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Why economic empowerment creates a world where #EveryoneBenefits


To mark Canada's first Gender Equality Week 2018, MEDA is highlighting important issues and voices around women’s economic empowerment and gender equality in the area of economic development. This is the fourth installment of our #EveryoneBenefits blog series. Learn why leadership opportunities creates a world where #EveryoneBenefits. 

Women make up 43% of the agricultural workforce around the world. Although women make an essential contribution to agriculture, they lack the same resources as men. This limits their ability to provide for their families and contribute to the global economy. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%, raising the total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4%. Such an increase in food production could lift 150 million people out of hunger.” This means that 150 million people are hungry simply because women are not included in food production or the global economy. 

 Systemic gender inequality has resulted in barriers that largely impact women entrepreneur’s ability to succeed. These constraints include: limited access to information and decision-making power, and access to finance. 

In many societies where MEDA works, women are not seen as farmers or business people in their own right; rather, they are viewed as ‘helpers’ in their husband’s farm operations or enterprises. 

Imagine if we could break down the barriers that alienate women from markets. 

Since MEDA’s inception, we have focused on deconstructing assumptions and removing the barriers women face when accessing markets. We have done this through the design of two service delivery models:

  1. Women Lead Farmer Model
  2. Sales Agent Model

These models are based on a set of principles, standards, policies and constraints that are used to guide the development, deployment and operation of services.  MEDA uses these models because they have proven to be sustainable and scalable over the 15 years we have applied them. 

Honed in the early 2000s by our former Women’s Economic Opportunity team during our Behind the Veil (2004-2007) project in Pakistan and Through the Garden Gate (2006-2011) Project in Afghanistan, this model has since been adapted to support women small producers in Ghana, Myanmar and Nigeria

Let me share with you why these two models have been successful in the past and share a couple of personal stories of the women who have been positively impacted by them. 

Pakistan - Behind the Veil

Women Lead Farmer Model

In every community around the world, there are business-minded and market-oriented women and men. In agricultural communities, such business-minded farmers are often trusted leaders in their communities and can be mobilized to share knowledge about agriculture production and farm management information with other farmers. MEDA and our local partners then identify those business-minded women farmers. 

Women and men experience markets differently. So, we prioritize understanding these issues at the outset of our programming, conducting a gender analysis to see where women and men are situated within the value chain and how their relationships, access to services, mobility etc. impacts the market system. 

Women lead farmers serve as model farmers to demonstrate good agricultural and business practices, such as soil and water conservation, weed control and crop nutrition. They also demonstrate new technologies and act as mentors to other women in their communities. They act as a bridge between farmers and buyers, input suppliers and credit institutions while providing access to training and technical assistance. 

Our goal is that the lead farmers will leverage their role and respect within their community to spread project information, encourage women’s participation in and adoption of project interventions, as the information comes from a valued and trusted member of the community. 

Daw Khin is a 46-year-old woman lead farmer in Myanmar and the breadwinner of her nine-person family. She is the leading committee member of her saving group in her village of Sate Phue Gone. As a lead farmer, Daw Khin attends agricultural training, she then shares what she has learned with her village. 

Like many of us, Daw Khin lacked confidence and found it difficult to stand in front of people to speak, but now that she has conducted several sessions, she has more confidence. 

“I have learned so much and gained agricultural knowledge, such as land preparation, soaking and salty water, seeding practices, seed selection, plant and row spacing, fertilizer, organic pesticide and post-harvest care by attending agriculture trainings.”


Women Sales Agents

The common perception of the sales agent is a monopolistic buyer who pays the lowest possible price for the produce of the poor and then reaps high margins from their sale to consumers or other commercial actors. These middlemen often are in a position to exploit poor producers, but MEDA has successfully re-envisioned the role to bring maximum benefit to both producers and buyers. 

Like our women lead farmers, MEDA identifies entrepreneurial and mobile women as potential intermediaries, called women sales agents (WSA). These sales agents purchase products from women producers and sell to retailers and other buyers in higher-value markets. As part of these transactions, the WAS embeds product information, quality control and market demand information into their sales services to improve the quality and productivity of the product offering. They create valuable linkages to markets through the development of reliable supply chains by providing high-quality products but can also be important agents of growth and empowerment through the provision of embedded services and increased information flows to producers. 

This results in increased income and agency for our sales agents, great mobility within the market system, improved skills, ongoing access to information and services, and increased equity/equitable access for women. 

Nafisa is a 30-year-old woman sales agent in the Sissala West District of Ghana. She joined a farmer group called Kanininsi (meaning ‘stop fighting’) with about 26 members. Before becoming a GROW client in 2013, Nafisa struggled with finding markets for her produce. Even though she had already begun aggregating soybeans and other grains like maize and groundnuts from her colleagues, there was no market in her community. Exploitative middlemen added to her challenges. 

MEDA’s GROW project provided Nafisa with intensive, regular trainings on negotiating, record keeping and marketing. “After the 2016 farming season, I sold four of the eight 100-kg bags of soya I harvested. I used the income as start-up capital for my business.” Being a savvy and hard-working businesswoman, she has been able to find markets along Ghana’s borders. She aggregates all the products that she sends to the market in Leo, a regional capital in neighbouring Burkina Faso. 

“MEDA’s sales agent training helped me greatly to develop my business skills, especially in record keeping. I now have about GHS 3,500 (approx. CAD $1,000) in my business and savings account at Tumu Cooperative Credit Union.” 

With her income, Nafisa helps her husband to pay for their children’s school expenses and is building a new house. 

Women play a vital role in agricultural and business environments. If they had access to the same resources and tools as men, think of how the world could change for good. It is well documented that women reinvest 90% of their income back into their family for better nutrition, health care and education. 

At MEDA, we know that when we invest in the dreams of women entrepreneurs we are building a world where everyone has enough to eat and everyone has the ability to thrive. 

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