For International Women’s History Month, we asked our President, Scott Brown, a few questions about the issues surrounding women in agriculture in East Africa, and what World Food Bank is doing to address those issues. This is a great insight as to why impact-driven businesses are so important, and we are proud to partner with so many women out-growers.
How are women impacted by WFB (U)?
Women working on our farm are amazing. They are smart, capable, hard working, family and child focused, spending their earnings on things that are important to the family. As I listen to our managers, I hear them treating women with the respect they are due. Our managers think of their needs and accommodate them from simply adding toilets throughout the farm to providing lunch shelter where they also offer training and personal development. I hope they chose to work with us as a preferred employer which we hope to survey soon. I believe the training we give will be helpful at home and in future jobs. I have seen in the past that consistent income entering the home increases the respect of mothers and wives and gives them more choice.
What challenges do women face in agribusiness in east Africa? How is WFB (U) addressing those challenges?
Lack of work to properly feed their children, lack of crop production knowledge. We provide work on our farms and the ability for women to work in their own gardens to grow and sell WFBU produce which provides women with valuable income. It has been shown that providing access to the right nutrients, providing sufficient income to buy the right food, and providing relevant training has a direct impact on the health of children and families. As well, providing income in the hands of women empowers them. It changes the balance of power in the home and the well-being of the children in the household.
What most amazes you when reflect on the work of a smallholder farmer in Uganda?
Tenacity, resilience, hope. What saddens me is the fact that they do not play with a full deck. With no guarantee of production or access to market, they will not spend money on the right inputs or irrigation both of which imprisons them in the poverty cycle. And yet they keep on trying and hoping for a better tomorrow.
What training opportunities for women are most important to you and why?
Our structured performance management system allows women to improve and achieve higher levels AND to train others. I had been showed a picture of a women training a whole class of men and women on improved weeding approaches and the impact on the crops. I was fortunate enough to meet her and it was clear she was held in a respected position amongst her peers. In addition to the knowledge and transferable skills she gained, she held her head high.
In regards to Zero Hunger, what are your thoughts in bridging the gap between zero hunger and producing quality nutrient-filled food for women farmers and their families in east Africa?
I have seen the failure of crop production due to many factors, but where the entire value chain is thought through and linked, there is a whole lot more likelihood of success. The risks lower, the crops do better and the income increases. I am so convinced that training farmers and ensuring they have the resources to provide the entire value chain will increase the success rate, food production and quality of food.
At your model farms in Uganda; how are women and men collaborating?
The cultural stratum and norms continue to be first place amongst the male and female workers, BUT, with our performance management system which clearly rates and publicly acknowledges the progress of women to top levels, the respect dynamics are altered. This follows through in the reputation within the community and sets a new norm. Old habits die slowly, but this is a long game of equality and we have hope our work sets a positive course.
In Uganda, women make up 70% of the agricultural workforce. Not only do they feed and provide for their families, but they feed and provide for those in their region and beyond. The women on our Mbarara farm have not only helped in increasing food production for their communities, but they have improved the nutritional value of their diets and the economic status of their families.