Female farmers to improve livelihoods with support of experienced peers


©FAO/Abdul Mustafazade

09/04/2021

Olga Babayeva, a 52-year-old farmer from Samukh region, in northwestern Azerbaijan, is a well-recognized businesswoman in her community. Apart from being the biggest producer of vegetable seeds for onions, coriander, dill, radishes, and parsley, among others, she is also known for her strong support of women’s engagement in farming. 

She was attracted to farm life as a young child, spending her summer holidays helping her parents plant vegetables. In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a nineteen-year-old Olga became the first young female farmer in Fuzuli village when she started renting a 10-hectare plot to grow beetroot.

“But it was not that easy,“ says Olga with a smile, who now cultivates a total of 14 hectares.

For more than 30 years she has been active in agriculture beyond just growing, managing the vegetable seed cooperative Barakat (“blessing” in Azeri), with 1 400 villagers as members, as well as establishing the Samukh Seed and Vegetable Corporation that ensures laboratory testing for sorting and drying. Today, the corporation sells seeds at both national and foreign markets.

“In the beginning, I faced situations when a tractor driver (who was usually a man) would refuse to cultivate my land just because I was a woman, or officials at the local government body neglected my requests as they did not accept the fact that a woman can be engaged in farming professionally,” reminisces Olga. “‘Your place is in the kitchen,’ this is what women hear very often, ‘–not on the land.’”

Empowering rural women through agriculture has great potential in the country; according to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan, 77 percent of women reside in rural areas, and the percentage of female entrepreneurs engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing is higher than men (32 to 24 percent). However, women face a number of challenges, such as gender pay gap, informality of jobs, triple work burden (housework, working on household production, and wage work), and poor access to social services, hindering them from leveraging their full potential. In total, women do an average of six hours of unpaid work, while men spend only two hours on the same.

©FAO/Abdul Mustafazade

“As I was divorced with a little son and daughter in my hands, I had no other option than to earn our living to survive. I had to work much harder than any other male fellow as I bore triple responsibilities; working on the farm and at home, as well as engaging in village initiatives. Today, my children are adults, but the perceptions and challenges are still there,” notes Olga.

As a result of her life-long experiences, she knows very well the challenges women face in agriculture as she had to go through many of them. This is why FAO considered her as a future mentor for female farmers.

As a result of her life-long experiences, she knows very well the challenges women face in agriculture as she had to go through many of them. This is why FAO considered her as a future mentor for female farmers.

To this end, Olga received several trainings on farming and business management and will soon participate in a training for trainers’ workshop. Since 2020, FAO, in cooperation with the Government of Azerbaijan, has been focusing on providing support to rural women to improve their knowledge and farming practices through innovative technologies in cultivating fruit trees and vegetables, cattle breeding, and poultry raising, in addition to other areas.

“Women are engaged in agricultural production, however, they are less educated in sales and marketing, and have little information about micro-credits and non-financial services,” points out Flora Poladova, leading FAO project expert in Azerbaijan. “With the improved farming techniques, they will be able to do commercial farming. Increasing their income through essential business, marketing, and leadership skills will, in fact, raise women's self-confidence and make their voices heard.”

Olga Babayeva, a 52-year-old farmer from Samukh region, in northwestern Azerbaijan, is a well-recognized businesswoman in her community. ©FAO/Abdul Mustafazade

“FAO plays an intermediary role between female farmers and state and private service providers. We are working on stakeholder mapping now to bridge this, so that will help women to learn about free advisory services, soft loans, and other services,” adds Poladova.

To keep up the momentum, the project mobilizes rural women’s groups and has already succeeded in connecting over 100 female farmers from 20 regions in Azerbaijan. Olga is part of this network and communicates with other members and shares farming knowledge via a mobile messaging app.

“I am so happy to be part of the big changes ahead!” beams Olga. “Grateful women are not alone and support is there. Women and girls deserve fair opportunities and treatment and, once financially stable, they will have a stronger voice to be equally recognized.”


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3. Good health and well-being, 5. Gender equality, 8. Decent work and economic growth