International Day of Rural Women: Empowering African rural women and girls for change

Fairtrade Africa highlights its commitment to gender empowerment, to mark International Day of Rural

Women with the 2019 theme: “Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resilience”. Research has

shown that despite making up almost half of the workforce, the majority of women farmers in

developing countries receive lower pay than men, are often unable to own land and are excluded from

business loans or agricultural training that male farmers benefit from. At Fairtrade, we believe in

empowering women along the agricultural value chain. We do this through programmes designed at

empowering women to gain confidence, diversify their income and to take active part in decision

making within their farmer organisations. As part of gender inclusiveness also, Fairtrade embeds

gender awareness in its capacity building trainings for producer organisations.

In a quest to address improvement in livelihoods in the Cocoa sector, Fairtrade Africa trains women in

Cocoa in West Africa, through the Women’s School of Leadership which was launched in 2017 in Cote

d’Ivoire. The programme is being implemented with partnership from two UK businesses – leading

convenience retailer Co-op and the Compass Group UK & Ireland, the UK’s largest food and support

services firm. Through the programme, the women gain skills in finance, negotiation, and decision-

making as well as greater awareness of gender equality and in turn act as role models to impact their

community. So far 19 women and 03 men have been trained. The second cohort was launched in April

2019 targeting 30 women and 10 men.

More than 15 women coffee and flowers farmers Ethiopia in North Eastern Africa have also benefitted

from the Women School of Leadership. Konst Mirktu is a woman farmer at Sher Ethiopia farms who

benefited from the Women School of Leadership training. This training was organised as part of a

Finnish funded programme “Dignity for All” (D4A), being implemented by Fairtrade in Africa and Latin

America. Through the D4A programme, Fairtrade advocates for sustainable livelihood for farmer

households, worker households and sustainable trading by supporting gender empowerment, social

inclusion and protection for vulnerable groups as well as advocating for climate resilience. Konst is

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happy about the training received from the Women’s School of Leadership. The training received

helped Konst to advocate for a gender policy within her organisation. “The management & leadership

training modules have helped me. I am cascading this knowledge to other workers who are not part of

this training. As a member of the gender committee, together with my colleagues, we have been able to

advocate for effective policies to ensure that female workers’ rights are respected, such as the push for

4 months maternity leave for female workers and having breastfeeding time at work”.

Fairtrade certified producer organisations are also empowered to support their female members to

diversify their income. Janet Aframea is a 62 year old cocoa farmer in the Eastern Region of Ghana.

Through the climate smart agricultural practices she learnt from Fairtrade, she has been able to

significantly increase her yield. In addition to growing cocoa, she grows bananas. Through farming, she

is able to provide for her family and pays her children’s school fees. She says: “I have benefitted a lot

from the training I received from Fairtrade. Today, I am able to pay for my children’s school fees. One of

my children is currently at the university, and I am happy that my earnings from farming have helped

him reach this height in his academic life”.

In Eastern and Central Africa, Fairtrade represents 73 producer organizations in coffee and 40 in tea.

Besides providing certification support, Fairtrade’s work in coffee has been geared towards helping

small holder farmers improve production, build farmer resilience to the impact of climate change and

promoting the inclusion of women in the coffee value chain. Through the Growing Women in Coffee

Project which ended in 2018, Fairtrade successfully worked with women coffee farmers in Kabng’etuny

and Kapyikai Women in Coffee Associations in Kenya. With the previous, Fairtrade trained women 300

women in Good Agricultural Practices for increased coffee production. Most notable was the campaign

in Kapyikai encouraging men to transfer ownership of coffee bushes to more than150 women resulting

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in greater independence and income. The hallmark was the collaboration between the two associations

to launch Zawadi Coffee- the first Fairtrade Certified coffee owned by small holder women coffee

farmers in Kenya.

Through the Climate Academy Project, Fairtrade Africa is also working to build the resilience of coffee

farmers to the effects of climate change. This has seen the distribution of 300 improved cook stoves to

women coffee producers in Kenya. Consequently, women now spend less time collecting firewood.

Extra time is used on more productive activities such as a small businesses which cooperative

members have been empowered to start through training on Alternative Income Generating Activities

(AIGA). Training on AIGA coupled with funds from the Village Saving and Loaning Association (VSLA)

whose formulation is facilitated by the Climate Academy Project, has seen women draw significant

economic benefits.

Catherine Ndunge, a coffee farmer and member of Musilili Farmers’ Cooperative Society is one

beneficiary: “Coffee is good but the payment method discourages us since we receive payment an year

after delivery. We can’t use the money to buy food or invest in other sustainable businesses. Also,

many farmers do not know how to manage the huge coffee payment that comes once in a year. VSLA

has helped me to get money to take my child to a good boarding school, buy a goat and hen, improve

my house and above all start a green grocery business. The grocery helps me get money to repay the

VSLA loan. I can also buy input for the coffee using money received from VSLA. My family’s life has

changed since I joined the VSLA group in Musilili FCS.”

In our work with small holder farmers, the crucial role that women play in ensuring the sustainability of

rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing of communities

continues to be more evident. They make significant contributions to agricultural production, food

security, nutrition, land management and building climate resilience. As such, Fairtrade Africa will

persist in its work to push for the meaningful inclusion of women in the entire agricultural value chain.

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