The fruits and vegetables value chain: a women’s world?

The women food heroes at the core of the supply chain in Guyana

As producers, processors, retailers, distributors and exporters, women play many important roles in Guyana’s fruit and vegetable agri-food value chain. ©FAO/Shara Seelall


Whether it is in Anna Regina, Georgetown or Corriverton, Guyana’s markets are traditionally dominated by female vendors. Be it fresh fruits and vegetables or agro-processed products, their stalls display abundance and variety. The vendors’ melodious chants soar above the usual market hustle and bustle: A“What are you getting today, love?” floats through the air at each turn. 

Beyond the surface of this vibrant yet complex market and deeper into the country’s agri-food chain, women play many roles. According to a report by the Central Bank of Guyana, fruits and vegetables contributed USD 3.3 million in exports to the country’s economy from January to June in 2020. These numbers have women’s work behind them. Aside from growing many of these crops, women are also generally behind the processing of these foods, producing items such as pepper sauces, jams, jellies, seasonings and dried fruits, and retailing them for export.

As 2021 is the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, a year designated to raise awareness on the importance of these foods in nutrition, food security and health, it is an opportune time to zero-in on the contribution of women to the value chain behind fruits and vegetables.  

FAO in Guyana has been working with farmers to reduce post-harvest losses as well as to develop markets for traditional crops like cassava. Left/Top: ©Brent Stirton/Getty Images for FAO; Right/Bottom: ©FAO/Miguel Schincariol

Across many farming communities of Guyana, women are well-known for producing cash crops and growing vegetables like bora, pumpkin, pak choy, tomatoes and peppers, as well as fruits such as watermelons and passion fruit among others. While some women carry out these activities as ‘kitchen gardens’ to maintain self-sufficiency and support the needs of their households, other women like Malika Deokarran produce food on a larger scale to supply traders and markets.

Malika is also the leader of a 75-member farming group in her community in Belle West in the northern part of the country. Despite the group being majority male, Malika discloses that everyone depends on her guidance to package and price their produce and advocate for farmers’ assistance. Malika describes, “My input to the group and their family farms is critical: it takes patience to set the seeds, harvest, package and price the produce daily.”

FAO came to Malika’s community to speak with farmers about developing markets for traditional crops like cassava and implementing disaster risk reduction strategies to mitigate the impact of the extreme weather and flooding common to this country. Malika commented that FAO’s support and recognition of the important role that she and other women play in producing fresh fruits and vegetables was a motivation for her: “I am grateful for this visit to our community and supporting us women. We needed this to build our confidence to take on bigger challenges.”

Food loss

Highly perishable, fruits and vegetables need special attention to maintain quality and safety. Appropriate treatment and handling across the supply chain, from production to consumption, are important to ensure that waste is minimized.

Unfortunately, a significant amount continues to be lost. In 2021, Guyana’s Ministry of Agriculture estimated that almost 30 percent of all fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted. Worldwide, the estimate is higher, with up to 50 percent of fruits and vegetables lost in developing countries’ supply chains. This loss and waste represent not only one of food but of natural resources and investments made by the farmers and the country. 

Jasmin Ramsammy, a vendor at the Skeldon market, located in the eastern county of Berbice, describes, “You have to know when to buy, what to buy and the amount to buy for resale. For instance, around the Diwali and Phagwah festivals, vegetables such as calaloo (pak choy), pumpkin and boulanger (eggplant) are high in demand, so we buy plenty and it sells out.” 

So, what happens when the perishables are left on hand? According to Nina Sarju, a vendor of Berbice’s Port Mourant market, “If the fruits and vegetables can keep, we sell them the next day. If not, we cook them or share with neighbors and regular customers.”

Highlighting best practices in the value chain to avoid food loss is part of FAO’s work with farmers across the country.

As guardians of much of Guyana´s food culture, women create livelihood opportunities and improve the food security and nutrition of their families and communities. ©FAO

The dedication of women to the fruit and vegetable supply chain is indispensable. Guardians of much of Guyana´s food culture and organizers of the fresh produce market, these women generate income, support empowerment, create livelihood opportunities and improve food security and nutrition. Not to mention that at the end of a normal workday, many women are still traditionally responsible for preparing nutritious foods for their families. 

FAO supports women food producers, and all smallholder producers, to be more efficient and productive, through trainings on reducing harvest and post-harvest losses and adopting climate smart practices. FAO also supports female farmers by increasing awareness on opportunities to access finance and other farm inputs. Underpinned by the commitment to gender equality, FAO emphasizes the role women play in both the agricultural supply chain and in promoting nutrition, with fruits and vegetables a central part of that.

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