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Women play a critical role in agriculture. In the developing world, women account for nearly half of the agricultural workforce, and they work as much as 13 hours more per week than their male counterparts, cites the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Yet, female farmers are struggling to break the grass ceiling, with them being significantly disadvantaged without training, proper tools, effective seeds and fertilizers, and rights to their land. On International Women’s Day, it’s time we recognize the underappreciated importance of female farmers in potentially reducing global hunger in the face of climate change.
My company, PepsiCo, understands that the outcomes of women empowerment are not limited to women. Our US$18.2 million partnership with CARE International’s She Feeds the World (SFtW) program, powered by the PepsiCo Foundation, aims for an integrative approach to sustainable food systems by putting women empowerment at the heart of its program.
It works directly with female farmers to strengthen their skills in sustainable agriculture practices, financial inclusion, market engagement, and food and nutrition security, while also engaging with men and boys to support efforts for greater equality. As a result, empowered and supported women will generate sufficient income to send their children to school, feed their families more nutritious meals to keep them healthy, expand their businesses and employ others, and build savings that help them during tough times.
In the Africa, Middle East, and South Asia (AMESA) region, the US$5.7 million investment has supported over 538,000 female farmers across the region, mainly in the African continent. For instance, the SFtW program in Egypt’s Beheira, Giza, Minya, and Beni Suef governates, targeting 390,000 beneficiaries, is deemed as a major step in empowering Egyptian women farmers.
With a strong focus on capacity strengthening at the community level, the program helps women increase their confidence and skills, and thrive in the challenges they face in farming, marketing, and negotiation. Savings groups like Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) and the Farmer Field and Business School (FFBS) model are examples of this approach.
A classic example of the FFBS methodology benefitting women in Egypt was seen through the hosting of financial literacy awareness sessions, which both outlined saving mechanisms and invited attendees to join the VSLAs. This boosted awareness supported the start of an SME, where 10 women took a loan, and then rented land to farm potatoes.
Following a successful harvest and the opportunity to sell their produce to Chipsy (a popular brand of potato chips in Egypt), the women went on to grow their operations, and positively impact the lives of even more women. Through this, we are able to see the ripple effect of such programs, where those that gain traction and success with their resulting ventures go on to inspire others to follow suit.
Farmer Shaimaa Esmail Mohamed, 35, was one of the women who adopted improved potato cultivation techniques after participating in the training, which helped her more than double her yield. This enabled her to sign a contract to supply potatoes to Chipsy. Thanks to the profits she earned, she will be able to pay the rent on her land on time, and purchase farming inputs, such as fertilizer, upfront, rather than on credit, as she has done before.
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Shaimaa Esmail Mohamed. Image courtesy PepsiCo.
Shaimaa says, “Even though we have been farming potatoes for 12 years now, we learned new things through SFtW. We also learned during the financial literacy training that a person should invest in a productive asset that will return the investment, rather than purchase a consumable that will vanish in time.”
In June 2018, the PepsiCo Foundation awarded $2 million to CARE to implement SFtW in western Uganda over the following three years. During this time, women’s collective buying and selling of agricultural commodities marked an impressive increase from 8% to more than 61%. Furthermore, women’s ownership of property and other assets grew more than five times from only 19% to nearly 83%– almost equal to that of men (88%).
The all-encompassing approach adopted by SFtW saw investment made towards the Men in the Kitchen campaigns, calling on men to support with household management. This gave women the chance to engage in community decision-making and income-generating activities, allowing for inclusive practices to be rolled out at a cultural level. An example of the positive outcomes of this focus is that in 2021, 96 women ran for public office for the first time, and 64 won these local elections.
One of these women is Jenifer Atuhaire, 42, a farmer and mother of six. Even though Jenifer had been a chairperson of her local women farmers’ association for more than 10 years, she had never considered running for public office. “I thought political positions were for educated women, and that I could not make it because I was a mere woman farmer,” she says. Additionally, as is the case with many other rural women in a patriarchal setting, her husband held her back from increasing her leadership role in her community.
However, workers at SFtW spotted Jenifer’s potential, and they nominated her for women’s leadership training. “When the CARE facilitator took us through the sessions on women’s empowerment, I felt inspired,” she recalls. “I recognized myself as a woman who can do better than what I was.”
Jenifer Atuhaire. Image courtesy PepsiCo.
At the same time, Jenifer’s husband participated in one of SFtW’s Male Action Groups, which seeks to encourage equity in household responsibilities and decision-making. Slowly but surely, his behavior towards his wife changed. With the confidence Jenifer gained through SFtW and with the newfound support from her husband, she decided to run for councilor, and went on to win the election.
In January this year, SFtW kicked off a two-year program in India, set to benefit 48,000 people directly, and reach one million people indirectly in West Bengal, where 1.77 million women are classified as marginal agriculture laborers. As per India’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Index from 2020 to 2021, relatively low scores across poverty, hunger, gender equality, and economic growth development indicated an urgent need for an intervention that will improve agricultural productivity and livelihoods, while challenging negative social norms that create barriers for women’s economic participation.
On this front, SFtW is working to enhance women small-scale producers’ skills and capacities through the FFBS model, alongside establishing demonstration gardens for participants to put to the test acquired skills, hone new techniques, and familiarize themselves with tools to improve food production. In tandem, the program sets out to facilitate women’s access to resources by building relevant, schematic linkages to financial inclusion, farm mechanization, micro-irrigation, and post-harvest infrastructure.
Over the next two years, PepsiCo and CARE are determined to build on the momentum achieved by SFtW. In addition to equipping women smallholder farmers with the tools and knowledge to increase production and boost efficiencies, SFtW will continue transforming discriminatory social and gender behaviors.
Empowered women uplift other women, and with this trickle-down effect, SFtW will be able to truly maximize their potential to feed the world.
Related: PepsiCo Invites Applications for The Second Installment Of Its Greenhouse Accelerator Program: MENA Sustainability Edition