As a woman who has dedicated much of her education and career on farming and farming related activities, many organizations and programs directed toward women in agriculture have caught my attention.  In the states, there are strong women farmer movements, bringing women who run small farms together in networks or organizing workshop and lecture series specifically for women who want to learn to farm.  In Nicaragua I am very excited to be working to highlight women farmers and pushing the study and recognition of women’s contributions to family agriculture farther through my work with Social Business Network and Ético.

Historically, land ownership has been granted to and passed down through men in the family, and even though that is slowly changing most farms – and loans for farming – are owned and managed by men.  Which means that men have more access to financial and technical resources connected to farming.  In Nagarote, the sustainable farming project I ran had to put an extra effort into finding women who had land titles and wanted to invest in their farms – and even then women made up only 25% of the participants.  Interestingly, when we created a special initiative to promote urban gardening that did not require land ownership or have gender-specific outreach, nine out of the ten participants were women.  In the development world, there has been increasing focus on women’s access to financial and educational resources.  Women-only micro credit organizations, women-to-women investment programs, and scholarship programs to help girls and women reach higher education have been backed by statistics generated by reputable organizations such as the UN:  Women tend to invest around 80% of their income in their family’s health and education.  If women farmers had the same financial resources available to them as men do, their yields would increase by 20-30%.

The really exciting initiative we are piloting in sesame and coffee supply chains aims to stretch the concept of women in agriculture further by acknowledging that for rural farming families, the traditional domestic work done mainly by women – fetching water, washing clothes, cooking and bringing meals out to the fields – is an integral part of the family’s ability to produce a cash crop and should be counted as an input cost in agricultural production.  When products include the value of these essential – and unpaid – activities, the money generated is used for women’s empowerment, effectively taking the often ignored, unpaid work of women and transforming it into a valued, celebrated role in the family and community.  A key factor in the success of this initiative thus far has been working with well established farmers cooperatives, who already have a desire to work for gender equality and have strong grassroots organizations that allow women and farming families in the communities to provide input in how the funds are used.  In Achuapa, where our pilot began, the additional margin created by including a calculation of women’s unpaid contributions to family production during sesame production has been used to establish a special savings and loans fund through the farmers cooperative and educational opportunities for women throughout the region.  Among the most popular activities the women choose to invest in – family agriculture, mainly purchasing pigs, chickens or calves.