Breaking the bias: Rikolto launches its Strategy for Gender Equality

Breaking the bias: Rikolto launches its Strategy for Gender Equality


Women are key actors in every part of food system, as farmers, processors, wageworkers, traders, and consumers. Nonetheless, women’s contributions are often undervalued, unpaid and overlooked. This gender gap is also evident in Rikolto’s programmes: two thirds of the members of the farmers’ organisations we partner with are men, even if women represent 43% of the agricultural workforce globally.

Rikolto has over 40 years’ experience and has always aimed at providing equal opportunities for women and men. Yet the time has come to move beyond punctual initiatives, towards mainstreaming gender inclusion in our programmes.
Mariela Wismann

“This was a driving force for us to take bolder steps”, says Mariela Wismann, director of the coffee programme in Latin America.

In 2021, Mariela coordinated the development of a Strategy for Gender Equality, geared at opening up more opportunities for women in the agri-food sector. Colleagues from every Rikolto office joined her: Ninoska Hurtado, Johanna Renckens, Djalou Franco, Hildagard Okoth, Heleen Verlinden, Aäron De Fruyt, Kiki Purbosari and Jorge Flores shared lessons and successes from the past to co-create the Strategy.

Today, on International Women’s Day, we proudly present our Strategy for Gender Equality.

No sustainable food systems without gender equality

Gender equality is of crucial importance to honour the inclusiveness of business models and sustainable food systems. If women had the same access to and control over inputs such as seeds and fertilizer, property, technical assistance, market information, etc., they could increase the total agricultural output on their own farms by 2.5 to 4 percent.

According to the UN Women Commission on the Status of Women, bridging the gender gap in the agri-food sector can also lead to a reduction in the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent. Research also shows that when women have access to a proper income, it improves child nutrition, health and education.

Our Strategy for Gender Equality serves as the backbone for the development of our programmes and allows us to ensure our teams have the skills and resources to actively contribute to the elimination of gender-based inequalities in our sphere of influence.

Scroll down for a summary and examples of how we translate the strategy into our work or ...

read the strategy

Our approach: Gender Mainstreaming

Rikolto’s global strategy framework aims to implement a “Gender Mainstreaming” approach, including specific women-targeted programmes or projects in case there is an assessed need.

We are convinced that socioeconomic relations won’t change if we don’t include a gender mainstreaming approach. Only when we succeed in changing power relations and bridging the gap of inequality of access to resources and training opportunities, will we be able to contribute to gender equality through our programmes.

Mariela Wismann

So, what does a “Gender Mainstreaming” approach look like in our programmes? And how do the strategic lines translate into our work in the field? "We incorporate women's empowerment in each of the three strategic domains on which we focus our work: sustainable crop production, market inclusion and enabling environments," says Mariela.

1. Sustainable crop production offers women a different future

In our efforts to professionalise farmer organisations, we focus on production and organisational development. We put in place the conditions for the full participation of women in food systems, at the production and post-harvest level, in the management of cooperatives and when it comes to their access to inputs, resources, and services. This also means supporting farmer cooperatives to become more inclusive, adopting differentiated trainings, setting up Women’s Committees as part of cooperatives’ organisational structures, etc.

In our horticulture and grains/pulses programmes in Uganda and Tanzania, we have ensured that our production training activities are increasingly reaching women. Trainings in the grains programme in Uganda focused on sustainable rice cultivation techniques on-farm, whereby we intentionally targeted women for the rice growing activities and successfully reached about 40% of women of the designated sample (1,530) despite the commodity being male-dominated. There is a significant rise in women holding positions in the board and management to more than 60% in most farmer organisations we support in Uganda. Also in Tanzania, Rikolto focuses on giving trainings to farmers and making efforts to equip them with knowledge, a crucial backbone for empowerment.

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Alba Mejía is a member of Ecuadorian coffee cooperative AACRI. She grows coffee, some of which is sold as “café de mujeres”, “coffee produced by women”. Yet coffee alone does not provide a stable enough income, and she was on the look-out to diversify her income. She has started to participate in other activities in the chain after participating in workshops hosted by AACRI, and found a profitable activity in cabuya weaving. The bags she and other women weave, are used to package the “café de mujeres”. They have contributed to creating an exclusive coffee, with high added value that has earned a special place among local buyers because they identify that acquiring an AACRI product benefits female coffee growers.

This is Alba's story

Jessica Granillo is a third-generation cocoa producer, mother and community leader at “La Fortaleza”, a cocoa farmer organisation in Manabí, Ecuador. She grew up producing cocoa with her family, but quickly realised that women are underrepresented in her organisation, in its governance and decision-making processes. The cooperative wanted to renew itself from the inside out, inviting women to take an active role in decision-making. With the support of the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) and the Belgian Development Cooperation (DGD), Rikolto and Fortaleza del Valle created opportunities for young people and women like Jessica Granillo, including trainings in entrepreneurial and leadership skills, production and post-harvest issues, communication etc.

This is Jessica's story

2. Equal market inclusion for women and men

We promote market inclusion for all, specifically focusing on agri-business development with equal opportunities for women and men. This can look like improving women’s access to resources, credit and training, for instance by promoting financial products tailored to women’s needs or promoting technologies and practices that reduce women’s workload.

Our cocoa programmes in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana aim at supporting smallholder cocoa farmers to improve their income through improved productivity of cocoa, income diversification and improved access to finance. Ensuring access to finance through Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) is a key component: we support communities to set up VSLAs, provide trainings to VSLA members on financial planning, investment opportunities and setting up bank accounts, and facilitate toolkits for the smooth start-up of VSLAs. In both countries, we explicitly target female cocoa farmers, who often have side-businesses next to cocoa farming, but have an even harder time to access credit. 43% of all participants in the VSLAs in Côte d’Ivoire are women, and 51% in Ghana.

In Vietnam, Rikolto joined forces with the Women’s Initiative for Start-ups and Entrepreneurship (WISE). We gathered over 100 farmers, distributors, retailers, researchers, government authorities and stakeholders from the food supply chain in Hanoi. The topic of discussion: the effective distribution of healthy, sustainable and nutritious agri-food in the urban food system, and how women entrepreneurs and youth can be supported to develop ventures that contribute to the sustainability of urban food systems.

These were the findings of the workshops

3. Environments that enable equal opportunities for women in agri-food

Together with governments and private decision makers, Rikolto contributes to policies that enable equal opportunities for women in the agri-food sector, promote equity in participation and representation of women in multi-actor platforms and contribute to policies and practices that promote improved access to and control over assets and non-financial and financial services for women.

In 2021, Honduras became the first country to adopt a policy on gender equality for its coffee sector. To develop this sectoral policy, the Platform for Sustainable Coffee in Honduras (PCSH) and the National Coffee Board (CONACAFE), which includes a wide range of actors from the Honduran coffee industry, partnered with Rikolto and Solidaridad Network. The process started by analysing the coffee and agricultural context and the existing regulatory framework, and continued with a consultation process with all actors in the coffee chain to formulate the strategy. It aims at supporting organisations in the sector to address social and gender inclusion, improve women's access to services and resources, develop leadership capacity of women working in the sector and coordinate actions to promote change. The gender policy and action plan will impact about 19,000 female coffee farmers active in Honduras. We now continue our work to translate this policy into actions.

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Teamwork to make the gender dream work

Rikolto is its people; we are the power of change. We are an organisation that lives its values -belief in people, inclusivity, sustainability and constant open dialogue- to achieve transformation in food systems.

It is only self-evident that gender equality is an indispensable part of how we live our values at Rikolto: within our own organisation, within our programme activities and within the way our team relates to and behaves towards our partners.

Our gender strategy also makes it possible for us to ensure that our teams have the skills and resources to actively contribute to the elimination of gender-based inequalities in our sphere of influence. After all, the successful implementation of the strategy also depends on how gender-responsive we go about our work: in our partner selection criteria, but also when it comes to our own budgeting, monitoring and evaluation system and staffing. This is something we continue to work on, as we are now starting up our new programmes for the period 2022-2026.

We are convinced that gender equality is key for a sustainable tomorrow. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we invite you to share this article on LinkedIn and tell us how your organisation is contributing to #breakthebias.

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Questions about our Strategy for Gender Equality? Don't hesitate to reach out to Mariela.

Mariela Wismann
Mariela Wismann
Directora del Programa Sistemas Alimentarios Sostenibles para las Ciudades | Latinoamérica