Heartland Global Gender In Agriculture Series: Finding Monica

“Monica was a street hawker, and a very good one too.  During a walk on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, I discovered just how good she was: I handed over money to purchase a flashlight she was selling, despite my own perfectly functioning flashlight being in the bag I was carrying on that very walk.  So I immediately I asked her to work with me.  Monica was just what I needed to convince farmers to try research outputs.  And I knew that once these new innovations were tried, the results would speak for themselves.”

World Bank women in marketCurt Carnemark, The World Bank

My friend Paul Seward (the ever unassuming CEO of Farm Inputs Promotion Scheme) once told me this story, and its profound implications have stuck with me.  It turns out that in his efforts to get farm inputs from the labs and warehouses of researchers and innovation providers, to the fields of farmers, Paul had encountered more resistance than anticipated.  His efforts revealed a simple truth: Approximately half the farmers he encountered were women; however, this critical mass of women farmers did not have the same access to information, resources and decision-making opportunities as men.  Furthermore, Paul often found that the women’s husbands did not take well to their wives spending time buying farm inputs and receiving information from male stockists (retail outlet owners).  In the face of these dual barriers – gender inequality and farmers’ reluctance to try new methods – Paul decided something needed to be done.

So he began to recruit women and provide them with the resources to become farm-input stockists.  He decided to target women who served as the heads of their households and women who were already well trusted in the community.  He focused on giving them the support and training necessary to fully establish themselves in their new roles as stockists, and he also encouraged them to utilise opportunities for marketing new farm inputs to reluctant farmers.  For example, market days – when women were already gathered en masse to buy and sell goods – proved to be an ideal opportunity for the women stockists to pitch new inputs to a “captive” audience; they had a good excuse to be at the market, and had time to discuss the farm inputs on sale.  

Similarly, working with primary schools enabled girls as well as boys to see firsthand, and at a young age, the benefits of improved varieties and agronomy.  In some cases, self-pollinating crops provided an ideal opportunity for women with limited resources to benefit from research: Through a “seed loan,” the women received improved vegetable seed, which they then could plant and watch flourish.  They then then “paid it back” with the seed reaped from these harvests.

None of this was rocket science, it just required attention: A team sitting down with and listening to women farmers and stockists, identifying the issues inhibiting women farmers’ participation and decision-making ability, and then brainstorming simple solutions for how these issues could be addressed. 

And then, of course, the most critical factor was identifying the Monicas – those female leaders who have the ability and drive to get the work done on the ground. Part of Paul’s success at FIPS was identifying where his organization needed to focus on working with women, then backing this up by partnering with the individuals who would be able to successfully do something about it.


Our Gender in Agriculture Series is written by Heartland Global partner Dr. Andrew Ward.  Heartland Global’s vision is to deliver value-chain and technology innovations that provide lasting economic and livelihood growth, helping communities solve their own needs sustainably.

For more information on Heartland Global, Inc. see www.heartland-global.com.

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Inspiring a new generation of farmers and ag-professionals critical to meet future food needs

Heartland Global, Inc. President & CEO Lloyd Le Page examines what we can do to ensure that the next generation of farmers, agri-business professionals and agricultural policy makers will successfully rise to the challenge of feeding the world in the 21st century.

World Food Prize Global Youth Institute - Adam in Mexico
Students learning firsthand how to conduct agricultural lab and field research
in Peru (left) and Mexico (right), as interns in the World Food Prize youth programs.
Photos courtesy of the World Food Prize Foundation

The year I was born, the population on the planet was around 3 billion, Israel was in a fight for survival with its neighbors, and John McCain was shot down over Vietnam. Some things don’t seem to have changed much, but farmers now feed an additional 4 billion consumers annually.

In roughly the same amount of time, children born in 2013 will have grown up to become middle-aged farmers, agricultural researchers, policy makers, or be in the middle of their agriculturally based careers. By 2050, farmers will need to increase food production by over 70% to feed an additional 2 billion increasingly urban and affluent consumers, with larger quantities, better quality and more diverse food. This heightened demand will include greater amounts of easy-to-prepare and pre-packaged foods, meat, poultry and dairy products.

By 2050,

farmers will need to
increase food production

by over 70%.

The good news is that if we apply our minds, food needs can be met. Increasing the rate of growth in crop productivity, improving resource efficiency, and reducing environmental impact are key elements of the solution. However, to do this we must educate and enthuse current and future generations to stay in agriculturally related jobs.  One might think that, presented with these challenges and the resulting opportunities, children and youth of farmers around the world would have the same passion and excitement that many of us feel working in agriculture today. However, the evidence seems to show a different story.

Regardless of whether one is involved in agriculture in Iowa, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast or Italy, it is clear that children of farmers are leaving rural farming-areas to seek employment in other sectors. As a result, the average age of farmers seems to be increasing. Data from Canada, Nigeria, Thailand and China seems to support this hypothesis.  There is local variation and the data correlates somewhat with the success of family planning programs, where smaller families leave fewer family successors to takeover farming activities when the oldest children move to the cities for education and jobs.

So how do we ensure that a new generation rises to meet the challenges facing our global food supply? I believe there are three priority areas that must be addressed if we are to ensure a successful new generation of farmers, agri-business professionals and agricultural policy makers.

First, we must change negative perceptions – among farm youth and the public alike – that see farming as an undervalued and somewhat demised occupation. The drudgery of hand labor and long hours, compounded by unpredictable incomes, drives many away. Public policy, education curriculum and public relations efforts must focus on changing these perceptions, to recognize and elevate the role of agriculture as an engine for economic growth. Government programs should provide opportunities for youth to work “smarter not harder.” Improved access to finance, locally adapted inputs, tools such as mobile phone apps, and appropriate farm mechanization should be emphasized, allowing farmers to become more productive, and to focus on the business of farming. Promising young farmers want to be recognized as entrepreneurs, and to participate in viable business ventures at the farm and community level. They don’t want to be referred to as subsistence farmers or peasant farmers, and given the chance, they want to and can be more productive. Unfortunately, most current government programs and well-meaning hand-outs, while appropriate in the most extreme relief and recovery situations, do little to help with changing these perceptions. Farmers who have viable incomes and secure ownership of their farms can and should be our leading stewards of both cropland and the surrounding environment.

young farmers

want to be recognized as


Second, farmers and their children must be able to capture real business opportunities through increased productivity. For example, innovations such as producer companies, contract service provision, rural value-adding and processing enterprise are important aspects of improving rural livelihoods. Heartland Global, Inc.’s vision is to develop thousands of these rural and small-farm enterprises, providing incomes for hundreds of thousands of farm youth, particularly in Africa and Asia.  Providing meaningful opportunities and incentives for youth to improve inputs, tools and technology, as well as strengthen their agri-business skills, will increase pride in their careers and in the role they play in the national economy. Youth clubs, ‘future farmer’ programs, 4-H (now operating in over 80 countries) and others such as the YPARDAIARD Future Leaders Forum, and the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute play a critical role by allowing young farmers and future agricultural research and business leaders to meet, interact with and learn from peers.

In addition, policy makers and agricultural leaders today must work more aggressively to ensure youth have the opportunity to actively and meaningfully participate in food value-chains.  Policy makers must strive to gain a better understanding of youth’s current and future needs, dreams and aspirations. Doing so not only raises young agriculturalists’ own pride in their important role, it will also provide better insight, innovation and long-term sustainability. In short, we must change perceptions among youth and consumers about the role and importance of farmers, not just for food security, but for income security and jobs. And the success of this perception-shift relies on the capacity of farming to be a true business opportunity.  We must help farmers to identify and access more reliable and higher value markets, and to improve cash flow and risk management in the pursuit of improved productivity.

Third, youth must be become critical players in long-term food security solutions, as they are more skilled than their elders at adapting to new innovation and technologies. The future of agriculture is filled with nanotech, biotech, informatics, engineering and whole-plant science. Young farmers will need skills, social insights and diversity of thought as they enter an arena of cultural shifts due to migration, increased information technology use, globalization and changing food consumption patterns. In addition, consumers are increasingly driving moves toward farm-to-fork traceability, expanded environmental awareness, and socio-cultural accountability for producers.


is a 


Methodology and processes that have worked in the past may no longer apply, as the world faces new and emerging challenges in dealing with scarce food, water and land resources. Farmers born today will need to face climate change’s projected temperature increases and unpredictable variations in weather patterns, and the resulting shifts in weed, pest and disease pressures.  Projected industrial uses of crops will bring additional market demands, and farmers will need to supply these demands with the same or less cropland, water and energy use. Both farmers and consumers will face the additional burden of efficiently managing postharvest loss and waste reduction. Tensions are already rising as new cropland development encroaches into more marginal or environmentally sensitive areas at the boundaries between farmland, forests and wildlife.

I’m convinced that given the chance, youth will rise to the occasion of solving future food needs. To move from subsistence to the business of farming, agricultural youth will need to be heard and engaged, not just on an artificial level, but in very real terms. In development activities and in business, it is critical to give meaningful – and, perhaps most importantly, measurable – attention to input from youth. Farming is a long-term investment and to be part of the solution, youth must become passionate about their role, and they must begin to take ownership today.

World Food Prize Global Youth Institute - Danika & Farmers in India

Lloyd Le Page is President and CEO of Heartland Global, Inc., whose mission is to deliver value-chain and technology innovations that provide lasting economic and livelihood growth, helping communities solve their own needs sustainably. Mr. Le Page’s career includes over 23 years management experience in farming, agribusiness, high value horticulture and rural development in Africa, Asia and the US.

This commentary originally appeared on The Chicago Council on Global Affairs blog, Global Food For Thought.

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Gender in Agriculture: Involving Women Improves Technology Uptake

In my last blog, I concluded mentioning the need to take the time to include the whole community, especially women in planning and implementation of a program. When I thought about this I was reminded of a time when I almost messed up because I thought using the popular participatory research paradigm at the time was critical, I had forgotten to consider factors affecting the community members.


photo credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture

I was managing a research project which was supposed to be conducting participatory research through farmer field schools with common beans, which are predominantly planted by women farmers in the Southern Highland of Tanzania. It soon transpired that the research team were not successful in establishing farmer field schools, I demanded to know why ? The research team’s defense was rock solid. When they had first shared their plans for participatory research with the communities, there had been a silence and until one woman spoke up. “Do you realize how busy my day is from dawn until dusk?” she demanded, “I don’t have the time to attend your farmer field schools”.  The once quiet audience erupted in an torrent of support. 

With the problem identified and discussed, it turned out the women did in fact like the idea of the project letting them conduct their own assessment of varieties and practices. The women’s simple solution placing demonstration plots along the path that the women took to collect water every morning. As water collection was a communal and daily activity, the women would be able to observe the plots and discuss what they were observing among themselves, and if the researchers wanted to join them they could also be involved in the discussions. As a result the project was a success and led to the selection and release of the bean variety which was given the kiSwahili name of ‘Urafiki’ (friendship).

Working with more recent initiatives on gender, I have noticed that even small steps, such as dis-aggregating survey and baseline data by men and women, young and old,  can bring about major changes in the success of programs. With information on women in baseline surveys, and by measuring female views and participation, the impact of a change on women can be more easily measured.   Although it might take more effort, and there is no hiding away from the implication or potential changes to the program, women must be considered, and doing so reaps greater rewards.

Returning to Tanzania there is a Masaai saying that summarizes this approach nicely: “The fastest way up a mountain is to zigzag”!


Our Gender in Agriculture Series is written by Heartland Global’s partner, Dr. Andrew Ward.  Heartland Global’s vision is to deliver value-chain and technology innovations that provide lasting economic and livelihood growth, helping communities solve their own needs sustainably.

For more information on Heartland Global, Inc see www.heartland-global.com.

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Gender in Agriculture Series: An Introduction


photo credit: World Bank Photo Collection 

Fifteen years ago, I observed a European expert asking some questions of a gathering of about 30 farmers in Central Nigeria. The expert had a number of questions to ask, and the answers were not coming quickly as following the translation there was a lot of discussion amongst the community members. The sun was getting hot and one man from the community answered a question in English. Gradually this more efficient method for getting responses was further utilised until he was being asked all of the questions directly. The expert got his answers but the answers were from an eloquent, English-speaking man who was just visiting family in the community rather than representatives of the community, the majority of whom were women.

Women have not benefitted to the same extent as men from agricultural development. FAO estimate that Women farmers typically achieve yields that are 20-30% lower than men#. However, the vast majority of studies suggest that women are just as efficient as men and would achieve the same yields if they had equal access to productive resources and services. Addressing this gender gap would increase total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4%, enough to reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100-150m. Of course addressing these issues would ensure that future investments in agriculture also have bigger returns.

But how to address them?  Specific gender initiatives and policy influence are required to address cultural, legal and political constraints, but those of us working in agriculture in developing countries, we also have a major contribution to make. To begin with, we need to be clear that gender is all about the relationships between men and women. It should be inclusive of both men and women, it is not something for women by women. I did my gender training because I felt that there are a shortage of male gender experts out there (which is a shame because men are in a stronger position to talk to other men about behavioural change).

Secondly, although it is more work and sometimes harder work, we need to make sure that we are hearing from the whole community, from the men and the women, to ensure that we are considering them and how they will be affected by any changes that we may bring about within a community. I will say a bit more about this in my next blog.

Our Gender in Agriculture Series is written by Heartland Global Partner, Dr. Andrew Ward.  


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