How – and why – we’re reaching more women in agriculture

by Beatriz Arrieta, Regional Manager Food Value Chain
Happy smallholder in vegetable garden

Women make up around 43% – nearly half of the world’s agricultural labor force. But that global figure conceals a large amount of global variation. In Cameroon, women contribute 60-80% of all time spent on agricultural activities, while in China the figure is over 50%. It also varies significantly by activity: several studies have found weeding to be an activity primarily done by women, along with harvesting, fertilizer application and keeping livestock. And so we see, women’s work on the farm is wide-ranging and essential – and yet it is often undervalued.

Different family and cultural set-ups

The distribution of women’s work on the farm is no doubt related to family dynamics and traditional gender roles, which are different wherever you look (let’s not forget a quarter of households in Africa are female-headed). What’s certain is that the solutions provided to women in agriculture do not always meet their needs or give them a fair reward for their work and contribution. In India, 85% of rural women work in agriculture, but only 13% own land. Women are more likely to lack connectivity and suffer from a ‘digital gap’. Our own commercial outreach activities at Bayer confirm that women in agribusiness simply aren’t given necessary resources – like access to contracting opportunities or financial investment – as easily as men.

What does it mean for big organizations?

All this raises big questions for an organization like Bayer, which has committed to empowering 100 million smallholders by 2030, and supports the UN Sustainable Development goals which include gender equality. Are we making women in agriculture an explicit part of our plans to reach our goal? Are we doing enough to accelerate gender-inclusive development? Are the solutions we propose inclusive enough and tailored to the needs of women as a customer group in agriculture, too?

It can sound negative to offer these observations without solutions. But that’s just the thing: there are solutions in place today, across a range of crops, countries and economic situations, and BayG.A.P. has a part to play in them. The key is a collective approach that centers around the experiences of everyone contributing on the farm, not just the owner.

How it works practically

Take for example the training to prevent the spread of TR4 in bananas in Latin America. The disease can spread through equipment, vehicles, clothing, or the movement of soil or application of water – which means that everyone on the farm (owners, workers, even visitors) needs to be aware of the risks and observe the appropriate biosecurity protocols. Along with widespread communications, a farm-based training campaign took place in Peru and Ecuador in 2020-21, engaging with everyone on the farm to promote safe processes that ensure long-term safety and therefore livelihoods. This was supported by specially designed BayG.A.P. content on TR4, available online and in Spanish. The positive reception for this campaign shows the importance of making knowledge and decision support available to everyone in the field, regardless of job title or gender.In order for these these measures to be effective, they need to be implemented by and therefore inclusive of everyone on the farm.

Leading by example

Elsewhere, a cocoa project in Ivory Coast harnessed the power of female-centric collectives: using BayG.A.P. training to achieve enormous yield benefits (more than three times what was achieved by conventional methods) through precise and effective spraying programs. Working with collectives meant the practices could be quickly adopted across 50,000 hectares, massively accelerating the program’s impact. This was driven not just by an agricultural understanding, but a cultural one: women are often entrusted with bringing together rural communities, and using their essential role in these social structures, they shared knowledge in a ‘train the trainer’ pattern, with results on a wider scale than would have been achieved otherwise.

Decision-making confidence

Cultural awareness was also key to a partnership with PepsiCo focusing on female potato farmers in India. Working directly with 10 women, the partners provided dedicated training on the women’s farm, covering safety, equipment choice, record-keeping, analysis, and long-term regeneration. It wasn’t just about physical actions in the field – it was about decision-making power and confidence. Previously, the women may have been expected to wait for a male counterpart to make high-level decisions about what and how to sow, or what crop protection to use. Now, women take a deserved stake in these decisions, which are made faster and more effectively as a result – avoiding unnecessary delays in implementing what is in the interest of the farm.

It’s a tried and tested approach – that works

In truth, many of the approaches at work here are the same ones that work for all agricultural empowerment: engage on a localized basis, bring solutions as close to the farmer as possible (especially in remote areas), adapt delivery methods and language to local needs, listen to smallholders when designing solutions, and take a holistic approach to the outcomes. Transformation is not only about equipping people with new products or technologies, but also about training and stewardship, new business models, and even totally new approaches and attitudes to farming, where all smallholders’ voices are amplified, and their needs met on and off the field.

A sustainable approach that starts today

BayG.A.P. training is designed with these tried and tested, effective principles in mind. But within this framework, we also need to remember the challenges and opportunities that women in particular face. Understanding these is the first step to designing the solutions that will address the gender gaps that exist today. More than that, it’s possible to maximize women’s incredible contribution to the agriculture of tomorrow.

Get in touch!

Do you have a story to share about a successful initiative empowering women in agriculture – or ideas for how we can effectively reach women, young people and other smallholder sub-groups who are struggling to get what they need to make their farms more effective?

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