THE LATEST: Expert Analysis: Improving Economic and Social Outcomes for Women Farmers in India

Expert Analysis
by Garima Joshi & Joseph Boulier

At Tanager, we believe that economic growth can walk hand-in-hand with social good. In countries around the world, Tanager draws on a deep well of experts to help companies and foundations implement their vision for sustainable growth. Below, Tanager experts Garima Joshi and Joseph Boulier examine the challenges faced by women farmers in India and explain how Tanager’s co-created projects work to address these challenges.

For the last eight years, Tanager has worked closely with farming communities in India, co-creating sustainable supply chain projects with forward-thinking corporations and foundations, including Mars Wrigley Confectionery, Walmart Foundation and United Nations Development Programme.  In the course of this work, we have seen firsthand how women are essential to Indian agriculture but regularly face inequality, disrespect, and a lack of financial and social mobility. Along with our partners, Tanager is committed to improving outcomes for women farmers through our projects. To explain Tanager’s approach to improving outcomes for women, it is first necessary to look at the root causes of the problem.

Tanager has conducted extensive research on gender inequality in India and around the world, including a compendium of good practices around gender training and gender analyses. We know that the everyday role of women in Indian agriculture is multifaceted and intensive. Women are involved in every aspect of work on the farm. Women prepare the fields, sow seeds, spray pesticides, weed, protect the crop from pests, and harvest. Women are also involved in the business side of farming. Women in our projects routinely sell their farm’s produce to middlemen, or in village markets, even despite restrictions on where women can travel and a lack of access to market information.

However, these essential and difficult jobs are often devalued by men in the community. Women’s contributions are considered “chores” or part of women’s household work. This lack of recognition of women’s key contributions to agriculture production means that they are not viewed – even by themselves – as farmers or businesswomen. This lack of recognition often demotivates women farmers, leaving them with a sense of hopelessness.

Another problem is women’s lack of financial independence. Typically, because men are considered the head of household, women are not allowed to make financial decisions and must abide by the choices of their father or husband. Women plant, sow, harvest and sell, and yet are allowed to keep only a small portion of the money for household expenses.

To address these problems, Tanager’s projects in India work to empower women with knowledge, tools, and connections to market opportunities. In the UNDP-funded project in Telangana, India, Tanager is training more than 5000 women fruit and vegetable farmers on the newest and best agricultural practices and helping them to adopt organic farming practices. Providing women farmers with the updated tools and techniques will increase their productivity and their competitive advantage, increasing community-wide recognition for their contributions as farmers and economic actors.

Tanager also works to bolster women’s ability to conduct financial transactions by establishing linkages with organized buyers, including Big Basket, Metro, Reliance and Spencer’s. The project also works to ensure that the money earned by women goes directly to their own bank accounts. This is very important, as studies show that women are more likely to spend money on their children’s education and other essential household needs than their male counterparts.

Finally, to promote networking and collective engagement, Tanager has established an all-woman farmer producer organization (FPO) in the Siddipet district of Telangana State. This all-woman FPO has already sold 272.65 Mt of vegetables and is now focused on expanding its membership and capital.

There is more to empowering women than just giving them tools and knowledge. Confidence in their abilities – as well as buy-in from men in their communities – is equally important. With the Mars Wrigley Confectionery-funded Shubh Mint project in India, Tanager’s team works to promote the importance of the rights of women to their communities and works to build women’s confidence through Self-Help Groups. These Self-Help Groups teach basic financial skills and encourage women to save money and make decisions on household expenses.  Men in these communities are engaged through community dialogues where the importance of women’s rights and gender-equality is reinforced.

This work requires patience and commitment. We are honored to work with corporations and philanthropic partners who understand that women’s equality is an essential component of sustainable supply chains. On this International Women’s Day and beyond, Tanager stands with our partners, our parent company ACDI/VOCA and the women in our projects to create a more equal and prosperous world for all.

Garima Joshi currently works on developing the supply chain of  organic vegetables in Telangana, working with more than 5700 women farmers, and working with 15,000 farmers in AP with an objective to improve incomes and lives of these farmers by making them market ready.

Joe Boulier has more than 12 years of experience implementing development projects around the world, including 7 years of experience leading teams overseas in developing countries. Joe works closely with private sector companies to develop sustainable sourcing projects that improve farmers’ productivity, lower the cost of production, and improve household incomes. Joe has a background in agricultural commodity marketing, rural loan development, change management, project start up, financial and transaction analysis, and program strategy. Joe currently serves as a program director based in Washington, DC responsible for supporting Tanager’s India portfolio of projects in India as well as overseeing Tanager’s procurement systems.