Research commissioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found that many international food companies could improve crop productivity and quality, grow the smallholder supply base and improve access to high value markets when they increase women participation.
However, in spite of such evidence problems for African women in business persist and the same research identifies some of the challenges faced by women in the agriculture sector but these problems could be true for other sectors:
- Fewer women are members of company contract farming schemes than men
- Many companies source from established producer groups, yet women are typically underrepresented in both membership and governance of these groups
- On male owned farms, female family members do much of the work, yet receive little of the income from crop sales, and have little say about how that income is spent
- Women are much less likely than men to benefit from technical training and extension programs
- Sustainability certification schemes are also less likely to benefit women than men
I carried out some primary research amongst a group of women in Kisoro SW Uganda and what I discovered bears out some of the findings raised above.
Kisoro is a farming community and the two main cash crops here are Coffee and Irish potatoes (there are two kinds of potatoes in Uganda – Sweet potatoes and Irish potatoes- this is the variety that most western readers will be familiar with. In Uganda potatoes generally refers to sweet potatoes).
Through conversations with the women in this village I learned that which cash crop the family business takes on is decided on gender lines.
There are a number of reasons for this.
The disparity between the genders with respect to property rights is huge in particular that, women do not own land and often work as part of the hired help but unlike the hired help women/wives in a family business do not get paid, their skills and labour are taken as a given.
I learned that whilst men prefer coffee as a cash crop, women have a preference for Irish potatoes; this is because as they have no expectations of a cash payment, they take their payment in ‘potatoes’ this means that, they set aside some of the potatoes for home consumption, which guarantees food on the table at the end of the working day. They can’t do this with coffee.
Women are excluded from business negotiations relating to coffee, as well as any coffee related cash transactions, such transactions are handled by men. A woman has no control over what happens to the money either and if a man decides to spend that money outside of the home for instance, it means that the money is not available for family expenses such as health, education, food etc.
I learned that domestic violence is rife and although authorities get involved, resolutions are almost always not to the advantage of the abused woman and that almost always this is due to negotiations pertaining to family income and if a marriage breaks down the woman is expected to leave any children and return to her parents
It was interesting to contrast these views with those of our guide. He is from Kampala the capital city of Uganda, He told us that as far as he could work the lack of education put the women of Kisoro at a great disadvantage as it means that they do not fully understand their rights and as such cannot argue/fight for those rights. He further stated that he would never dream of treating his own wife the way these women are treated and that his wife had rights to buy and own property without his permission.
Faced with such challenges, how then do women, especially those in rural locations become part of global supply chains?
What are the key challenges for MNCs who seek to include African Women in Business in their Supply chains?
What are the key challenges for African Women seeking to join the supply chains of MNCs, where are the gaps and how can these gaps be bridged?
Is there a role for governments, NGOs, donors?
Is there a business case for women as part of global supply chains?
These are some of the questions that will form part of the discussion at the Pre- International Women’s Day event on 2 March 2013 in Kampala, Uganda. The meeting will bring together business executives, women business owners, and experts from the business world and civil society to explore the opportunities that exist for women in business within MNC supply chains as customers, employees, suppliers and distributors of goods. Participants will share practical experiences and deepen their understanding of key challenges to women business owners becoming suppliers to MNCs and what can be done to bridge the gaps and what is needed to bridge those gaps.
This blog was first published on Africa on the Blog, and is reproduced with permission.
The event is sponsored by Business Fights Poverty, Uganda Manufacturer’s Association, SABMiller/Nile Breweries Ltd and is part of a collaborative effort by Center for African Studies at SOAS,Africa on The Blog, Ugandan business networks to rally business energy and expertise around inclusive business models.
To register for this event please visit: