International Day of Rural Women: Empowering rural women through post-harvest cooling solutions
Today marks the International Day of Rural Women, an occasion to reflect on the essential contributions of rural women in food systems, and for InspiraFarms, to reflect on how we are working to engage and empower rural women through our work in the post-harvest sector.
Over the past decade, there has been a growing focus on empowering women in agriculture. A study by the United Nations reported that, in low-income countries, women account for 64%, of the labor share in agriculture, with low- and middle-income countries being 42%. Across African countries, women make up over half of the agricultural labour force, despite numbers varying such as 24% in Niger to 56% in Uganda. Therefore, agriculture remains the most important employment sector for women in developing countries and rural areas, a sector that largely falls within the informal economy with little or no social protection and labour rights. Yet, barriers and complex gender relations come to play, with reports showing that African women farmers are less likely, compared to men, to adopt improved crop varieties, management systems, and yields. Additionally, less than 15% of agricultural landholders are women, driving economic vulnerability towards women, who are predominantly reliant on agriculture for household income security, less decision-making power in households, and inability to access mainstream credit, to improve their agricultural activity.
Moreover, there are few incentives that empower women’s participation within more lucrative value chains, including export, contract farming, processing, distribution, and retail. In 2011, the FAO estimated that women’s yields could grow by 20 – 30% if this sector gap was addressed. In turn, this would stimulate a rise in agricultural output of between 2.5 to 4%.
Rural women along the cold chain
The global cold chain logistics market was valued at $202.17 billion in 2020, and, with increasing needs to extend marketing periods of fresh produce, is projected to reach $782.27 billion by 2030. In addition to providing quality and safe products to consumers, cold supply chain logistics largely contribute to the economy and workforce, especially for rural women.
In Kenya alone, exporters report that almost over half of their on-farm workforce is made up of women. Lauetta Farm, is an agribusiness in Zimbabwe, and InspiraFarms client and a successful blueberry exporter. Lauetta has created jobs in the rural area of Zimbabwe employing 50 workers for each of their InspiraFarms’ pack houses, most of who are rural women. Overall, they have 485, 367 of whom are women. Kenya Horticultural Exporters is also an InspiraFarms client based in Mwea, Kenya. As of 2021, the agribusiness had reached more than 15 out-grower farmers, of which 6 are female. They also generated 25 new permanent jobs within their cooling facility, whereby 21 are occupied by women. Finally, Instaveg Limited is a fresh produce exporting company in Kenya located in Kirinyaga County, whereby, over 60% of the jobs created within the InspiraFarms cold room and packhouse, are handled by rural women. In Latin America, Edgar, a lead farmer and an InspiraFarms’ client in Guatemala, owns an on-farm food processing facility close to crops of snow peas and sugar snap peas. He sources from more than 60 small farmers and offers food-safe aggregation to export markets. Through the post-harvest operations, (grading, washing, cutting and packing, the facility hosts about 80-90 seasonal workers, of which about 30% are women. Based on the above analytics, it is evident that post-harvest operations are a key factor for rural women’s access to decent work.
Evidently, women control quite a significant segment of trade in Africa – from the production of agricultural goods that are traded especially in export commodities like cocoa, coffee and horticulture, to processing, cross-border formal and informal trade.
It is estimated that food losses, especially due to the lack of a cold chain, are responsible for 6% of global emissions, compared to the aviation industry which is responsible for 1.9%. When food decays it releases Methane, whose GHG impact is 27 times higher than that of Carbon (II) oxide. The devastating consequences of such climate impact and environmental destruction can be seen across the world as land degradation, biodiversity loss, global warming and pollution. Women are disproportionately affected because of their greater dependence on and unequal access to environmental goods—land, water and other natural resources— as well as to public services and infrastructure, including energy, transport, water and sanitation. Secondary impacts of this, such as droughts, deforestation and land degradation mean that rural women, who are mostly responsible for basic family provisioning, must work harder to make a living, produce or procure food, gather fuel and collect clean water. Since the food sector is evidently a major source of climate and environmental destruction affecting rural women, incentives to minimise drivers, such as food loss, are paramount to serving rural women.
In conclusion, food supply chains offer tremendous opportunities in providing career growth and advancement at all levels, especially for women. As supply chains continue to face shortages, delays and bottlenecks, many organizations ought to adjust their operations to become more resilient and gender sensitive, to open more opportunities for rural women. In turn, the diverse perspectives of women can help to strengthen food systems in developing countries, as well as rural local communities.