A Diverse Group of Women, One Goal:
Bringing Food to the Table
For my bachelor thesis, I decided to carry out research about the Creation of Shared Value through Rural Women’s Empowerment in Latin America. As a business student, I understand that companies are not NGOs or charities and that long-term investment requires profitable returns, which drove me to focus on Shared Value Creation. As a Latin American woman, I felt a stronger connection to the region where I grew up in and was looking forward to further my knowledge in this topic.
Through my research I realized that unfortunately, due to societal roles and economic disadvantages, rural women in Latin America do not have the same opportunities as those of us growing up in larger urban areas. They do not enjoy equal access to inputs, resources or opportunities. Also, although Latin American rural women tend to be referred to as one unit, it is a very diverse group in terms of customs, development and the challenges they have to face. Therefore, when developing programs to address their needs, it is vital to look at each area differently in order to truly meet their development needs.
The magnitude of women’s role in agriculture varies from country to country partly due to the different societal roles they play in their communities. For instance, if we consider Colombia, Brazil and Peru, in the three countries women have a high participation in agriculture; however, the differences between them are significant.
In Colombia, agriculture represents 6% of the overall GDP and 16% of employment (IFAD, 2018). Women make up 25% of the 3.4 million people working in the agricultural sector (CGIAR, 2015). The FAO (2018) report indicates that women in Colombia make up 39 % of the decision makers in agricultural production.
During the armed conflict in Colombia, about 218,000 people died, 25,000 disappeared, and 5.7 million people had to flee from their homes and lands. The rural communities were strongly affected, especially rural women who abruptly became head of households, due to the absence of men (IFAD, 2018). Often, rural women in Colombia do not have access to trainings and capacity building, due to their workload. Lack of training and information is a major constraint in promoting sustainable agricultural practices, nevertheless they are the ones making decisions around water storage, tillage and drainage (CGIAR, 2015).
Roberto Ramirez, Agricultural Policy and Stakeholder Advocacy Manager at Bayer, has developed a program that helped making training more accessible to these women farmers. The trainings not only focus on the content, which includes good agricultural practices and managerial skills, but they take place at hours where women are able to attend – for instance during the hours when their children are at school. Further, he has helped women organize themselves in communities to support each other; while some attend the classes, others take care of theirs and their fellow women farmers’ chores. The information is then shared within the community and everyone benefits. Roberto, has seen the quality of cacao improve, which makes it more marketable and improves these Colombian women’s and their families’ lives.
A Diverse Group of Women, One Goal: Bringing Food to the Table
If we look at Brazil, we find out that around 16% of the total Brazilian population lives in rural areas. Almost 47% of rural women work to produce the food consumed by their families and 4.3 million of them are working without pay. Because their work is not reported, they do not have access to benefits such as health insurance or pension.
Recently, government reforms have allowed women access to land, which also enables access to credit and development opportunities (Osava, 2000 and ActionAid, 2018). These women are very knowledgeable and ready to take on different challenges. Unlike women in Colombia or Peru, these women have access to resources and are very confident. Most women are partners or own rural properties, demonstrating the participation they have in the segment. Furthermore, according to research by IPESO Instituto de Pesquisa, women participate in the agricultural business both as employees and managers.
In Peru, which has become one of the top 10 food producers in the world, smallholder farmers provide 80% of the food consumed in the country (Lampadia, 2015). Women play an important role in areas such as seed selection, harvesting, collecting food and water, and selling excess crops in local markets.
According to the Peruvian Department of Agriculture, 52% of the agricultural workers are women. They are especially active in coffee production, where they participate in all stages of the harvesting and post-harvesting process. Just like in many Latin American countries, Peruvian women spend the majority of their time in household related tasks. Also, about 360 million women producers don’t have access to land, productive inputs, capital or technology, which hinders both their development and ability to become independent (Peru21, 2010 and Actualidad Ambiental, 2017). A major reason why rural women don’t have access to inputs is due to the lack of formal education. Many of them drop out of school early to help their families and a vast majority don’t know how to read or write.
In the past, projects implemented by Non-Governmental Organizations such as Mugen Gainetik have shown that in spite of the lack of formal education, these women are able to learn about sustainable agricultural practices, business practices, and social skills provided they have access to training. For example, Mugen Gainetik trained 80 women on agricultural practices and capacity building; the knowledge these women received was then multiplied among 800 female and male producers, magnifying sustainable agricultural practices within the region. A group of women who participated in the training used the skills acquired to develop their own branded product which they are selling in the local and regional markets, which helps them become economically independent.
The differences between rural women in Colombia, Brazil and Peru stem from the political and cultural differences in these countries. While more training for Colombian women would help them manage their farms more sustainably, Brazilian women need a platform to share experiences and make their role in agriculture more visible, and Peruvian women would benefit from access to education which will allow them to play a more important role and become more independent. Regardless of their diversity, through their hard work and resilience these women are putting food in many tables every day, we thank them for their hard work and their valuable contribution towards food security!