Opportunities for women

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Quality Education
  • Gender Equality
  • Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • Reduced Inequalities
  • Partnership For The Goals
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  4. Enhancing women’s access to training & skills

Enhancing women’s access to training & skills

We want to help women across our value chain – employees, farmers, entrepreneurs and consumers – to unlock their full potential. The gains are big, particularly for women farmers who can increase their yields, enhance their incomes and provide the sustainable supply of ingredients our business needs.

Seeds of prosperity

Empowering women farmers & strengthening our supply chain

Female farmer icon

Of agricultural workers are women

growing infographic icon

Potential uplift in yields on women’s farms – if women have equality of access

Farmers need knowledge – and not just of sustainable agricultural practices. For smallholder farmers, skills in business, finance, nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and a range of other areas can make a difference to their own lives and the communities they live in. But too often, women and girls are left behind when it comes to education – so providing them with access to training and skills is critical to expanding female participation in the economy and closing the gender gap.

Empowering women farmers can make a significant difference to their livelihoods and to the wider communities in which they live. Women already comprise 43% of the agricultural workforce, and this proportion is growing.1

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, if women had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, yields on women’s farms could increase by as much as 20%–30%.2 An uplift that could feed between 100 million and 150 million more people, reducing world hunger by nearly half. So, by helping women gain the skills they need to unlock their potential, we have the opportunity to achieve a huge positive social impact.

The business case is clear. Hundreds of thousands of women grow the crops and commodities that we buy, usually through our suppliers, to make our products. Investing in the skills of women can strengthen the agricultural supply chains which we depend on for our ingredients, build trust in our business, and create a sustainable foundation for our future growth.

Overcoming barriers, creating opportunity

Many smallholder farmers have to tackle challenges ranging from limited knowledge and credit to poor access to markets. Women farmers can face additional barriers, often as a result of unhelpful existing customs and stereotypes. The lack of role models is one barrier, and research shows it’s an important one, as positive role models can drive change.3 For example, women on village councils or on TV or radio, can challenge stereotypes on what is acceptable or typical for women to do.

Another common barrier is training programmes that have traditionally catered for men. These may be available only at inconvenient times and in the wrong places for women with childcare and family responsibilities. They may take place in locations that are unsafe or use learning materials designed with men in mind. At the same time, limited rights to land ownership may preclude women from raising finance to support farm investment programmes designed to improve yields and incomes.

Few of the farmers and smallholders in our agricultural supply chain sell directly to us – we generally buy from suppliers, who buy from the farmers. As a result, we've developed an approach that enables us to reach women farmers through:

  • financial support for farmer training programmes, delivered by suppliers and NGOs
  • premium prices for suppliers who invest in farmer training and provide quality planting material, such as high-yield seeds
  • funding for technical solutions that improve productivity and environmental sustainability
  • development of financial literacy, hygiene and nutrition training modules with experts
  • access to labour- and time-saving devices such as cook-stoves and clothes washing equipment.

By the end of 2017, we had enabled access to training and skills for 1,175,000 (around 1.2 million) women, of whom around 935,200 were in our extended agricultural supply chain. Our work to address the barriers facing women more widely is described in Challenging harmful gender norms.


Digital Green

Leaders, teachers, decision-makers: empowering women farmers to boost growth

All too often, women farmers miss out on training and support that could help them boost their yields – and in turn, support the livelihoods of their families and communities. Among gherkin farmers in India, for example, women do over half the farming work but receive less than 20% of training in traditional systems.

What if training was specifically designed to include women farmers – and training materials showcased local women farmers as decision-makers, leaders and teachers on the farm? Our partnership with our supplier Marcatus QED and the Enhancing Livelihoods Fund (which we launched with Oxfam and the Ford Foundation in 2015) shows what can be achieved when training programmes aim to empower women.

Using investment from the Enhancing Livelihoods Fund alongside its own funds, Marcatus QED researched and developed the Marcatus Mobile Education Platform (MMEP), which aims to increase yields of gherkins in its Indian supply chain. MMEP features videos of local farmers demonstrating sustainable agricultural practices in local languages. Research showed that households participating in the MMEP video programme are seeing an average 20% increase in yields within the first three months. This increase is even higher for women-led farming families, who saw a 30% increase in their yields.

The Platform is part of Marcatus QED's multi-faceted Responsible Farming Programme, which aims to reach more than 10,000 smallholder gherkin-farming families in southern India.

Access to land rights leads to better livelihoods

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization,4 while women are a large part of the agricultural workforce, they are often unpaid and can be excluded from sharing the profits of their labour. They tend to have smaller farms that are less productive.5 This is because they have less access to resources than men – fewer inputs, limitations on land ownership and barriers in access to training and financing. In places where women cannot own the land they work, they can be deterred from investing in productivity improvements.

We believe land rights are a powerful way to help people develop sustainable livelihoods. Enhancing land rights in general will empower women, as well as lay the foundation for other development investments to take root – such as education programmes, financial services and healthcare.

Land rights are one of our eight salient human rights issues

They are relevant for all aspects of our business, including operational considerations such as the siting of factories or offices. But it is our extended supply chain that gives rise to the most opportunity to have a positive impact in this area, as well as the most risk.

Respect for land rights is part of our overall policy framework, and is one of the principles of our Responsible Sourcing Policy (PDF | 9MB) and our Responsible Business Partner Policy (PDF | 3MB).

In 2017, with the aid of an external implementation organisation, we created Global Land Rights Principles and Due Diligence Implementation Guidelines for our own operations. These will provide enhanced due diligence relating to all our transactions involving land. We will roll these out to our operations before extending to our suppliers.

For further details, see our Human Rights Report 2017 (PDF | 10MB).

1Private Sector Engagement with Women’s Economic Empowerment: Lessons Learned from Years of Practice (PDF | 1MB)

2Private Sector Engagement with Women’s Economic Empowerment: Lessons Learned from Years of Practice (PDF | 1MB)

3Leave no one behind: A call to action for gender equality and women’s economic empowerment

4The Role of Women in Agriculture (PDF | 900KB)

5FAO. 2011. The State of Food and Agriculture 2010–2011. Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development (PDF | 3MB)

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