Although generalized statistics about women in agriculture can be interesting (e.g. 43% of the agricultural workers are women) worldwide averages don’t really tell the story of women and farming. Cultural differences from one region to another tell different stories. But one thing remains constant everywhere: Women are a small percentage of agricultural land owners and where they do own farms they have less access to the resources necessary to farm successfully than do men. In those places where women in agriculture are empowered with the same access to credit, seed, fertilizer, training, and information as men, yields increase, hunger and malnutrition is reduced by up to 17%, and livelihoods improve for everyone, including men. In agriculture-based economies, women invest 80 cents of every dollar earned back into her family through better nutrition, education, and healthcare.
Looking at a sampling of specific numbers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) paints a more interesting picture of women in agriculture.
Percentage of women comprising the agricultural workforce in Latin America 20
Percentage of women comprising the agricultural workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa 50
Percentage of employees that are women in Kenya’s banana industry 75
Percentage of employees that are women in Mexico’s vegetable industry 90
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Guatemala 7
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Nicaragua 18
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Panama 29
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Indonesia 9
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Ethiopia 19
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in India 11
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Jamaica 19
Percentage of agricultural land owners that are women in Peru 20
Percentage of economically active women working in agriculture worldwide in 1980 53
Percentage of economically active women working in agriculture worldwide in 2010 42
Percentage of economically active women working in agriculture in U.S. in 1980 2
Percentage of economically active women working in agriculture in U.S. in 2010 1
Percentage of farms owned by men in Guatemala having access to fertilizer 65
Percentage of farms owned by women in Guatemala having access to fertilizer 45
Percentage of crops in Sub-Saharan Africa grown on smallholder farms 75
Percentage of Sub-Saharan Africa small farms that are weeded by hand 75
Percentage of hand weeding on Sub-Saharan Africa small farms that is done by women 90
Percentage of agricultural extension services in 97 countries provided to women farmers 5
Percentage of agricultural researchers in Africa who are women 24
Percentage of female agricultural researchers in Africa holding leadership positions 14
Working with a wide variety of crops across the globe, Olam International is active in seeking equal opportunities for women in agriculture, including those working within the supply chain for Olam Coffee. To help close the gender gap, Olam encourages farmer groups to include women leaders and makes agriculture and farm management training accessible to women, whose schedules do not slow down after the farm work is done, and pays those who bring in the crop directly. Olam also provides training in nutrition and crop diversification that are target women specifically. Nearly 70,000 of the 345,000 farmers that are part of the Olam Livelihood Charter (OLC) are women and 5,000 of those are women coffee farmers. Over 46,000 women received training from Olam in best practices for farming over the past year.
Chekedy Happiness own a coffee farm at Mt. Oku in Cameroon and she has been a student in the coffee farming training offered by Olam as part of a program called the “Arabica Project.”
“Before, my harvest ranged between 30 and 50 kg of coffee a year,” says Chekedy. “With the training from the Arabica project, I am doing pruning, mulching, applying fertilizers, and other activities. Now I produce between 100 and 120 kg. I also farm bananas and avocado as shade trees.”
Now Chekedy is a trainer for the Arabica Project, teaching others the same skills that made it possible for her to pay for her daughter’s education and healthcare for her family. “Olam’s presence in the market has brought competition and the prices of coffee are improving,” she says. “Young people in my community are opening new farms thanks to Olam, now they see that they can earn a living from coffee.”
When Olam arrives in a coffee growing community it has a direct impact on the women in that community by targeting women who own farms to receive training. Perhaps more importantly, Olam has an effect on all the women involved with coffee in a community with its policy of buying directly from and paying directly to the person who hands the crop over rather than the male head of household. In some cases Olam will even help women open bank accounts.
Throughout Olam’s coffee business and all product supply chains the status of women is improving and there are many examples of women taking on leadership positions is communities where Olam works. While Olam is far from being the only contributor to this trend, the effort has an impact and it is not always anticipated.
Awang is a woman working in an Olam coffee mill in Indonesia. She is pleased to be able to send her children to school and provide them with healthcare, but she also notes, “In our house, boys and girls are equal – there is no difference in their school or in love and care. I believe we have to be fair with them.”
Among women working in agriculture in developing countries, an informal survey indicates that 30% think women will never be treated equally to men in their country. Nevertheless, one might safely assume that Awang’s daughter’s think differently.