Gender equality

To speed up food system transformation

What’s at stake

Women are key actors in every part of the food system, as farmers, processors, wageworkers, traders, and consumers – who purchase and prepare food for their families. Their contributions are often unpaid and undervalued.

Women are also  hit harder by environmental degradation and climate change: the land assigned to them is often less fertile, and they don’t always have access to the resources they need to improve their soil and crop quality, for instance,  machinery or essential agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilisers. Moreover, access to technical assistance, market information, and financing opportunities tend to be more limited for women, making it even more difficult for them to venture into entrepreneurship.

If women had the same access to and control over inputs such as seeds and fertiliser, property, technical assistance, market information, etc. as men, they could increase the total agricultural output on their own farms by 2.5 to 4 percent. Closing the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agrifood systems would reduce global food insecurity by about 2 percentage points, reducing the number of food-insecure people by 45 million. (FAO 2023) Research also shows that when women have access to a proper income, it improves child nutrition, health and education.

Women are feeding the world. Faced with a growing population, and the urgency of eradicating hunger and malnutrition, addressing gender disparity in all parts of the food system could have far-reaching impact on both food security and the well-being of a significant part of the world’s population.

Our strategy

Rikolto applies a “gender mainstreaming” approach in its programmes, which means that women’s economic empowerment is integrated into all possible stages of our programmes, for instance, identifying key entry points for women, conducting gender-responsive market research, and gender-responsive results measurement systems.

“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, Good Food for Cities programme director in Latin America (Rikolto)

Rikolto's global strategy focuses on three pillars: sustainable production, market inclusion and enabling environment. Gender equality is integrated within each of these three pillars.

The first pillar, sustainable food production, relates to our efforts to support farmer organisations on their road to professionalisation. We focus on sustainable production practices, resilience in the face of climate change 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 for their access to inputs, resources, and services. This also means supporting farmer cooperatives to become more gender-inclusive, adopting differentiated training courses for women, setting up Women’s Committees as part of cooperatives’ organisational structures, etc.

The second pillar, market inclusion, aims to integrate smallholder farmers into national and international markets and improve citizens’ access to healthy and sustainable food. It works towards an inclusive food environment in which women and young people can gain a foothold on the one hand, and emphasises the importance of access to safe and nutritious food for consumers, particularly vulnerable ones, on the other. Our focus lies in agri-business development with equal opportunities for women and men. The key is improving the access of women to funds and credit, for instance through business incubators and gender-specific training.

The third pillar is the creation of an enabling environment, through genuine participation in policymaking, improved access to finance (loans) and extended partnerships (for instance, with local governments). Gender mainstreaming in this aspect entails promoting equal opportunities for women to contribute to food policy discussion, equity in participation and representation of women in multi-stakeholder platforms, and contributing to policies and practices that promote improved access to and control over productive resources and services for women.

Our strategy for Gender Equality

The strategy 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 examples of how we translate the strategy into our work or read the full strategy by clicking on the button below.

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In our three programmes

Good Food for Cities programme

80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050. But how can cities make sure that every citizen can access and afford sufficient, safe, and nutritious food, and food producers can make a decent living within the ecological limits of our planet?

Our Good Food for Cities programme aims at catalysing collective action among local food system actors to make urban food environments and their underlying supply chains more conducive to healthy, sustainable and nutritious diets for all.

Gender equality constitutes an integral part of this. More specifically, we foster the development of a gender-sensitive entrepreneurial ecosystem, for instance, by supporting the creation and development of women-led businesses, promoting equal access to and use of business development services, and accompanying women entrepreneurs throughout the creation and incubation of their businesses.

In Burkina Faso, 88.7% of women are self-employed. However, only 18.6% of their enterprises are run on a formal basis. PACE-DID is a project funded by the Belgian Development Agency, Enabel, to support the development of inclusive and sustainable entrepreneurship in the Centre-Est region of Burkina Faso. Enabel, together with Rikolto, Trias, SOS Faim, FRA/CES and the Initiative Tenkodogo association, is running the programme to provide training, follow-up coaching and support for the set-up of businesses by young people, women, and people with disabilities. Hado Seone is one of these women. A business training course and loan to develop her “Wendsongre”, an urban food garden, put her on the path from an informal business owner to becoming a formal entrepreneur.

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 young people can be supported to develop ventures that contribute to the sustainability of urban food systems.

Sustainable cocoa and coffee programme

The cocoa and coffee sectors involve some 30 million smallholder farmers and provide livelihoods to over 50 million people. Yet these global commodities are beset by numerous problems – such as low incomes, gender inequality, declining productivity, and deforestation – which undercut their potential contribution to food systems change. Addressing the issues of sustainability and inclusiveness in both sectors is crucial. A better integration of women, valorising their hands-on knowledge and leadership skills, is critical.

We support women in setting up their own businesses and improving their access to inputs and resources. Alba Mejía, a member of the Ecuadorian coffee cooperative AACRI, is one of these women. 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. She started to participate in other activities in the chain after taking part 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 thanks to their recognition that AACRI product benefits female coffee growers. Improving access to finance is also a stronghold of our cocoa programme in Ghana and Ivory Coast: we support communities to set up Village Savings and Loans associations (VSLAs), explicitly targeting female cocoa farmers who often have side-businesses in addition to cocoa farming but can rarely access credit. 43% if all VSLA participants in Ivory Coast are women; 51% in Ghana (compared to the low female membership in our partner cooperatives in the respective countries, with 14% and 41%).

We also encourage women to take up leadership positions in cooperatives. Jessica Granillo, a third-generation cocoa producer, mother and community leader at “La Fortaleza”, a cocoa farmer organisation in Manabí, Ecuador, is a living example of this. 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. She is now promoting the organisation’s Sustainable Food System School where young people and women are trained beyond organic farming, from agroecology, leadership and creativity to gender, law, finance, political economy, and more. 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. In our coffee programme in Peru, we are inspired by the strong women of Satipo. They created the CODEMU, the Women's Development Committee, and later also took up an instrumental role in promoting generational succession in the cooperative’s leadership.

We also focus on enabling policy changes. In 2021, Honduras became the first country to adopt a policy ongender equality for its coffee sector. To develop this sectoral policy, the Platform for Sustainable Coffee in Honduras (PCSH) and the National Coffee Board (CONACAFE) partnered with Rikolto and Solidaridad Network. 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.

Sustainable rice programme

Rice provides a livelihood for roughly 20% of the global population and functions as a staple food for 3.5 billion people. However, its exceptional ecological footprint requires critical transformations in the sector in order to transition to sustainable food systems at a global scale. In our rice programme, farmers, and in particular women farmers, are supported with tools, techniques and finance that are essential on the ground, in order for them to participate in sustainable rice farming while reducing negative environmental impact. We support rice cooperatives and their members to adopt the Sustainable Rice Platform’s standard for sustainable rice production. Women’s access to finance and women in leadership positions are critical parts of the standard.

In East Africa, we have ensured that our production training activities are increasingly reaching women. Training courses in Uganda have focused on sustainable rice cultivation techniques on-farm, whereby we intentionally targeted women  and successfully reached about 40% women despite the commodity being male-dominated. There has been a significant rise in the proportion of women holding positions in the board and management reaching more than  60% in most farmer organisations we support in Uganda. Also in Tanzania, Rikolto delivers training to women farmers to equip them with knowledge - a crucial backbone for empowerment.

In Burkina Faso, a franchising business model which entailed the creation of micro parboiling enterprises has effectively addressed the challenges faced by women parboilers, namely a lack of infrastructure to parboil and upfront capital to purchase rice. Owing to the model, employment for women has significantly increased and their revenue has more than doubled. The model enabled women to make investments that led to higher quality and increased production capacity. By 2022, they were selling 5 times more tonnes per year than in 2017. Who else has benefited from this model and what are the next steps in this inspiring journey?

Stories from the ground

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