Women Accelerator’s Programme: Meet the mentees | Part I


Women in business are at the heart of FAO’s mandate to reduce rural poverty and achieve food security for all.

That’s why in October 2022, 50 women entrepreneurs working in the agrifood sector across Sub-Saharan Africa were chosen to participate in the first year of the FAO-IAFN Women’s Accelerator Mentorship Programme for Women-led SMEs in Africa.

Participants were selected from an open call for expressions of interest by a panel of experts from FAO and IAFN.

CONNECT Portal will be regularly featuring the stories of the hard-working women who took part in the programme. You can read the first in our series of articles on these women below.

Emmastella Gakuo

Emmastella Gakuo is the co-founder and director of operations at Savanna Circuit, a manufacturing enterprise providing solar-powered mobile coolers and dehydrators to smallholder farmers in order to give them much-needed access to cold chain systems. She is passionate about technology and manufacturing, and sees them both as a means to move Africa from poverty to power. 

Savannah Circuit, which was established in Kenya in 2017 and has now reached over 20,000 users and customers, helping improve livelihoods for smallholder farmers across East Africa by using renewable energy-powered equipment fitted with Internet of Things (IOT) tracking and Artificial Intelligence (AI) cloud analytics software to help agribusinesses reduce both their post-harvest losses and carbon footprint. 

Using the lease-to-own model to offer an affordable path to both the ownership and running of these assets for dairy, fish and horticulture enterprises, Savanna Circuit empowers customers who would otherwise be unable to access solar coolers and dehydrators. 

I am eternally grateful for this mentorship programme, the courses and the occasional meetings. I am transformed as an individual and Savanna Circuit teams are equally benefiting from my exposure.

Fatou Manneh

Fatou Manneh is the founder of Jelmah Herbella, a project that aims to create a direct market for local women in the Gambia producing herbal products. Having spent nine years working with thousands of women entrepreneurs, farmers and other low-income earners as a trainer on entrepreneurship, and climate change mitigation  with the Empretec project, Fatou is dedicated to mainstreaming women empowerment to ensure sustainable livelihoods through organic farming.

Recognizing that permaculture promotes climate-smart agriculture and ensures a consistent supply of produce both on- and off-season, Jelmah Herbella encourages women to grow herbs in their backyard using household items including car tires, sacks and broken pans, in order to sell the harvested herbs and cereal crops to a reliable market. 

The tea and herbs are cultivated in naturally controlled greenhouse environments to ensure quality harvests. Upon harvesting, the produce is dried using solar dryers before being processed and bagged.

Fatou’s experience has taught her that many women in agriculture harvest and sell with no value addition due to limited knowledge and lack of processing equipment. Jelmah tackles this challenge by working with farmers through a platform that enables them to commercialize the production of herbs for tea and, by doing so, building healthier communities as well. 

I am privileged because I believe in the power of mentorship, for I know mentorship is transformational. John Crosby says, ‘Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction’. And that’s the experience I had with Rahmat Eyinfunjowo through the support of the FAO-IAFN accelerator mentorship programme.

Judith Marera

Judith Marera is the founder and CEO of Lanforce Energy, a women-led for-profit social enterprise based in Zimbabwe. Lanforce Energy constructs and installs biodigesters for farms, households, hotels and other institutions, giving people the means to convert organic waste into biogas, a renewable source of energy. 

Growing up in rural Zimbabwe, Judith soon realized the challenges that women and children face in searching for firewood for cooking their meals and lighting their homes. Drawing on her experience working in human resources at the Meteorological Services Department and the World Meteorological Organisation, Judith began to search for a way not only to help people find a renewable source of fuel, but to mitigate the effects of climate change at the same time. 

To address both these challenges, Judith founded Lanforce Energy in 2018 to provide Zimbabweans with access to portable biodigesters that are scalable depending on energy requirements. The services are provided on a pay-as-you-go basis to ensure that they are affordable for all users. 

The RIV software was the most intriguing for me. What I really liked about the software was the explanation on how to come up with a business plan taking into consideration the ideas and the available resources. The business plan module was the best for me.

For more information on the Women’s Accelerator Programme