Breaking down gender barriers in tea, coffee and flower farms

Columnists

Breaking down gender barriers in tea, coffee and flower farms


A farmer takes care of her coffee trees in Nyeri. PICTURES | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

Summary

  • While women are overwhelmingly represented in food production and the agricultural supply chain, the same cannot be said for their earnings in the sector in general.
  • Before the rise of trade unionism and the coming into force of certification systems such as Fairtrade, deep-seated inequalities against women particularly plagued the flower sector.

According to the United Nations (2021), women worldwide make up more than 40% of the agricultural labor force in rural communities.

In East Africa, the scenario is no different, with women making up over 60% of the labor force in the flower sector and another majority involved in the agricultural activities behind the production of cash crops. such as tea and coffee, among other staples.

While women are overwhelmingly represented in food production and the agricultural supply chain, the same cannot be said for their earnings in the sector in general.

A myriad of barriers, including limited access to resources such as land, credit, inputs, information and training, reinforce historical patterns of women’s disempowerment.

Before the rise of trade unionism and the coming into force of certification systems such as Fairtrade, deep-seated inequalities against women particularly plagued the flower sector.

Low wages and unfavorable working conditions such as inflexible work policies particularly affect the livelihoods of young mothers who must take breaks to care for hungry or sick infants.

In sub-sectors such as tea and coffee, women continue to provide much of the agricultural labor needed only for the profits to end up in the hands of their spouses who make the decisions on use. household income. This leaves many women dependent on their spouse.

Despite this, a closer look at the agricultural sector as the world continues to mark Women’s History Month shows that remarkable improvements have taken place.

In Fairtrade Africa’s work with actors in the flowers, tea and coffee sub-sectors over the years, for example, we have seen employers and male-headed households take deliberate steps to transform the experience women as agricultural workers.

Take for example the farmers’ cooperative societies Kabngetuny’ and Kapyikai in the Rift Valley. The two Fairtrade certified coffee producing companies embarked between 2017 and 2018 on a project called Women in Coffee.

This has seen the men who traditionally own land and coffee trees each transfer 300 bushes to their wives, enabling them to earn an independent income for the first time.

In addition to registering as members of their respective companies where they deliver cherries, these women now have their own brand of processed coffee called Zawadi Coffee.

These cooperatives, found in rural areas of Kenya, show that with the right mindset and attitude, the inclusion and empowerment of women is achievable even in environments where cultural stereotypes and gender norms are rampant. .

Horticulture farms have also not been left behind as they continue to be great examples of inclusive and empowering workspaces for women.

Many of them, especially those operating under fair trade conditions such as Shalimar Flowers, Flamingo Horticulture, Wildfire Flowers and Valentines Growers in Kenya, as well as Sher Ethiopia, Ziway Roses and Herburg Roses in Ethiopia, have adopted in recent years gender policies. and instituted gender committees to oversee their implementation.

Through these policies, female workers have access to mechanisms to report any cases of sexual harassment in the workplace and resolve them in a fair and transparent manner. Female floriculture workers have also been trained to take on management roles on farms.

Likewise, these flower farms have started to create on-farm daycares, giving mothers much-needed relief from having to worry about their babies at work.

This has also had a positive impact on their earnings, as fewer workers no longer have to forfeit their pay due to requested breastfeeding breaks during working hours.

Incremental improvements continue to be seen in the agricultural sector, with farmers and agribusiness owners paving the way to building a world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive and more rewarding and fulfilling for female agricultural workers.

However, many more women remain on the sidelines. Much remains to be done to achieve true gender equality. As we highlight persistent challenges and at the same time celebrate progress in advancing gender inclusion this month, we must do so with a renewed commitment to addressing the gender gap, enabling women to claim their right and succeed on their own terms.

As various actors in the agricultural sector have shown, this is achievable. Let us strive to do more for women on all fronts, including the agricultural sector.

Pedo is Area Manager, Fairtrade Africa – East and Central Africa Network

Terisa K. Carn