New report finds recognising and investing in women farmers is good for business and development

MANY BUSINESSES are unaware of the crucial role women play in supplying the ingredients they depend on for their products, as this contribution is often unrecognised, unpaid and invisible, says a new report Empowering Women Farmers in Agricultural Value Chains launched this week by Twin, at a joint food industry event hosted by the ethical trade organisation and the Fairtrade Foundation.


Around 70% of the work in agriculture is done by women, according to FAO figures. The report analyses the results of interviews with 14 producer groupings in Ghana, India, Malawi, Nicaragua, Peru and Rwanda. The findings show that despite women being active at all stages of agricultural production, in many cases providing the majority of the labour, women continue to face a glass ceiling when it comes to transporting crops to market and completing the sale. These tasks are almost universally done by men, who subsequently retain much of the control over household income.


The joint report shows that in addition to providing the lion’s share of labour, women tend to undertake crucial tasks essential for quality. It reveals that not only are women on the whole as engaged as men in planting and harvesting, they also tend to take the lead in processing – where much of the value is added and product quality can be determined.


In the commodities looked at, women are largely responsible for shelling and grading nuts, fermenting and drying coffee and fermenting cocoa. These are crucial parts of the production process that influence quality, taste and even food safety. Women carry out this critical work on top of household labour, which is seen as ‘women’s work’.


Women also face additional barriers to men regarding land ownership, which affects access to credit and can disqualify them from joining producer organisations. As a result, women are underrepresented in the membership of such organisations and at all levels of their governance. This perfect storm of restricted labour, income and ownership rights can leave women with little control over decision-making in the home and within producer organisations.


Nicolas Mounard, Managing Director of Twin, says:’We see on the ground that investing in women and giving them leadership opportunities results in smarter, better use of money – both in producer organisations and in the home. The invaluable role women farmers play in ensuring consistent, quality products may be unseen by business, but should not be forgotten.’


Michael Gidney, the Chief Executive of the Fairtrade Foundation, said: ‘The report shows what we have known for far too long to be true, that women play a crucial but unrecognised role in global food production. That’s why Fairtrade is working with businesses to invest in gender focused policies, training and income generating initiatives targeted at women to provide greater impact on women farmers’ lives.’


The Fairtrade Foundation and Twin are calling on business to act on the recommendations in the report which are:


• Develop corporate gender policies that recognise the role of women farmers and workers to progressively improve gender justice within their value chains

• Encourage suppliers to commit to equal representation for women in membership and leadership within producer organisations

• Ensure investments in agricultural training and resources are inclusive of women, such as extension services, agricultural inputs and technologies

• Share business expertise and invest in income-generating initiatives targeted at women, such as the creation of micro-enterprises run by women

• Develop differentiated products that promote women’s empowerment, connect women producers and consumers and give women producers market insights


The findings also reveal that investing in programmes targeted at women smallholders – among the most marginalised actors in the value chain – could have a greater impact on education, health and food security.


The report presents best practice examples which demonstrate that significant strides can be achieved in relatively short time periods. Fairtrade Women’s Coffee initiatives are engaging consumers about the role of women in coffee production and providing additional premiums that fund projects targeted at women, such as the schemes implemented by UNICAFEC in Peru and Soppexcca in Nicaragua.


Women’s committees are providing a platform for women to receive training, access funding, engage in development of micro-enterprises and have a greater say within producer organisations, such as the CODEMU women’s committee in Pangoa in Peru, which is integrated to the co-operative’s management structure. Quotas for women are also rapidly increasing women’s representation on co-operative boards, as seen in PRODECOOP in Nicaragua.


“It was the organisation and the Fairtrade principles that tell us that women are important. We have received some training in relation to gender issues and women have started to join. Before we were just labourers, but now our situation has improved and our daughters are now learning about farming.” said Ana Maria Gonzales Narvaez, Cooperative Member, Soppexcca