Category Archives: Women’s Work

The Wide World of Women in Agriculture

Women’s empowerment, gender equality, climate change, sustainable agriculture, and the future of our food systems are topics that deserve the increasing academic and media attention they are increasingly receiving.  For academics, ethical business entrepreneurs and development professionals this means a constant growth of new resources to track impact and share political, economic, and educational strategies that bring together our common goals.  A new collaboration between “Feed the Future,” the US Government’s Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative has announced a new index that will add to the resources publicly available.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) claims to track women’s engagement in agriculture in five areas, including relative empowerment to men in their households and communities:

  • Production
  • Resources
  • Income
  • Leadership
  • Time Use

The case studies for the base-line survey work for the index were conducted in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda, and the brochure claims that 19 countries will initially be included in the index. Although it is great to see resources directed toward understanding and improving the role of Women in Agriculture by these development organizations, this is by no means a strictly developing world issue. As organizations such as the Women’s Food and Agriculture Network in the US and the Women’s Food and Farming Union in the UK demonstrate, women have been and remain a vital force in the success of food production around the world, and deserve recognition and equal resources for their work. The increasing attention on the role of women in agriculture will hopefully expand to include a look at the empowerment struggles of women world-wide as stewards of the land and essential contributors to the future of our food.

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Reclaiming Fair Trade – A Reflection

Presenting our first guest blog by Nora Burkey, who Social Business Network has the honor of hosting for her Master’s research in Sustainable Development: 

While fair trade enthusiasts are quickly dropping their affiliations with certifying bodies, explaining it is because they are still committed to original standards whereas new members are not, the confused reader, inundated with information about poor farmers just getting poorer—fair trade or not—might wonder why fair trade ought to be defended at all.  Remember that income accounting does not create the whole picture.  Fair trade has contributed to increased access to credit at lower interest rates, more childhood education, a greater degree of food-security, and more.  Fair trade premiums to cooperatives also benefit farming communities as a whole, such as greater access to healthcare for the whole village.  But fair trade wasn’t just about poverty, it was about revolution, and its successes and failures ought to be looked at in that light.

Fair Trade offered the cooperative structure as a solution to privately-owned farms that have an unfair system of wage labor.  This allows farmers ownership of their land, not just their labor, and provides a democratically governed body to oversee social projects and communicate with buyers without being owned by them, leaving decision-making with the farmer.  So when large coffee plantations can become certified as fair trade, as Fair Trade USA recently decided to allow—breaking off from Fair Trade International in order to do so—what we have is a private system that has nothing to do with what fair trade ever meant to imply, and what fair trade ends up meaning is something like minimum wage with a social premium benefit.  And whereas before 20% of a product had to be fair trade to receive the label, now just a mere 10% is required by Fair Trade USA, so it’s not even minimum wage for all.

Under current standards, to sell fair-trade certified products, only 5% of a company’s sales must be fair trade, and there is no obligation to increase this percentage over time.  Nor are large producers required to slowly become more cooperative in structure by giving each farmer a vote and ownership over their own production.  The presence of large multinationals and large plantations at the table only limits a small farmer’s access to the market and ensures the largest piece of the pie goes to the largest producer or buyer.

The most damaging of all is that the weakening of standards has forced the founders of fair trade out.  No longer do the truly committed want to be associated with the term they created, as to many consumers, it denotes something so tame the only impact it makes is a bad one.  It seems anyone can create their own label these days and certify it independently, allies and enemies alike.  Some have stricter standards and some have weaker, but if consumers are not educated, it is impossible to know which label is which.  And since fair trade depends on consumers rather than the state to ensure it continues to be a part of commerce—it only exists as long as people are willing to buy fair trade products—creating so many labels, and so much confusion, is a lot like playing with fire.

The struggle is whether to reclaim the name that has been co-opted or admit that it’s already been stolen.  In my own life I choose to reclaim it, because I believe it is important that people understand fair trade was and is not a failure, it can only be failed.  I choose not to be someone that fails it, to be someone who fails to support all that fair trade has done.  The commitment still feels pretty radical to me, in all senses of the word.

Nora Burkey is currently a candidate at SIT Graduate Institute for a Master’s in Sustainable Development.  She became involved with Social Business Network in August 2013 after connecting with Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, a trading partner of ÉTICO.  She currently lives in León, Nicaragua, and plans to continue working with Dean’s Beans and Social Business Network on development projects into 2014.

UK Nicaragua Embassy teams up with Social Business Network

The UK Embassador meets with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva board of directors, representatives of organized groups of rural women, and SBN in October 2013.

The UK Embassador meets with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva board of directors, representatives of organized groups of rural women, and SBN in October 2013.

Social Business Network is thrilled to have the support of the UK Nicaraguan Embassy, who recently awarded us a grant to deepen the impact of the Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women in agricultural cooperatives.  The grant will be used to pilot the next phase of development in the women’s empowerment initiative with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative, focussing on cultural and entrepreneurial education for women.  The initiative began three years ago and the ongoing funding, generated entirely through incorporating the unpaid work contribution of rural women into the costs of the cooperatively produced sesame oil and coffee, has largely been invested in savings incentives and technical assistance so that rural women have access and support to participate more fully in the local economy.  The support of the UK Embassy provides the cooperative with the means to push the initiative forward in its development, providing a core educational course in cooperativism, entrepreneurship and gender equality; additional skills-based workshops; marketing support; and the creation of a mural in the center of town recognizing the unpaid contribution that women make to community and family well-being.  This initiative has already become a model for other agricultural cooperatives, who adapt the principles to their own communities and contexts.  We are excited to see this initiative move forward and know that many other communities will also benefit from seeing the results of the additional support of the UK Embassy.  You can follow the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative’s achievements and other great initiatives in Nicaragua on the UK Embassy in Nicaragua’s facebook page.  Adelante!

Closing the Gender Gap

Image courtesy of the BBC, www.bbc.co.uk

Image courtesy of the BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk

Last week the World Economic Forum published the 2013 Gender Gap report.  The report began in 2006 and since then has attempted to annual review the accessibility of each nation’s resources to men and women.  The report focusses on 4 areas of equality – health and survival, educational attainment, political empowerment and economic participation and opportunities.  The scores are then averaged to create an overall ranking of countries.

In Latin America, a relatively small region of the world with closely neighboring countries, there is a large discrepancy in the WEF report’s finding.  While Nicaragua just slips in to the highest ranking countries in the world at overall 10th place, Guatemala ranks 114th – the lowest in the entire Western Hemisphere after Suriname in 110th.  Nicaragua’s 10th place ranking has made national news and earned it a place on many summary reports such as this one from the BBC on par with the European countries at the very top of the list – like Iceland, Norway, and Ireland.  But a glance at the breakdown by area shows that Nicaragua’s scores are disparate:  While a law passed two years ago requiring all political parties to support 50% women candidates in local and national elections is most likely responsible for the 5th place rank in political empowerment, the country lags behind in other areas, most notably in Economic Participation and Opportunities where it ranks 91st.  In these productive yet still resource-tight countries, there’s no question that closing the gender gap every year overall marks important advancements in the quality of life for its citizens.  But there’s still a lot of work to be done, which is why this report supports the relevancy of Social Business’s work with economic empowerment like the Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.  In fact, across Latin America the rankings for equality of Economic Participation and Opportunities fall in the 90th and 110th percentile, yet another reason to support equitable trade and trading organizations like cooperatives that uphold gender equality as central principles in their work.

Women from the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua

Press Release – Successfull Celebration of Women’s Empowerment Initiative in Nicaraguan Supply Chains

First-ever initiative to count the unpaid work of women in agricultural commodity production is successful in Nicaragua 

Ético: The Ethical Trading Company Ltd., British NGO Social Business Network, and Nicaraguan farmer cooperatives celebrate the ground-breaking innovation to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.

 Ético: The Ethical Trading Company and British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains. Traditionally, the price for commodity products include only direct input and labour costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work which is done mainly by women.  This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production and one that should be valued and remunerated. This initiative was presented on July 3, 2013 to a group of 100 invitees, including representatives from Fair Trade companies Twin, Equal Exchange, and Liberation Nuts, the Nicaraguan Embassy, UK Government officials and Tesco.  The event was organized by Ético and Social Business Network, with support from Hoare’s Bank, the Bulldog Trust, and Raleigh International.  The speakers explained the pilot stages and preliminary evaluation of the initiative with small-farmer sesame and coffee Cooperatives in Nicaragua.

The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua.  Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labour in sesame production.  Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labour (eg. cooking food for field labourers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labour input in sesame.  The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives.  The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labour organisation, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez.  Photo Credit: George Selwyn

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez. Photo Credit: George Selwyn

The event on July 3 demonstrated the transformative power of integrated supply chains.  It was held at 2 Temple Place and chaired by Albert Tucker, Director of Social Business Network.  The opening speech was given by Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor Elect of the City of London and Trustee of Raleigh International, whose inspiration to support the event came from a visit to Nicaragua in 2012 where she was present at a meeting of women participating in the initiative.  She spoke of the impact that listening to the women’s experiences working with the program of the cooperative, and concluded, “That’s why… I will also be a champion for the unpaid work of women.  I think it has huge applications across the developed world as well as in the developing world.”  A vivid account of the different types of unpaid work which women do in Nicaragua was given by Julia Perez, of Achuapa Nicaragua, and Liberty Pegg, a former volunteer with Raleigh International. Catherine Hoskyns explained the initial calculation of women’s unpaid labour in sesame production and its significance, and Felicity Butler gave her first findings about the impact of the initiative. She is researching this through her Ph.D. at Royal Holloway University, which funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Body Shop.   Rachel Lindsay, representative of Social Business Network in Nicaragua, gave an overview of how this concept has been piloted in coffee sales and the support it has generated from the entire supply chain.  Christina Archer, Senior Buyer for Community Fair Trade Ingredients at the Body Shop, gave a testimony, emphasising that “This initiative does also make really good business sense, and strengthens the sustainability of supply chains… Our brand is about building self-esteem and empowering women, be they the women who use our products or the women in our supply chains”.  The event was concluded by Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, who emphasised that when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change.   He emphasised that it was not easy to get this far but “with such good collaborators, many of whom are present, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade”.  He also credited the cooperative organisations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.

Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women

This summer Social Business Network and Ético will be celebrating our initiative to Recognize the Unpaid Work of Women in ethical supply chains.  Our pilot programme began in 2009 with the first-ever cost structure for an agricultural product that included economic remuneration for the traditional labor of women.

Much of the work women do in the production of agricultural commodities does not receive the recognition they deserve and is very often not remunerated.  These activities may be directly linked to production such as winnowing crops after they are harvested, safely storing crops at the home, and preparing food for field workers, or indirectly related to family production like fetching water, firewood and caring for children and elderly.  These are tasks that most rural women do regardless of whether their families grow crops for export, local sale, or autoconsumption.  Therefore, the value of the unpaid work of women has been calculated into the cost structure of our products and is included in the cost paid to the producer Cooperative.  The Cooperative uses these funds to empower women through making organizational, financial, and educational resources available to them.  Three years after the start of our pilot project, participation levels of women in the farmers cooperatives has risen sharply.  During a recent evaluation of the initiative with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua, both women and men involved in the implementation were asked what the programme has accomplished since it’s inception.  Here are some of their responses:

  • a better relationship between women in rural communities (una mejor relación entre mujeres en las communidades)
  • women are taken into account (las mujeres son tomadas en cuenta)
  • more active participation by women (mejor participación activa de las mujeres)
  • development of creative potential in rural families (desarrollo de de creatividad en la economía familiar)
  • independence and security of having savings in their name (independencia y la seguridad de tener ahorros en sus nombres)
  • more women are joining the cooperative as full members (más mujeres se están uniendo a la cooperativa como socios)
  • other organizations are beginning to recognize the work women do (las mujeres son mas reconocidas por su trabajo de otras organizaciones)
  • a positive example of development for youth and the next generation (buen ejemplo para las/los hijos y jovenes y herencia generacional)

Social Business Network has partnered with trade companies, volunteer organizations, farmers cooperatives and universities to make this initiative possible.  Through our work this initiative has sparked lengthy passionate discussions about the roll of women and how to effectively recognize their contributions to society.  The academics we work with even raise the question of whether the unpaid work that women do in consumer countries has been successfully recognized yet?  This innovation in ethical trading clearly strikes universal chords. While it has been enthusiastically supported by buyers in several continents, it continues to be an organic development that offers as much through it’s process as with it’s results.  We are looking forward to celebrating these achievements and the bright future this programme has as it expands to help more rural women reach their full potential in their communities.

Supporting Farmers Affected by Climate Change through Better Business

This past June OXFAM published a discussion paper entitled: “Climate Change Risks and Supply Chain Responsibility“.  The paper explores the role that trade businesses can and should play in supporting the primary producers of raw products in adapting to the effects of climate change.  The paper highlights three case studies and uses them to formulate a list of positive actions that companies can take to help small producers and strengthen supply chains in the face of increasingly drastic weather patterns and natural disasters.  The three examples used are Starbucks and coffee production in Colombia, Marks & Spencer and cotton production in Pakistan, and The Body Shop and sesame production in Nicaragua.  Although each study contains a concrete example of recent climatic changes that have directly affected at least one season’s production, only the case study of The Body Shop included direct input from individual producers.  In fact, many of the actions suggested by OXFAM are drawn from the example of organized sesame farmers in Achuapa, Nicaragua.  The five actions identified in the report are:

  • Raise awareness and understanding of adaptation within the business
  • Ask producers about current climate trends and impacts
  • Build longer-term and more stable relationships with suppliers
  • Support community development and environmental sustainability
  • Work through existing institutions, including governments

Within these five actions, several specific suggestions are drawn directly from the example of cooperatively produced sesame in Nicaragua – such as working with cooperatives of producers, supporting reforestation and diversification efforts, and raising awareness about the often unseen and unpaid contribution of women in the production chain.  In reviewing the case studies highlighten in the paper, the SBN can add two additional characteristics of the Body Shop’s sesame supply chain that are examples of resilience in the face of climate change and increasing risk in production:

Small Producer Land Ownership: The case example of the cotton industry in Pakistan discusses the devastating impast of flooding in 2010 and 2011, which destroyed nearly 20% of the national harvest and affected 20 million people.  The paper explains that the financial burden of the flooding disproportionately affected small-scale farmers because a high percentage of them rent land from large land owners.  After the damage these tenant farmers forced to uphold their rent despite a destroyed crop, assume all the work of clearing and restoring the lands, and are most likely exempt from any government assistant money that is handed out to landowners only.

In Nicaragua, the land reformation that came as a result of the Sandinista Revolution in 1979 has resulted in a high rate of land ownership among small farmers.  The short term financial burden of destructive climatic events are still felt and assumed by producers, however the long-term advantages of land ownership include incentives for reforestation, better soil and water management, access to government assistance, and stability of production yields and quality.  Business supply chains could express support for national and local policies that help small scale producers gain access to land and mortgages, and help link farmers with sources of financing to facilitate land purchases.

Small-scale Producer Control of the Supply Chain: Although OXFAM’s paper recognizes the fact that the Nicaraguan sesame farmers were able to mitigate the financial impact of harvest loss because they provided oil rather than raw product, the ability for businesses to support organized farmers in gaining control of the supply chain is missing from the list of possible actions companies can take.  The example of sesame oil sales to the Body Shop shows that while both yeild and quality in the producer cooperative were negatively affected by heavy rains in 2010 and 2011, the negative financial impact to the region was mitigated by the cooperatives ability to purchase sesame from affiliated producer cooperatives and honor their sales contract with the Body Shop.  Companies who wish to build longer-term and more stable relationships with their suppliers can directly support organized small-scale farmers with financing and technical support to help them gain control of the supply chain, resulting in more resilient producer communities and a more consistent product.