Leveraging the Power of Small Agricultural Businesses to Address Climate Change and Gender Inequity

By Isabel DoCampo and Katie Naeve, Root Capital, and Luis Marquez, Value for Women

Globally, women farmers struggle to access land, credit, and training and bear a heavy double burden of farm and household responsibilities. These gender inequalities pose a serious risk to women farmers in the face of climate change.

Globally, women farmers struggle to access land, credit, and training and bear a heavy double burden of farm and household responsibilities. These gender inequalities pose a serious risk to women farmers in the face of climate change. Growing evidence shows that women’s limited access to farm assets, services, and decision-making power makes them more vulnerable than men to changing climatic conditions.

As key market connectors and service providers in rural communities, small and growing agricultural businesses (agri-SGBs) are poised to tackle both of these critical issues. That’s why, in 2019, Root Capital piloted an innovative approach to strengthening women’s inclusion and climate resilience, in partnership with coffee cooperatives in Mexico and Central America. The subsequent evaluation of this intervention, conducted by Value for Women, uncovered key impacts, challenges, and recommendations for how to best leverage the power of agri-SGBs to address the urgent challenges of gender inequality and climate change.

The Intervention

“Before the workshop, women members were not clear about the impacts of climate change on their crops; after the workshop, they identified those impacts, such as that the harvest is coming earlier, that there is not a uniform ripening as before. Now they want to learn more about the impact of climate change on their plots to mitigate it.” -Finca Triunfo Verde staff


Gender Equity Grants (GEGs) are a cornerstone innovation of Root Capital’s Women in Agriculture Initiative (WAI). The GEG program was launched in Kenya in 2016 to help agri-SGBs improve gender inclusion within their operations and communities—through a combination of technical support and a one-time grant to offset the initial costs of implementing gender-inclusive policies and programs. Root Capital theorized that the financial incentive of a GEG, combined with targeted capacity building, would create institutional momentum for mainstreaming gender inclusion over the long term. The first set of GEGs produced important benefits for the businesses, farmers, and workers, leading Root Capital to subsequently expand the program to additional geographies and value chains.

In 2019, Root Capital piloted a new set of Gender Equity Grants focused on helping agri-SGBs strengthen the climate resilience of women farmers. Root Capital worked with three coffee cooperatives: Finca Triunfo Verde in Mexico, AMPROCAL in Honduras, and Asociación Chajulense in Guatemala. Through a series of participatory diagnostics, in-depth trainings on gender equity and climate resilience, and project design workshops, Root Capital helped the cooperatives develop initiatives tailored to their unique climate and gender challenges. All three cooperatives used their GEGs to build the gender inclusion and climate resilience capacity of their staff and women members through technical assistance, credit funds, demonstration farms, and other initiatives. They also identified the most economically and environmentally vulnerable women in their member bases, and helped these women implement climate-smart practices on their farms.

Key Findings & Challenges

“I have already started seeing changes. Before, when I didn’t used to add compost, it was different, now the plants are growing more and healthier.” -Woman member, Asociación Chajulense

To understand the effectiveness of these grants, Root Capital partnered with Value for Women to conduct an evaluation with two of the three participating agri-SGBs: Finca Triunfo Verde and Asociación Chajulense. Value for Women employed a mixed-methods methodology, collecting quantitative and qualitative data from cooperative leadership, staff, agricultural technicians, and members, as well as Root Capital GEG staff, prior to and at the close of each intervention. This evaluation did not seek to establish rigorous causal impacts of the GEG program, but to identify important changes that occurred within SGBs and among farmers over the Gender Equity Grant period. The evaluation found that:

  • Women felt seen and valued — All women cooperative members surveyed reported being very satisfied or satisfied with the support provided through the GEGs. In fact, one-third of women said they felt seen and valued by their cooperative for the first time.
  • Women improved knowledge and on-farm practices — Women’s specific knowledge about climate change and resilience practices increased over the course of the projects. For example, 80% of women farmers at Finca Triunfo Verde responded correctly to questions about the benefits of shade systems at endline, compared to 38% at baseline. All of the surveyed women at Asociación Chajulense responded correctly to questions about mulching at endline, compared to 21% at baseline. This knowledge translated to practical results: after the intervention, women reported healthier coffee plants and less instances of coffee leaf rust than they had prior.
  • Businesses implemented institutional changes to increase gender equity — Following the GEG activities, more women were hired for the cooperatives’ technical teams, in roles traditionally held by men. Finca Triunfo Verde also solidified its institutional commitment to gender inclusion by developing a new strategic plan with a gender component, creating a new gender policy, and establishing a Gender Equality Committee on its board.
  • Businesses increased awareness of women’s needs — On-farm diagnostics conducted as part of the GEG projects helped the cooperatives identify specific needs of their women members. These activities also raised awareness among both leadership and members about the level of climate vulnerability experienced by women.
  • Benefits are rippling out to the broader community — In the case of Finca Triunfo Verde, the cooperative intends to replicate the project’s on-farm climate diagnostics with all members, both women and men.

However, the evaluation also uncovered key challenges:

  • Additional resources are required to reach women who face geographic, language, and cultural barriers. For example, the most vulnerable women tend to live in the most remote areas, about six to eight hours roundtrip from their cooperatives. Some women from Asociación Chajulense also had difficulties participating in Spanish-language workshops, as they only speak the indigenous Ixil language. The GEG program could benefit from additional resources (including larger grant funds and longer project durations) to accommodate these types of logistical needs.
  • Projects can unintentionally exacerbate gendered barriers and challenges. Some GEG participants reported that climate resilience practices created extra work and require credit to implement over the long-term. Women’s double burden of on-farm and household responsibilities may be worsened if technical assistance is not accompanied by access to credit that enables them to purchase inputs or hire labor.
  • Agri-SGBs that have never worked on gender before require extensive awareness-raising activities. While both cooperatives reported increased awareness of the importance of gender inclusion by the end of the project period, at Asociación Chajulense, this awareness did not translate to deeper institutional change. A clearer business case for gender- and climate-focused interventions would help create more institutional buy-in at organizations with less knowledge of and experience with gender equity programming.

Recommendations for Philanthropic & Business Partners

“The workshop helped us understand that men and women are equal, and that we as women, can also participate and make decisions, not only men can participate.” Woman member, Finca Triunfo Verde

For stakeholders working to promote gender inclusion and climate resilience via agri-SGBs, Value for Women developed important recommendations to improve the efficacy of GEG-style interventions:

  1. Provide incentives to agri-SGBs—alongside funding and training—to achieve gender action. For impact investors, these incentives could include slightly better loan terms for businesses that achieve certain gender-related milestones, which may nudge SGB leadership toward greater commitment to these activities.
  2. Apply a gender lens to real business problems to ensure SGB buy-in and sustainability. Like any enterprise, agri-SGBs are focused foremost on business growth and resilience. For gender and climate-focused interventions to stick, they must be tied to practical business challenges. Strengthening and mainstreaming the business case for gender equity and women’s climate resilience can ensure buy-in beyond a single intervention.
  3. Develop a participatory design process to engage agri-SGBs around gender equity. The GEG program relies on a highly participatory design and implementation process. Interventions should enact measures to enable women’s full participation—for example, facilitating workshops in local languages, developing materials for low-literate participants, and using examples grounded in women’s lived experience.

Action to build gender equity and women’s climate resilience is urgently needed, especially in rural communities. Agri-SGBs represent a powerful platform through which to channel and scale innovative programming on these and other issues. By leveraging the power of small businesses, we can collectively build inclusive rural resilience.


Read the full evaluation.


Value for Women and Root Capital wish to thank the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and the International Development Research Centre for the funding that made this work possible.


Isabel DoCampo is Senior Impact Analyst at Root Capital

Katie Naeve is Director of Impact and Partnerships & Lead, Women in Agriculture Initiative at Root Capital

Luis Marquez is Gender & Business Advisor at Value for Women

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