Three practical steps agribusinesses can take to help close the gender gap in smallholder outgrower schemes

Published on

June 4, 2018

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By: Sandi Roberts, Program Manager of AgDevCo Smallholder Development Unit 

Women comprise approximately 50% of the labor force in sub-Saharan Africa but are less likely to participate in agribusinesses’ outgrower schemes than men. As a result, women lose out on opportunities for increasing their income and economic empowerment – and agribusinesses miss opportunities for increasing productivity, product quality, and stability in their supply chain.

To help women rise out of poverty and gain economic empowerment, agribusinesses should invest more intentionally in making their outgrower schemes gender-inclusive. Not only will this improve women’s economic prosperity, but it could help women make a more significant commercial contribution to agribusinesses. This includes helping women to invest in productive assets that could improve their farm yields by 20-30%.

What does the gender gap mean for female farmers?

Women play a crucial role in the agricultural sector in sub-Saharan Africa, with many spending the majority of their time engaged in agricultural activities. However, female family members hardly receive any income from the sale of cash crops, and often have little say in how that income is spent.

Women farmers in sub-Saharan Africa face numerous constraints that limit their productivity and their participation in smallholder schemes – ranging from limits on access to land, labor, equipment, and inputs – to mobility and time constraints owing to domestic responsibilities. The good news is that, with support from agribusinesses, women farmers can overcome these barriers and significantly increase their yields. For the agribusiness, this can result in an expanded and more stable supply chain, along with improvements in product quality and reduced post-harvest losses. Supporting women farmers can also be linked to positive corporate branding that can lead to customer loyalty and premium pricing.

How can agribusinesses close the gender gap? 

Our analysis of five outgrower schemes identified several best practices that can help agribusinesses make their own operations more gender inclusive. To read the full list of best practices, download the brief here. For now, here are three examples of practical steps that agribusinesses can take:

1. Ensure that women benefit from training

  • How can agribusinesses address this challenge? Agribusinesses should monitor whether women are participating in training – and if not, examine why and take steps to rectify this. This may mean adapting the training specifically to women’s time schedules, helping with mobility or childcare, or simply making sure that both women and men are invited.
  • What’s the potential impact? Inclusive training sessions ensure that a wider range of people are aware of and can apply good agricultural practices – while also meaning that the messages are able to spread more rapidly through outgrower communities. Women smallholders are often seen as being more likely to apply what they learn in training and to adopt new farming techniques.
  • Who else is doing this well? CHC Commodities in Zambia specifically encourages women to take on a role as lead farmers. They are then able to organize and inform other farmers in their communities. In the current growing season, 26 of the 55 demonstration plots established by CHC are run by women farmers.

2. Improve market access for women

  • How can agribusinesses address this challenge? Off-takers can invest in aggregating produce locally or providing transport for crops, to help women overcome constraints on their mobility and their time.
  • What’s the potential impact? Being involved in marketing crops can empower women, as they get access to market information first-hand and are likely to gain more influence over how income is spent. For the off-taker, interventions like these can result in a broader and more reliable supply base.
  • Who else is doing this well? In Uganda, the Gulu Agricultural Development Company works with a network of local buying agents to aggregate the product locally. This helps to empower women smallholders and to erode the perception that marketing is a man’s job.

3. Ensure that contract farming schemes offer equal opportunities for women and men

  • How can agribusiness address this challenge? In contract farming, farms are commonly registered in the name of the household head – typically a man. Agribusinesses should choose to enroll farmers on the basis of control over land rather than legal ownership, or to allow the registration of both spouses in a household.
  • What’s the potential impact? Registration of women ensures that their voices are heard in the outgrower scheme, and that they can receive inputs, payments, and other benefits directly.
  • Who else is doing this well? At the Phata Sugarcane Outgrowers Cooperative in Malawi, women’s enrolment has increased from 41% to 46% in 2017 after membership was extended to individuals rather than only household heads. In some families, men gave a piece of land to their wives so that they could become members in their own right.

Of course, there’s no “one size fits all.” Given the diversity in contexts and the complexities of developing commercially sustainable interventions, each of these best practices will need to be adapted to the specific environment. With that said, it’s clear that it is possible to design outgrower schemes that benefit women as well as being commercially viable. We encourage investors and decision makers to share the message that agribusinesses can benefit from prioritizing gender inclusion and designing outgrower schemes that create space for women to take the lead and drive their own economic prosperity.

About the Author(s)

Learning Lab Partner

AgDevCo is a specialist agriculture impact investor that has established a Smallholder Development Unit (SDU) with support from the MasterCard Foundation (MCF). The SDU will work with rural agricultural enterprises to develop equitable outgrower schemes in eight African countries. Activities will include providing training and better quality inputs for farmers, implement mobile technology solutions, and brokering long term purchase contracts. The SDU aims to develop 25 “outgrower schemes” over 5 years that will improve the livelihoods of up to half a million farmers.

Press release: AgDevCo and The MasterCard Foundation partnership

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