Empowering women in agriculture with environmental knowledge

18 March 2015
ITC News
Better knowledge about the environment and standards is helping promote gender equality in Kenya and Peru.

Is there a link between women’s economic empowerment and sustainable and environmentally friendly trade? At the International Trade Centre (ITC) we think so. And this is why ITC’s Trade and Environment Programme is working to empower women in agri-food and natural product value chains.

Women producers and collectors are particularly vulnerable due to disparities between men and women in land ownership, education and access to credit. By delivering capacity building on sustainability and market access to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises’ (MSMEs) and their suppliers, the position of women in these export value chains is strengthened.

For example, in Kenya and Uganda, ITC has been working with the tea sector to measure and reduce its energy costs and find ways to adapt to climate change. In Kenya, the tea sector is a major employer of women, who represent 60% of employees. Increased temperatures are having a marked effect on productivity, and raising costs for producers in terms of more spraying and labour.

Joyce Njeri Muchina is one of the 5,600 farmers who have benefitted from ITC TEP training programmes. A tea farmer from Makomboki, 90 km north of Nairobi, she says that the ITC project has increased her annual income from tea by over 20% and she has also been able to reduce fuel costs. ‘I can keep my children in school, I can buy clothes more regularly than before and I have bought a dairy cow,’ she said.

Techniques learnt by Ms. Muchina include the identification of new pests migrating to the area as a result of the warmer weather, and mulching. Participants also learned techniques in drip irrigation, which requires 30% to 70% less water than traditional methods.

Mary Njenga, a bio-energy and environmental scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), who comes from a tea-growing family in the region, said that the ITC-backed training is efficient in raising awareness of climate change and environmental gains to be had from saving energy. ‘[ITC] are doing a good job in working with tea factories to enhance their energy use efficiency, which will not only contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change, but will also improve farmers’ benefits,’ she said.

To learn more about Ms. Muchina and how ITC helps her and other farmers addressing climate change in Kenya's tea sector, watch this video.

Gender-equality selection criteria for beneficiaries in Peru

A balanced male-female employee ratio is one of the main qualification criteria to for MSMEs wishing to participate in ITC’s Trade and EnvironmentProgramme. This way, the companies are encouraged to ensure equal pay and working conditions for women.

In the remote areas of the Peruvian Andes, ITC beneficiaries are cultivating a range of grains and fruits, including cacao and quinoa.  However, it is a region where women are often assigned the traditional role of being a mother and housewife. Most women marry at a young age and they are often deprived of secondary education and access to jobs.

By virtue of its gender-based selection criteria, ITC is widening opportunities for women to get jobs in agri-processing companies.

This importance of empowering women in the workplace is also acknowledged by the companies ITC works with. ‘In general, female traders and company trainers interact more with women on the farm level. As a result, these women are now encouraged by their husbands to work on the field during harvest,’ said the head of one Andean grain exporter working with ITC. And that matters. Not only are the women given an opportunity to work, they are also receiving more respect by demonstrating that they, too, can provide an income and do a job at least as well as their husbands.

Learn more about ITC’s Trade and Environment programme