Gender balance, gender mainstreaming, gender bias – the issue of women is increasingly talked about in agricultural development circles, but what does it really mean – and more importantly, what is the impact? A workshop organised by CTA this week seeks to cut through the jargon, to reveal successful models for making next generation ACP agriculture work for women.
Improving women’s opportunities in agriculture and agribusiness is a cross-cutting issue for CTA, which is hosting the workshop Making next generation agriculture work for women in Wageningen, The Netherlands, until December 7. The gathering has brought together almost 40 participants drawn from CTA and partner organisations in African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries working to advance women’s position and performance in the agriculture sector. Those attending include researchers, sociologists, representatives of non-government organisations (NGOs) working with women, and women agripreneurs succeeding in agricultural value chains.
Among bottlenecks facing women working in agriculture and agribusiness are inequitable access to land and other productive assets, as well as to credit, and knowledge and information, which could help them to improve product quality, sales and delivery. “As we all know, information is power,” said workshop participant Rupsha Banerjee from India. Often, skewed access to agricultural resources, coupled with cultural factors mean that women do not reap rewards in proportion to their input.
“The key question is how we can engage and ensure more opportunities for women, so that they have a fair share of the benefits of agriculture and value addition. In Africa, 68% of economically active women are in agriculture, but they get very little benefit from it,” said CTA Director Michael Hailu, opening the workshop. “For example, in Cote d’Ivoire’s cocoa sector, women provide 68% of the labour, but they only earn 21% of the income. The same story is true in the coffee sector in Ethiopia, so there are big disparities.”
The digital gender divide
Limited opportunities to use innovative technologies hamper rural women’s income earning prospects, so a special focus of the three-day workshop is on tapping digital opportunities for women in agribusiness, and overcoming the gender digital divide.
But as well as identifying challenges, the workshop aims to explore solutions that are already helping to redress the balance against women in agriculture, and ensure they are able to realise their full potential – for themselves, their families and the wider community as a whole.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), investing in rural women has been shown to significantly increase productivity, reduce hunger and malnutrition and improve rural livelihoods – not just for women, but for men too, and especially for the next generation. That is partly due to the way that women spend, and save their revenue, investing it in areas such as health.
Part of a serious of four workshops aimed at capitalising experience, this week’s CTA event sets out to share knowledge and highlight successful case studies. These include Samoan NGO Women in Business Development (WIBDI), which strengthens village economies by training rural women to cultivate sustainable businesses, EuroAfri Link (EAL) which is working to connect smallholder producer groups in Africa and buyers in Europe, the African Women in Agribusiness Network (AWAN) and the Africa Women Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), key implementing partners for CTA’s VALUE4HER project, launched earlier this year. This ACP-wide programme aims to increase value for women in agribusinesses through market access, and improved knowledge, skills and networks.
“The idea of this workshop is to learn from our experience and find entry points, where we can really make a difference, making it easier for women to play a more active role in agricultural value chains,” said Hailu. “How do we keep a level playing field for women, so that they can benefit from their engagement?”
Matching challenges and solutions
Cultural anthropologist Deborah Rubin, who is co-director of Cultural Practice, a U.S.-based gender analytics firm, cautioned against making blanket statements about women and the difficulties they face, and underscored the importance of analysing specific challenges and solutions.
“Gender-based constraints vary according to the type of actor they are in the value chain, and the scale varies according to where they sit in that,” said Rubin. “I would encourage us to move from the general statements we hear, to specific constraints. Unless we have the specifics, we can’t design the right interventions.”
Potential solutions identified by Rubin include:
- Moving beyond production to support women at all nodes of the agricultural value chain.
- Identifying off-farm entrepreneurial and waged options for young women.
- Providing bundled services for women agripreneurs, such as access to credit, business development training, and transport services.
- Providing women with access to mobile phones, digital apps and digital financial services, to help build connections to market information, mobile money and agricultural extension information.
“I don’t think that extension services currently meet most women’s needs,” said Jamaican organic woman farmer, trainer and veteran gender activist Dorienne Rowan-Campbell. “Policies don’t generally address the needs of women farmers either, especially small-scale farmers, and those make up the majority virtually everywhere. That makes it very difficult to address the specific needs of women.”