New report this Fair Trade Month finds recognizing and investing in women farmers is good for business and development

Twin calls on businesses to smash ‘glass ceiling’ for women who play a vital role in global food production

Many businesses may be unaware of the crucial role women play in supplying the goods they depend on for their products, as this contribution is often unrecognized, unpaid and invisible, says a new report Empowering Women Farmers in Agricultural Value Chains launched today (October 23) by Twin, an international development organization and ethical coffee trader.
The report analyzes findings from interviews with 14 Fair Trade producer groups in Ghana, India, Malawi, Nicaragua, Peru and Rwanda. Despite women being active at all stages of agricultural production, in many cases providing the majority of the labor, when it comes to transporting crops to market and completing the sale, women face a glass ceiling. Men almost universally perform the tasks related to transport and sales, and subsequently retain much of the control over household income.
The report shows that in addition to providing the lion’s share of labor, women tend to undertake crucial tasks essential for quality. It reveals that not only are women 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.
The report focused on the commodities coffee, nuts and cocoa. Women are largely responsible for fermenting and drying coffee, shelling and grading nuts, and fermenting cocoa – parts of the production process that influence quality, taste, and even food safety. This critical work is done in additional to the household labor, which is traditionally viewed 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 organizations. As a result, women are underrepresented in the membership of such organizations and at all levels of their governance. This perfect storm of restricted labor, income and ownership rights can leave women with little control over decision-making in the home and within producer organizations.
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 organizations 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.”
Not only can investing women be good for business, programs targeted at women can have a greater impact on education, health and food security. This Fair Trade Month, Twin is calling on business to smash the glass ceiling for women in agriculture by acting on the report’s recommendations:
· Develop corporate gender policies that recognize 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 organizations
· Ensure investments in agricultural training and resources are inclusive of women, such as extension services and 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 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 projects 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 organizations, such as the CODEMU women’s committee in Pangoa in Peru, which is integrated to the cooperative’s management structure. Quotas for women are also rapidly increasing women’s representation on cooperative boards, as seen at PRODECOOP in Nicaragua.
“Fair Trade principles 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 laborers, but now thanks to Fair Trade, we have improved and our daughters are now learning about farming.” Ana Maria Gonzales Narvaez, Cooperative Member, Soppexcca.
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