On International Women’s Day, Personal Stories on Tanager’s Impact

Introduction by Morgan Mercer, managing director, social systems

The contributions of women to the global agri-food system are numerous and well-documented. Upwards of 60% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries are women, and, according to the Ethical Trade Initiative, more than 190 million women work in global supply chains—in factories, farms, and packing houses that supply the world’s food products. Women across the globe also play primary roles in supporting nutrition outcomes across households and communities, which pays measurable dividends for economies and societies.

Despite women’s central role in these systems, persistent gender inequalities hinder their ability to maximize their contributions and to fully benefit from these roles. As a result, not only do women lose, but the entire agri-food system loses—in the form of limited agricultural productivity, hindered supply chain competitiveness, and stifled innovation and growth. The World Bank estimates, for example, that the estimated economic loss of unequal lifetime earnings for women is $160.2 trillion—nearly twice the value of GDP globally.

At Tanager, we are acutely mindful of the work that still needs to be done to create more gender-inclusive and thriving economies and societies. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we are taking the time to recognize the many ways our projects are playing a role in addressing some of these challenges. The following personal stories show how we’re changing sectors, supply chains, and institutions to better leverage the contributions of women and to remove the barriers that prevent their full potential:

Setting up her own business

In India, Self-Help Groups (SHG) operate as a sort of members-run savings and loan association. Komal Verma has been a member of a Tanager-supported SHG for the past five years. She recently completed a self-employment training arranged through the SHG.

Verma is now borrowing money to set up her own sewing business. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without being a member of SHG,” she says. “The training session has equipped me with the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully run my own business.”

Economic empowerment through savings

In rural Burkina Faso, many women don’t have the ability to access loans for various reasons. In those cases, village savings and loan associations (VSLAs), run by village women for village women, offers an ideal way for women to access small loans.

So it was for Maimouna Bayala, who serves as a cashier for her community’s VSLA, which includes 32 women. During the first cycle, with each woman putting in 100 CFA (the equivalent of US$0.16) to start, the VSLA was able to raise 703 125 CFA (US$1,158). “Last year, when we made the shares in June, it was the beginning of the rainy season. I used my share of the money to buy some seeds and fertilizers,” she says. Bayala was eventually able to grow and sell six bags of beans to help support her family.

The world’s potential

Tanager is implementing the Impacting Gender & Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange in Agriculture (IGNITE) project, which assists African agricultural institutions in integrating gender and nutrition into its operations and programming. IGNITE is staffed by technical experts who understand the importance of promoting gender equity. This includes Charles Karari, monitoring, evaluation, and learning manager for IGNITE.

Karari, who trains IGNITE local service providers and clients on how to evaluate data through a gender- and nutrition-sensitive lens, notes how women often reinvest parts of their income to their families and communities—thus multiplying the effects of their economic growth. “If women don’t participate in development because they are disempowered, then the world cannot attain its potential,” he says.

‘I can see the impact’

Nokuthula Mafikwana has been a lead farmer with the Imbewu Farmer Development Project in South Africa for the past two years. “Planting maize is no simple task, but this project came at a crucial time when I was only planting 4 hectares,” she says. “Now, thanks to this project and my leadership, the area of land I cultivate has increased, and more women, as well as my peers, are actively participating in the program and training sessions.”

Mafikwana adds: “With Tanager’s assistance in these areas, I can clearly see the impact. Initially, I found the program daunting, but now I realize its true value.”

Nutrition ‘intrinsically linked’ to gender

Josias Compaore is a nutrition expert for the IGNITE project, which supports African agricultural institutions in mainstreaming gender and nutrition perspectives into its operations and

programming. “Nutrition is intrinsically linked to the gender issue,” he says. In African households, he says that wives typically prepare the family’s meals while husbands may provide the ingredients for those meals. “Taking gender into account in nutrition enables men and women to understand their complementary roles in ensuring the food and nutritional security of household members,” he explains.

Compaore supports gender equity for another simple reason: “A human being who is not thriving cannot contribute to the thriving of those around them.”

‘You can see the transformation’

Fati Zongo officially entered poultry production in 2017. When bird flu wiped out her flock a few years later, she took advantage of a Tanager SELEVER 2 training and became a village vaccinator and trainer who supports other poultry producers in advancing their skills. “When you call a woman to embark in poultry production, you can see the transformation that takes place within a week.”

Zongo adds, “There is a huge gap between before I became a village vaccinator and now,” noting that for 6 years she had to walk everywhere for her poultry business, but after training with SELEVER 2 was able to earn enough money in 6 months to purchase a motorbike. From a nutrition standpoint, her family also now eats chicken 2 or 3 times per month.

Goal to continue innovating

After becoming a member of a Tanager-supported Self-Help Group (SHG) in India, Shilpa Verma says she uncovered a deep drive to take action. “Since dairy farming is a family business, I began assisting my family with it,” she explains. Two years ago, Verma borrowed INR95000/- from her SHG to purchase a cow. “Currently, I handle most tasks independently,” she says of her business. “I have also started exploring new opportunities for expansion and growth within the dairy farming sector. My goal is to continue learning and innovating to make our business more successful and sustainable in the long run.”

Improved standing

“While she had enjoyed being a housewife, 40-year-old Seema Kumari got an opportunity a year ago to break out of that traditional role and start a career as a social auditor. In the role, which was only available through a Self-Help Group supported by Tanager, she checks on the appropriate execution of social welfare programs in her Gram Panchayat, or village council.

“My standing in the family and community has improved because of it,” Kumari says. “My spouse is much more considerate of me and asks my opinion when we are discussing important family concerns.”

‘Before, I had nothing’

“Before, I had nothing,” says Julienne Kinda, who hails from the Boucle du Mouhoun region of Burkina Faso. Today, with support from the SELEVER 2 project, Kinda is a village vaccinator; secretary general of AVEAB, an association of village vaccinators that Tanager helped establish in 2021; and the breadwinner in her family since her husband became ill five years ago. “Living costs, electricity, student fees, clothing—I’m the one who’s taking care of these,” she says.

Kinda says she took that very first training from Tanager because it was an opportunity. She continues, in part, because “I want to provide support to [women], give them the right understanding” of what’s possible.