“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.”
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.