Recognizing the vital role of women in agriculture this International Women’s Day
Today is International Women’s Day – and it’s high time that women around the world get the recognition they deserve.
Around 70% of agricultural work is done by women, according to FAO figures. Yet a recent TWIN report finds that women’s crucial role in farming is often unrecognized, unpaid and invisible. Men own most of the land and take responsibility for transporting crops to market, and subsequently they retain much of the control over household income.
Recognizing and investing in women farmers is good for development. The report found that investing in programs targeted at women smallholders can have a positive impact on education, health and food security.
At Fairtrade many women are catalysts for change in many of their communities. One in four Fairtrade producers is a woman, and on plantations this figure is even higher, with women making up 47 percent of hired workers in Fairtrade. Women are active in all aspects of Fairtrade, from farming to processing, and in some cases, management of producer organizations and cooperatives.
We’ll be featuring stories of three women taking on a leadership role in their own way, and providing powerful examples to others. Read Alida Strauss’ story below.
A modest, but smart young woman, Alida left her parent’s remote rooibos farm to attend school in Cape Town, 400 kilometres away. When she returned, the Heiveld cooperative had recently formed, enabling black farmers to unite in a cooperative for the first time. She successfully applied for the job of bookkeeper for the cooperative in 2002, and has worked there ever since, getting promoted to General Manager in 2010.
From small beginnings with just 14 members and very little technical knowledge or marketing savvy, Heiveld has grown to 64, and exports organic rooibos tea around the world.
Behind Alida’s unassuming demeanor lies a passion for her work and her community, and a determination to pass this on to young people. She is glad she had the opportunity to return, and wants other young people to do the same.
“At Heiveld, we try to do things to keep people here, to make it exciting for them and give them the self-confidence to believe in themselves,” says Alida.
Her message to the young people in her village: “Go get your education, but come back and do something for your community”.
Alida holds talks at the local school, and invites teachers to bring their students on excursions to the cooperative. Heiveld uses a portion of the Fairtrade Premium to enable young people to go to university in Cape Town with the hope that they will bring their new knowledge back to the community.
The job is not without its challenges, but Alida is proud of what she and others in the cooperative have achieved, and encourages others to feel the same.
“I’ve learned a lot and I am still learning,” she explains. “But it’s our job to educate people and tell them, ‘you have a right to have your say: it’s your cooperative. Be proud of what’s yours.’”
Sowing Seeds of Change: The Seed Guardians of Chetna Organic, India
In a country where 90% of all cotton is genetically modified, the women of Chetna Organic in India are playing a pivotal role in the fight to preserve non-GM cotton.
“Women have always been the custodians who have protected seed. This has steadily disappeared,” says Arun Ambatipudi of Chetna Organic. “We are now working to revive and preserve this practice through developing women seed guardians. When women become seed guardians, it means women have a greater say.”
By protecting and collecting the seeds, these women are not only preserving organic farming, but providing a vital lifeline to the farmers. Instead of being stuck buying new cotton seed year after year, farmers can now plant the preserved seeds. That saves them huge costs, and helps to make farming viable and sustainable for them.
“We know that the situation won’t change overnight. But we are seeing successes of women seed guardians gaining respect and decision power,” Arun adds.
Read more about the seed guardians in this powerful blog.
Enter Divine Chocolate USA’s contest celebrating International Women’s Day for a chance to win their new Hazelnut Truffle bar.
(Pictured above are Kuapa Kokoo farmers Sarah Ayipah and Esi Konadu Gyeduakese.)
In honor of International Women’s Day, you can enter to win Divine Chocolate USA’s new Hazelnut Truffle bar which supports Kuapa Kokoo’s Women’s Empowerment program.
Since 1993 Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative of family farmers who owns Divine, has promoted training of women cocoa farmers. Their focus is helping women improve cocoa yield and increase family income as well as encouraging women to be leaders in their cooperative. Divine is supporting Kuapa’s efforts to expand agricultural training to more women and give women access to much needed literacy programs. Your purchase of Divine helps keep this and many other unique programs going.
Divine will be picking two winners every day from March 5-12. Enter here.
Twenty-five years ago Frans Van der Hoff and friends kicked off the Fairtrade movement bringing the first bags of Max Havelaar coffee to shelves in the Netherlands. The movement they started, alongside the farmers of UCIRI in Mexico, has grown to comprise over 1.3 million farmers and workers in 70 countries working toward a more dignified life (Read about Fairtrade’s 25th Anniversary here).
‘Manifesto of the Poor’, a new book by Van der Hoff, re-ignites and re-affirms the principles on which Fairtrade was founded. In it he shares the inside story of how Fairtrade began and a clear vision for how it can help alleviate global poverty with dignity and a focus on self-reliance.
Harriet Lamb, Chief Executive of Fairtrade International, adds:
The global economy continues to pursue the impossible – unlimited, infinite growth without equal attention given to human rights or limited resources. Frans’ book shows us the way forward.
The social enterprises in Fairtrade seek to tackle injustice and inequality head-on. They seek to bring dignity to global trade in a partnership that spans the entire trade chain and puts respect for people and the environment at the core.
You can order ‘Manifesto of the Poor’ online here or ask your local bookshop to stock it.
Fairtrade empowers women to play leading roles in their communities. Irene Kijara, 35, has three children, is a teacher by profession and also manages her own tea farm near Fort Portal in Uganda, employing 15 people.
She is also a treasurer for a committee that decides how to spend Fairtrade Premiums for community development and she is teaching and inspiring other women. Irene says “I am here as a representative of the women farmers who elected me. Other women have seen what I do. They are starting to look after their farms and realize they too can be strong and independent of men. Working for the committee has helped me to do this.”
She also adds “the rules are rigid and clear so no-one can deceive me – because I am a woman and I am clever!’
Check out this video on Fairtrade cotton farmers in Senegal from photographer Sean Hawkey.
Marike de Peña, former Vice Chair of the Fairtrade International Board, has been elected Chair. De Peña is the Director of Banelino, a 400-member strong banana cooperative in the Dominican Republic, and brings a wealth of experience and a rich perspective to the Board role.
De Peña was born in Holland and has lived and worked for more than 25 years in the Dominican Republic. Prior to co-founding the Banelino cooperative in 1996, she worked for the Dominican Land Reform Institute supporting small farmers as they developed sustainable agricultural practices. She also is current Chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Small Producer Organizations (CLAC), the Fairtrade Producer Network representing Latin American and Caribbean farmers and workers.
“It’s a clear sign of growing producer empowerment in the Fairtrade system. We in Fairtrade have a unique structure that gives us the opportunity to join our strengths – producers, workers, national Fairtrade organizations and civil society – to make Fairtrade grow in impact,” said de Peña. “The ‘producer driven’ concept is more than just some words, it is part of our daily mission, producers and workers participate actively in the governance of the Fairtrade system.”
I believe this is a sign to the world that Fairtrade is more than just products and markets, it’s a movement of dedicated people working together to change the rules of trade and enable producers and workers to decide on their own future.
Along with the election of de Peña, the Board elected Esther Guluma as Vice Chair, who previously served as Board Chair in 2011-2012. Guluma has extensive experience in international development and research, policy and public affairs work. She has served in various roles with UNICEF and is currently heading UNICEF operations in Malawi.
Fairtrade would like to thank Molly Harris Olson for her dedicated service as she steps down to take on another role in the Fairtrade system. Her leadership has led to greater integration of the entire system; a marked increase in representation of farmers and workers at the highest level of governance; and strong improvements in measuring and maximizing the impact of Fairtrade.
On this occasion, we also pause to remember our dear friend Raúl del Águila, who passed away a year ago this week. His incredible dedication to the movement – and small producers in particular – is greatly missed by us all in Fairtrade. Read about his work and service here.