions being released, which worsens the effects of climate change.

FLW can impact food security and nutrition. It does this by reducing the global and local availability of food by limiting food access for those food supply chain actors who face FLW-related economic and income losses. It can also result in unsustainable use of natural resources on which future food production depends. FLW further impacts food quality and nutrient losses along food supply chains and the stability of food supplies.

The way forward

What can we do to tackle this problem? For starters, as the world’s population continues to grow, our challenge should not be how to grow more food but how to reduce the food we already lose and waste.

To make our agri-food systems more sustainable, we must focus on reducing food loss and waste. Investing in climate-smart innovations, technologies, and infrastructure to reduce food loss and waste is key to increasing efficiency and reducing food system emissions. Reducing food waste is one of the most impactful climate solutions we can adopt.

We should also embrace the circular economy. By applying circular practices, lost and wasted food can be converted to compost or used to produce biogas, which avoids harmful methane emissions. To do this though, we need good governance, human capital development, collaboration, and partnerships to maximize the positive impacts of reducing food loss and waste.

There are also better storage methods. Using simple, low-cost storage methods can drastically cut food loss, especially for small-scale farmers in the Global South, who frequently lose food to pests, spoilage, and transportation damage. For example, a system developed by researchers at Purdue University in which grain is stored in three interlocking plastic bags locks out pests and keeps grain fresh for months. Even using a plastic crate instead of a plastic sack during transport can dramatically cut losses by preventing bruising and squashing.

If we want to achieve the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we need to transform our agri-food systems. Through its programs, MEDA is committed to achieving the UN’s SDGs by creating linkages among key actors in the global agri-food system. These linkages enhance agriculture productivity, encourage producers to use efficient technology for value addition and storage, and reduces post-harvest losses along the entire agri-food system. This approach can also create decent work for thousands of people and uplift entire families and communities.

By reducing production costs and increasing the efficiency of food systems, it can improve food security and nutrition, contribute to environmental sustainability, and reduce FLW hunger and malnutrition that will benefit future generations. We must reduce food loss and waste for the well-being of the people and the planet.