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Three misconceptions about women in agribusiness that hold companies back

Debunking common misconceptions about women in agribusiness can unlock business opportunities for the private sector

At the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, global leaders from across the world came together to deliberate on some of the most pressing issues of our time, such as agriculture and food security and greater social inclusion. With the global population projected to rise more than 9 billion by 2050 and the demand for food expected to jump sharply, the need for addressing the challenges of food security assumes greater urgency than before. There is also a growing need to adopt stronger measures to reduce the gender gap—women shouldn’t have to wait 170 years to bridge the divide.

Ahead of the Davos meeting, IFC released a report on agribusiness, Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains, highlighting how companies can increase productivity and efficiency in the agriculture sector by closing economic and social gaps between women and men throughout the value chain, from farm to retail and beyond. The solution to address two of the most pressing challenges—food security and gender parity—isn’t difficult to find, as my research for the report suggests.

Women comprise over 40 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide and play a major role in agriculture; yet they face a variety of constraints, such as limited access to agricultural inputs, technologies, finance, and networks. As the report shows, an increasing number of companies now recognize that investing in women can help increase companies’ bottom lines—while helping improve the lives of people in rural areas.

Yet, despite the clear business rationale, one wonders why more companies aren’t replicating the efforts of successful companies. The answer probably lies in the prevailing misconceptions about women in agribusiness—despite promising business case testimonials for gender-smart investments from multinational companies such as Mondelēz International and Primark.

Agribusiness companies need support in identifying where and how they can close gender gaps in their value chain. A good start would be to debunk those common misconceptions about women in the sector:

Three common misconceptions

1.Women do not play significant roles in agribusiness 

Women do play significant roles in agriculture but their activities are not always acknowledged. For example, farm activities of women smallholder farmers are oftentimes considered to be part of their domestic chores. As a consequence, their contributions remain informal and do not get due recognition. This has a ripple effect—restricted access to markets, farmer organizations, and cooperatives—which affects women farmers’ productivity and visibility vis-à-vis sellers and traders.
In West African cocoa farms, for instance, women are responsible for drying cocoa beans, a crucial step in the processing of cocoa that determines the quality of the final product. To stabilize supply and formalize women’s contributions, chocolate producer Nestlé mapped the roles of women farmers in their supply chain in Côte d’Ivoire.

2.Women are not a profitable customer market

Recognizing women as a customer base can result in market opportunities for agribusiness companies. Food-processing companies have already taken the lead in targeting the women’s market and building on consumers’ interest in gender-smart solutions. For example, Twin Trading’s promotes its “women’s coffee” products, which are recognized for their superior quality and are sold at premium prices. It is an encouraging trend that companies operating in other stages of the value chain, such as input providers, have now recognized gender-inclusive approaches to effectively engage with customers, including female farmers. One successful example is Krishi Utsho , a micro-franchise operated by CARE Bangladesh, which was able to build markets and stores for high-quality inputs in rural Bangladesh by targeting female farmers. These farmers, who often faced challenges in getting inputs, benefited after the company opened over 100 stores. Krishi Utsho now plans to open more than 200 such stores.

3. Men do not benefit from gender programs

It is a common misconception that gender-related programs in agriculture and other sectors target women only. Successful gender programs, however, are aimed at closing the gap between women and men, so both can benefit. Companies such as chocolate producer Mondelēz International partnered with IFC to identify the roles that women and men play in the cocoa sector and evaluate their contribution at various stages of the cocoa production process. Gender diagnostics can allow companies to evaluate gaps and define opportunities for women and men engaged in the agricultural production process and adjust companies’ gender programs accordingly.

On the basis of those diagnostics, farmer families can better recognize the value that each family member brings to the household and increase the understanding of the smallholder farms as a family business. This can lead to improved cooperation between household members, strengthening farming families and agribusiness supply chains at the same time.

IFC’s publication Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains shows how those misconceptions can be dispelled, especially as the business opportunities for the private sector are too valuable to be missed.

Participants at Davos have underlined the importance of food security and gender equality; investing in women at each stage of the agribusiness value chain brings these two agendas together. Gender-smart investments are part of the solution to address these global challenges, as they can strengthen value chains, support global food supply, and improve livelihoods—with benefits accruing to both, farmers and companies.


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