How producer organizations help empower women

©FAO/Sophie Grouwels4 June 2020, Rome - Women in rural area have seen the benefits of participating in forest and farm producer organizations (FFPOs), such as improving their ability to start businesses and sell their products, getting specialized training and accessing social and cultural services. Solidarity and mutual support that FFPOs can provide is vitally important during times of crises, especially for women who make up at least half of the 1.5 billion smallholder farmers and forest producers in the world who rely on forests for subsistence and income.

A new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Women’s empowerment though collective action: how forest and farm producer organizations can make a difference, explores how women’s access to social and cultural services allows them to participate in the economic and political life equally with men. The report examines different organizational structures and how FFPOs’ business models have successfully provided opportunities for entrepreneurship that facilitate women’s empowerment.

“FFPOs provide social and cultural services that respond to what people value,’’ says Jeffrey Campbell, Forest and Farm Facility Manager. For example, FFPOs provide village savings loans and associations, savings and credit cooperative societies, insurance services against crop failure, climate hazards or market volatilities, and childcare and healthcare services.‘’ Such services are rooted in systems that promote more inclusive value chains, build women’s capacity to manage their income, or are in line with their traditional cultural heritage,’’ he adds.

The importance of collective action

Cooperatives ability to promote women’s leadership, recognise their members’ contributions, and establish long-term external partnerships are key factors to their successful business models.

"Our case studies have shown that collective efforts among FFPO members and their supporting networks have positively influenced gender relations,’’ said IIED’s Anna Bolin, Senior researcher.

In the Philippines, for instance, the People’s Alliance for Progress Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PAP-MPC) has established a thriving coffee enterprise. With the right political will and collective action, it successfully facilitated women’s economic empowerment. In Ghana, the Kassena Nankana-Baobab Cooperative Union (KANBAOCU), working in baobab and shea nut value chains, showed that when women are empowered economically, they earn greater recognition and support from local leaders and regional state ministries. Meanwhile, in Thiongote in Kenya, a group of 10 women-led farmers groups that has been moving women up the business value chains by strengthening their collective voice to increase access to land, markets and inputs. Women and youth in Thiongote are now helping to restore forest cover in the county, strengthening local women’s knowledge and skills of the forest and farm business through peer-to-peer trainings, and promoting equitable benefit sharing.

The need to support women’s entrepreneurship

The report shows the many benefits of women’s peer-to-peer learning to help raise awareness of the contributions women businesses make in terms of tax revenue, social stability and even peace building. The case studies of the report illustrate some key recommendations that are needed for gender equity and women’s empowerment.

One is to design research that can identify under what conditions and with what type of support women and men can both be empowered. This will require a deeper understanding of power and how differences in power influence both genders.

To strengthen gender equity, both women and men in the household and the wider community must have a similar understanding of the role non-market-oriented livelihood activities have in supporting other crucial economic activities. This could partially be addressed by integrating the role of social and cultural service needs and contributions into the design of FFPO business incubation programmes.

To be able to provide affordable social and cultural services, FFPOs should invest in financial management processes that can allow them to raise capital and allocate resources for this purpose.

Empowering women by helping them become full and active members of FFPOs at all levels can help them be equal actors in transforming rural landscapes and economies. 

Download the full report here.

last updated:  Tuesday, June 9, 2020