H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), provided a virtual video address on how business leaders in the agriculture sector approach gender inclusion for the IDH-CGAP Gender Transformative Business Models Event on 15 November 2021.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is an honor to be here. Thank you to IDH and CGAP for organizing this event and for their commitment to gender equity in the agricultural and food sector.
Throughout my travels as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development, I have seen firsthand the essential role women play across food systems. Rural women are caretakers feeding their families. They provide labor on farms. They are agricultural entrepreneurs. And they are often innovators, exploring new techniques and business models.
Without women, no food security and no sustainable development.
I see this everywhere, but especially in developing countries. In these countries, eight out of 10 economically active women report that their primary activity is agriculture. It is impossible to reflect on the business of agriculture without putting the contribution of rural women center stage.
This is particularly important as we take stock of where we are today.
The pandemic has placed enormous pressure on society’s most vulnerable people. Women in agricultural livelihoods have suffered excessively. Millions of women – and their families – are facing income loss and financial stress.
Covid-19 has also posed huge challenges for businesses like yourselves. Supply chains are interrupted. Markets are less accessible. Non-performing loans are rising. And the list goes on.
Add to this climate change. In low-income countries, 25% of crops grown by smallholder farmers are projected to fail because of climate change. We can easily imagine the devastating effects on health, nutrition, education, and sustainable development.
While this outlook is difficult, today’s event is about seizing opportunities for the future. Our key mission is to better integrate women into business models in the food and agricultural sector. Our goal is to build resilience and improve business performance, benefitting us all.
Gender equity is a fundamental source of value creation for companies. This is abundantly supported by data.
For example, ILO found that six out of 10 enterprises in the agricultural sector report that gender diverse policies have contributed to increased profits and productivity. These policies include investment in skills and capabilities, mentorship, and maternity leave.
A study on listed European companies found that more women at senior levels resulted in stronger share-price performance, outperforming competitors on average by 2.5% per year.
When women are active players in supply chains and trained appropriately, markets become more productive. Uganda’s number one coffee exporter, Kyagalany, found that investments in skills of women are very lucrative indeed. Involving them in training programs led to a 60% increase in yields over five to eight years.
It is estimated that bridging gender gaps could increase total agricultural output in developing countries by approximately 3%. It means feeding an additional 100-150 million people.
This underlines the tremendous importance of economic inclusion of women.
While gender transformation in the agricultural sector presents significant opportunities, it is not an easy task. After all, how can we reach these women? They are less likely to own land and have less access to labor, technology, and finance. And social norms that shape women’s lives can be constraining, and slow to change.
So, what does it take to make this transformation a reality?
I would like to point out three areas of action.
First, build a business case for gender equity.
What gets measured counts. So, gender-specific data are key to building the business case and measuring performance. Knowing how many women are active in your value chains, both formally and informally, is an important baseline.
What are your current yields? What increases do you want to achieve, and how can gender inclusion investments help you get there? Making these calculations will show how gender transformation can add real value to your bottom line.
Second, develop a gender transformation strategy.
Change starts at home, in your organizations and companies. A strategy can act as an internal driver of gender inclusion and diversity.
Strategies can help prioritize financial and technical resources. And most importantly: they keep our eyes on the ball, identifying targets and intended results.
Third, very important, scale up access to finance.
Rural women represent 56% of the globally unbanked. While we expect them to sustain the global food system, they must very often do without quality savings, insurance, and credit.
One of the many inspiring examples of how this issue can be tackled, comes from Mali. Supported by IDH, female smallholder onion farmers got the opportunity to join village savings and loan associations. These associations also provided them with access to literacy training. As a result, yields from these farmers increased by 30%.
Greater yields means more income to diversify meals, which over time means healthier workers.
Digital payment and credit solutions can give businesses an extra boost, provided they are introduced responsibly, with appropriate consumer and data protection.
In conclusion: it is vital that we provide rural women with the financial tools and skills that enable them to uphold their indispensable role in the global food system.
Today’s event offers an excellent opportunity to take further steps in that direction.
I really urge companies to accelerate investments in gender transformation. I also call on you to join forces and to search for scalability across markets.
The time for action is now. This affects us all. Rural women contribute substantially to the 5 trillion-dollar global industry of food and agribusiness. It is high time we acknowledge their efforts and potential and support them where we can.
These investments will boost your company’s competitive edge and improve the lives of millions of rural women.