As Rising Food Prices Continue Globally, Women Entrepreneurs Thrive Against All Odds


As Rising Food Prices Continue Globally, Women Entrepreneurs Thrive Against All Odds

With global poverty on the rise for the first time in decades, rising food prices are pushing struggling communities into crisis

Food prices surged in 2020 and 2021 as the coronavirus pandemic sent shocks across global supply chains. In 2019, the United Nations had classified approximately 130 million people globally as “acutely food insecure,” a figure that more than doubled to 276 million due to the pandemic. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of this year made matters more dire, as restricted global supplies of key staples like wheat, corn and fertilizers prompted food shortages worldwide. In a July pamphlet, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change warned that a stunning 345 million globally are now facing acute food insecurity.

“Global food markets have been plunged into turmoil, with soaring prices, export bans and shortages of basic foodstuffs spreading far from Ukraine’s borders. Nations across Africa, the Middle East, Asia and even Latin America are feeling the heat from this conflict,”

David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Program, wrote in a forward for the pamphlet. “The international community must act to stop this looming hunger catastrophe in its tracks — or these numbers will explode.”

On July 22, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. meant to free up Ukrainian grain stuck in Black Sea ports due to Russian blockades and allow Russia to export grain and fertilizers despite Western sanctions.

Sixteen ships set sail from the Black Sea by mid-August carrying crucial staples like corn and wheat for global export. The move brought hope to millions facing food insecurity globally, but in the near term, food prices are expected to keep rising in many markets, with low-income countries being the hardest hit.

From Asia and Africa to Latin America, rising food prices are affecting millions worldwide

The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks the monthly change in international prices of core food commodities, fell 8.6 percent from June to July, marking the fourth consecutive monthly decline since its peak in March.

Still, it remains 13.1 percent higher on average than this time last year, and regions around the world are still seeing higher prices on store shelves. Countries spanning the globe — including Lebanon, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Venezuela and Colombia — are facing the highest rates of food inflation, according to the most recent assessment from the World Bank.

In Kampala, Uganda, where Street Business School got its start, communities still struggling amidst the pandemic are now having even more trouble putting food on the table. “On almost every type of traditional food, the prices are up, and that has caused a food shortage,” says Irene Namaganda, who works as a communications manager in our Uganda office in Kampala.

In Uganda, women entrepreneurs are pivoting their businesses to cope with rising food prices

Namaganda began working with women entrepreneurs in Kampala as a staffer for our former sister organization, BeadforLife, and has since seen hundreds of women  graduate from Street Business School’s entrepreneurship training program. As rising food prices strain their communities, these women entrepreneurs are being forced to rethink their business models to maintain their incomes and keep their families afloat.

“Every person is handling it their own way to cope with the rising prices,” Namaganda explains. Some of the women entrepreneurs she’s spoken with have opted to temporarily close their existing businesses until food prices stabilize, while opening new businesses based on more affordable raw materials. Others are looking to reduce the size of the products they sell in order to turn a profit, or replace expensive ingredients with more affordable alternatives. “They’re smart,” Namaganda says. “They are trying to survive.”

Beyond basic business skills, confidence, resilience and determination to tackle challenges are the foundation of the training we do.

“SBS is about helping women be able to cope in whatever situation,” Namaganda says. “That’s what the training is about – preparing them for the falls, and for how to get back up.”

A randomized control trial we recently completed with academic partners proves our approach is working. Among other psychometric outcomes, the trial analyzed grit, which measures women’s perceptions of their ability to cope with challenges and persevere. Participants who received SBS training had, on average, a 3 to 4 percent higher score on the grit scale than the control group, an increase that is in line with interventions that explicitly target grit.

“I was privileged to be part of the RCT team that was collecting the data, and you find women trying by all means to make sure they do not sit, because if they sit, what’s going to happen to their children?”

Namaganda says. “Everyone is looking up at you — they need food, they need to go to school. You’ve come up already, so you have to stay up because someone else is waiting on you. They’re depending on you, so whatever happens, you have to come up with a solution.”

How social impact organizations can support communities amidst rising food prices

At Street Business School, we firmly believe in entrepreneurship as a pathway out of poverty for people of all backgrounds. And we’re committed to continuing to support the thousands of women across 25 countries who have leveraged SBS training to start their own businesses. That support centers, above all, on communication.

Following the release of the randomized control trial, members of our Uganda team — including Namaganda — met with the participants to share the results and gather their feedback, in a community engagement exercise known as a data walk.

“The data walk is something I think should be done by all organizations that are going out in the communities and getting data, because most organizations do not go back to inform the participants of the study what happened and the results. They just disappear,”

Namaganda explains. “It creates a gap between organizations and the people at the grassroots level, so the relationship is kind of ruined. But I think Street Business School did a great thing to go back to the community, speak to them, be honest about the results and thank them for participating. It gives them hope, and they will embrace that organization because they know that they always go back to the community.”

The things we learned through the trial and data walk are already shaping how we conduct our training and support women as they build and grow their businesses during challenging times. Among other interventions, we offer a support line for our graduates in Uganda. “If they have challenges, the program team is available,” Namaganda says. “They can call the program team and say, ‘This is happening to me. I need advice. What should I do?’ And the program team is available to help them through such situations and give advice on how best to move forward.”

Keeping lines of communication open will continue to be crucial as rising food prices continue to strain communities. “We need to make sure we are hearing from the women and we are giving them the advice they need in order for them to keep thriving, thinking of different ideas and coping with the situation,” Namaganda says. “Because who knows, it could go longer. It could be worse than what it is now. We just need to get ready and prepared for that.”

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