In celebration of International Women’s Day,  CNFA is highlighting some of the remarkable women we work with around the world. These women are driving rural transformation through bold actions and purposeful collaboration. Whether it is a dairy entrepreneur in Ethiopia or a potato farmer over in Georgia, they form the backbone of improved agricultural productivity and nutrition, stimulate economic growth and ultimately underpin lasting food security towards our vision for a world without hunger.

CNFA works to integrate gender solutions in its programs from the first day of implementation. By helping women to gain access to resources and services, participate actively in rural economies, and retain control over the income they earn as a result, we help to empower women to bring about positive change. When women are empowered, their families and communities benefit immensely.

That is why our program implementation optimizes gender-focused results and relies on an efficient M&E structure. This not only involves disaggregation of monitoring and evaluation data to ensure women are participating and benefitting from program activities on an appropriate level relative to men, but also depends on gender issue-specific indicators that measure changes in women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector.  From Day 1, every CNFA program is geared towards transformative changes for women.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

1.6 billion

Women rely on farming for their livelihood. Source: Root Capital

Less than 10%

Of small farm credit available to smallholders is received by women in sub-Saharan Africa. Source: Root Capital


Of the world's food is produced by women. Source: FAO

March 8, 2017 – This post is a contribution to our week-long blog series highlighting some of the incredible women that we work with across the world.

Women can feed the world.

“It is in fact time to be ‘bold for change,’ to empower women in rural societies, and prepare them to assume a greater role in addressing the challenge to feed our growing world,” writes Alexis Ellicott on Farming First’s blog.

Alexis’ post reflects on her work as Chief of Party on the USAID Bangladesh Agro-Inputs Project (AIP), led by CNFA, and reveals the sorts of obstacles women entrepreneurs face in rural economies.

Overcoming these obstacles requires culturally sensitive, adaptable programming. Through the creation of a local Agro-Input Retailers Network (AIRN), for example, AIP now provides funding, training, and technical advice to retailers selling inputs such as seed and fertilizer – including more than 200 women in what previously had been an almost entirely male-dominated sector.

Check out Alexis’ full blog post, which shares successes and lessons learned on the project in advance of International Women’s Day 2017.


Alexis Ellicott: Bringing Gender Parity to the Agricultural Inputs Sector
"Under AIP, for example, even after receiving verbal and written consent from family and local community leaders—a critical step in ushering women into agribusiness–we learned that a woman’s acceptance by male peer retailers was ultimately the critical factor in her ability to successfully enter the agro-inputs sector."

- Alexis Ellicott, Chief of Party, Agro-Inputs Project

March 9, 2017 – This post is a contribution to our week-long blog series highlighting some of the incredible women that we work with across the world.

Situated at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia is a country where agriculture is deeply embedded in the history and culture of its people. Agriculture continues to be one of the country’s most productive economic activities today.

CNFA implements the USAID-funded Restoring Efficiency to Agriculture Production (REAP) program in Georgia, which has increased income and employment in rural areas by delivering firm-level investment and technical assistance to Georgian agribusinesses. On a practical level, this means increasing private investment and commercial finance to agribusinesses in Georgia, mitigating risks for these businesses, upgrading farmers’ agricultural and technical skills so that they can thrive, and linking entrepreneurs to service providers, producers, and processors.

A significant aspect of REAP is to cultivate entrepreneurship amongst women as drivers of agricultural development. Engagement in entrepreneurship activities still remains beyond reach for many Georgian women, who face mobility and time constraints due to their reproductive, community management, and social roles. REAP therefore takes a gender-sensitive approach to all of its activities, tailoring teaching styles to the needs of women entrepreneurs in the facilitation of education and training components. These methods usually consist of short sessions or modules throughout the year that blend theory, business simulations, case studies, practical work, homework assignments, individual or group consulting and executive coaching, discussions, debates, demonstration visits, and peer-to-peer (P2P) mentoring, and are respectful of the demands and seasonality of agriculture and its concomitant time constraints.

One specific initiative for advancing gender-sensitive agriculture within the program is the Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform, which was launched in 2015. Serving as an effective instrument for dialogue, networking, and interventions on engendering the agribusiness, as well as for the promotion of profiles of women agriculture entrepreneurs, young agriculture entrepreneurs, and gender-sensitive or gender-equitable agribusinesses, membership is comprised of both small-scale to medium-scale women-owned agribusiness enterprises, as well as women and young agricultural entrepreneurs who are planning to launch new agribusinesses in the future.

One such entrepreneur is Sopho Jikia, who successfully founded Chirifruit Ltd. two years ago and has been making strides in the development of her agribusiness with the assistance of REAP’s Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform and other mechanisms. This is her story.



Sopho Jikia, founder of Chirifruit Ltd., a member of REAP’s Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform

Sopho Jikia is the mother of four children but also the parent of a fruit-drying agribusiness in Georgia known as Chirifruit Ltd., which she founded two years ago. Since the inception of the business, Chirifruit Ltd. has been a family enterprise with Sopho’s father, mother, and sisters all playing their own roles in getting the company set on its own two feet, and then running. Sopho’s father, an innovative farmer from West Georgia, built the fruit drying equipment, and then her mother and three sisters began producing dried and candied fruits. Since that time, Chirifruit has expanded considerably and now offers customers various kinds of innovative products such as dried fruits combined with chocolate, coconut, walnuts, and almonds.

Sopho’s motivation for starting her business was to achieve financial security so that she could provide her children with a better future. More than just financial security, Sopho’s enterprise now provides her family with a place to apply its creativity, taking on new ideas and diversifying the production of dried fruit with new tastes, recipes, designs, and packaging. These creative features now distinguish Chirifruit in the market.


Checking the humidity level of at the industrial fruit drying facility of Chirifruit Ltd.
Photo Credit: Nukri Mandzulashvili/REAP

To continue driving the growth of the enterprise, Chirifruit actively participates in the Restoring Efficiency to Agriculture Production (REAP) program. In doing so, Chirifruit benefits from technical assistance in different areas including the production process, business management, food safety, marketing, and finance. Chirifruit has improved immensely from its involvement with REAP, and the deal was literally and figuratively sweetened even more when the company received a micro-grant from the British charity organization known as HERA to purchase equipment for chocolate tempering and melting. The equipment has allowed Chirifruit to process chocolate-covered dry fruit according to modern standards.

In addition to technical assistance, as a member of the Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development Strategic Platform and its network, Chirifruit has also gained access to a new market which now accounts for 15% of the company’s wholesales.


Sopho Jikia and family proudly present their packaging options for Chirifruit. The family-owned start-up unites three generations: Sopho’s grandma, Sopho’s sisters, and the future—11 grandchildren.
Photo credit: Nukri Mandzulashvili/REAP

As Sopho herself explains, “When we started out our family company, we knew little, or even nothing, about business. Knowledge is an intangible asset that we continually receive from REAP. This project has contributed greatly to the growth of our business and to our increased sales. Technical assistance helps us to plan and lead our business in the right direction and show the important aspects to focus on. The consultations take place in our company and are oriented on direct results and meeting the practical needs. With REAP’s help, I look at the importance of technological development from a different point of view as it is vital for the proper establishment on the market. We are thankful to REAP for having our sales increased 10 times in comparison with last year and for having the opportunity for development.”

The company’s start-up investment was GEL 6,000 (about $2,450), and its annual net income is now GEL 7,000 (about $2,857). Like the fruit it sells, Chirifruit is ripe for expansion, and Sopho’s main goal now is to increase Chirifruit’s sales and expand business in the area.

“REAP’s platform unifies women who take pride in [their work] and feel support, and I want to be a part of it as well. I want USAID/REAP to be proud of me, too. We coincide on the aim of going further on the aim of development,” Sophia says.

On this International Women’s Day, REAP is proud to announce that it is very proud of Sopho Jikia and women like her across Georgia who are pursuing their goals and cultivating entrepreneurship in themselves and those around them.

“When we started out our family company, we knew little, or even nothing, about business. Knowledge is an intangible asset that we continually receive from REAP. This project has contributed greatly to the growth of our business and to our increased sales."

- Sopho Jikia

March 10, 2017 – This post is a contribution to our week-long blog series highlighting some of the incredible women that we work with across the world.

Ethiopia is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa that is home to more than 94 million people and 52 million cattle. As such, the country boasts the largest population of cattle in Africa, and its agro-ecology and mixed crop-livestock systems in the highlands make it ripe for supporting a burgeoning dairy cattle industry, which currently produces an estimated 3.2 billion liters of milk each year at a value of around $889 million.  While this may sound like a lot, the country could literally and figuratively be milking the cattle industry for much more. The dairy sector remains highly underdeveloped, and this is due in no small part to the constraints faced by women in engaging with the dairy value chain.

Despite the importance of dairy production to rural women traditionally, in terms of income generation and the means to meet social obligations, they simply do not have the same opportunities as men to participate at all points of the dairy value chain and consequently are underrepresented in cooperatives, unions, associations, and leadership positions.

While changing attitudes are beginning to acknowledge the powerful contributions that women’s full participation in the dairy sector can make in terms of income, household food security, and family well-being, their full participation remains limited due to several persistent barriers. One of the most significant challenges that such rural women face is a lack of access to training opportunities, alongside lack of experience and capacity building in management and access to supportive technologies and information.

In order to overcome such barriers and develop the gender-sensitive dairy value chain that will be critical to sustainable dairy production in Ethiopia, CNFA’s Agricultural Growth Program-Livestock Market Development (AGP-LMD) project has been supporting local partner organizations in leading interventions through extant cooperatives, associations, government agencies, and private firms to spur inclusive rural entrepreneurship. With funding from USAID/Ethiopia, AGP-LMD has awarded $5.5 million in grants to Ethiopian livestock businesses in the dairy and meat sector to improve productivity, competitiveness, and profitability of this sector since 2012.

One of the women transforming her livelihood and those around her with the support of the AGP-LMD project is Bizunesh Borssamo, and this is her story.



Bizunesh Borssamo stands amongst her cows.

Bizunesh Borssamo is a rural entrepreneur from a small township in the western part of Ethiopia known as Dale Woreda. After earning her degree in accounting and working as a civil servant for the regional government, she bought her first cow in 2008 and realized the profitability of selling milk. Beyond the economic benefits of the cow, the milk also provided Bizunesh and her child with a regular supply of nutrients.

Her first cow eventually died, but Bizunesh’s faith in the business of selling milk and milk products did not. With a loan from her youth association, she purchased five cattle and started a cattle breeding program. Of the five cattle, just two were enough to provide her with enough milk revenue to be able to pay for her household expenditures. She continued her enterprise, learning valuable lessons about informal cattle markets. After hearing about a cattle breeders auction at Hawassa University, Bizunesh took the leap to take out a loan from the bank to purchase 40 cattle to sell there and expand her business. Bizunesh cared for the cattle and even constructed a shed to shelter them. However, as the time drew near, the auction was cancelled, and she was left scrambling to find individual buyers who could purchase her cattle, often one at a time.

She pushed through the setbacks, and with a relentless persistence to become a successful dairy entrepreneur, applied for yet another bank loan to purchase another ten cattle. This time, however, Bizunesh did not want to risk business setbacks, and made the commitment to devoting herself full-time to seeing her dream come to fruition. This decision required great sacrifice and risk, as she quit her job as a civil servant and started managing all aspects of her small firm. For Bizunesh, it was a necessary step, as she understood the energy and dedication that would be required to make her business thrive.

Bizunesh’s efforts were not unnoticed, and she became recognized in her community for her hard work and dedication. Seeing her commitment to the advancement of her business, this same community told Bizunesh about USAID, which was providing valuable trainings and held regular business plan proposal competitions for cattle business owners.

Armed with her determination and an undying faith in the promise of the business of selling milk, Bizunesh entered and then won the proposal competition. Access to finance from debt or equity is a major challenge in the Ethiopian livestock sector. The AGP-LMD grants program aims to improve the productivity and profitability of livestock enterprises using innovative approaches that might not receive 100% of the required funding from bank loans, where collateral requirements are high. To achieve a competitive grant awards process, AGP-LMD published three Requests for Applications (RFA) for Innovation Grants. Out of 171 applications under RFA II, 24 grantees were selected by the grants evaluation committee, after a rigorous review process. Among them was Bizunesh. These grants require an environmental compliance review report as well as cost share contribution from the grantee. The cost share Bizunesh contributed was the construction of a warehouse for feed production and the value of the dairy cows themselves.

Along with her victory came $50,000 worth of training and machinery, and the confidence to work harder than ever to expand and diversify her business. USAID, like Bizunesh’s community members, recognized this dedication and has since invited her to participate in numerous follow-up trainings dedicated to the development of advanced business skills. These trainings have primarily focused on advanced cattle rearing techniques, as well as managerial skills. As a result of these efforts, Bizunesh has increased the number of cattle that she owns to 60.  Moreover, she is passing along the benefits to her now 15 full-time employees, who come from a variety of backgrounds. For Bizunesh, investing in her employees is the best way to invest in her business.

Bizunesh now has an overall annual income of 3 million birr (about $132,000) and plans to continue cultivating the expansion of her business into poultry and cattle breeding.

“The support I have gained from USAID/AGP-LMD and my hard work have proven [to be the key to] my success. The total number of my cattle has reached 60. I [am recognized as] one of the competent milk and milk product sellers in my community. I am now selling my products to hotels, wholesalers, organizations and local consumers. Currently, the cows are giving 200 liters of milk per day. I have leased 160 hectares of land and have ploughed it to grow teff and wheat.”

- Bizunesh Borssamo