How women are coping with the food crisis in Latin America

  • Fears of a global food crisis are growing, as the impacts of climate change and supply chain blockages caused by the war in Ukraine are felt around the world.
  • These female entrepreneurs not only help farmers feed Latin America, but also provide organic farmers with better livelihoods.
  • From fintech innovation to organic farming methods, it is women who are changing the landscape of small-scale agriculture in Latin America.

Brazilians are no strangers to bouts of high inflation, but when grocery shopping became a “painful experience”, Priscilla Veras set out to find out what was happening to prices on the journey from farm to supermarket.

Through her former job at a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization, Veras came into contact with small farmers across Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, most of whom blamed middlemen for eating away at their modest profits even as consumers paid more.

“And who were the ones who suffered the most from middlemen? Organic farmers, family farmers,” Veras told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She sensed a business opportunity: if she could bypass middlemen who bought products such as potatoes and onions from growers and transported them to stores, she could benefit both farmers and consumers.

His idea turned into Muda Meu Mundo, which means Change My World in Portuguese, a startup that connects small family farmers to large supermarket chains in Brazil by managing logistics, transport and offering credit and technical assistance. to help producers increase their production.

According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global food prices hit a record high in March, as the conflict in Ukraine worsened food supply problems. climate concerns and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smallholders are responsible for around a third of global food production, according to the FAO, and they are bearing the brunt of a spike in fertilizer prices as sanctions against major producers Russia and Belarus reduce global supplies.

Customers look at prices at a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Customers look at prices at a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Image: REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

Helping small-scale producers weather the crisis will be key to averting a global food crisis, experts say, with some calling for a major overhaul of social inequalities in farming and the sustainability of mineral and chemical fertilizers.

In the case of Veras, this means training its network of approximately 350 family farmers, helping them increase agricultural production while using fewer resources, such as fertilizer and water.

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in closing gender gaps at the national level. To turn this information into concrete actions and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public-private collaboration.

These accelerators were convened in ten countries from three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Panama in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All National Accelerators, as well as Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a larger ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, which facilitates the exchange of ideas and knowledge. experiences via the Forum platform.

In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch an accelerator to close the gender gap. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women make up just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women in the labor force are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to move into leadership positions.

In these countries, CEOs and Ministers work together over a three-year period on policies that help to further reduce the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized childcare, and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention, and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries, you can join the local member base.

If you are a business or government in a country where we do not currently have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator, you can contact us to explore the possibilities of creating one.

fintech innovation

Nutritionist Constance Oderich took a different approach to her goal of increasing farmers’ incomes in southern Brazil: Instead of cutting out the middleman, she created a startup that bypasses banks and credit card companies.

Papayas, the company she co-founded in 2019, allows customers of the two largest agroecological fairs in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul to buy products directly from small organic and family farms, at the using an app.

Farmers pay less bank charges and receive payment within a week, but usually on the same day, instead of having to wait a month, and the company has grown its customer base by partnering with local businesses that have provided to their in-app food staff. vouchers.

“Today we are in almost 100% of the stalls,” Oderich said, adding that about 600 family farmers in the state are participating in the two agro-ecological fairs. “We have over 4,000 people using our app.”

More recently, they joined forces with authorities in the state of Minas Gerais, in the southeast of the country. They hope that at least 30% of the food purchased by schools, prisons and state hospitals will be purchased from family farmers through the app.

Groceries and a credit card machine on a stall in a market in Brazil.

A machine for credit cards is seen next to groceries on a stand at the Feira Livre market in Sao Paulo.

Image: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Latin America’s vast agro-industrial sector remains male-dominated. According to a 2019 report by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), women co-found only 11% of agricultural startups in the region.

For some, like Veras and Oderich, the main goal is to empower small producers, but a growing number of women entrepreneurs are transforming startups into major players.

In Ecuador’s mountainous Amazon rainforest, offering financial and technical support to family farmers is paying off for Maria Del Carmen Narvaez, who co-founded a plantain company, Agroapoyo, with her brother in 2001.

Their business was acquired last year by US-based Barnana, and Narvaez now runs Barnana Ecuador, the local branch of Barnana in Ecuador, which supports thousands of indigenous plantain and banana growers, many of them women. .

“It’s a chance to give women an income that goes directly to their children to help them go to school,” Narvaez said.

Biological agriculture

Working with more than 1,700 farmers primarily from indigenous Kichwa jungle communities, Narvaez leads initiatives to encourage growers to adopt organic farming methods, which can increase a farmer’s monthly income by up to 200%.

Barnana buys plantain directly from farmers at regular intervals, offering 30% more than the market price, providing farming families with a stable income.

Two people walk under an umbrella, pulling a grocery cart

A woman walks beside a relative as she pulls her cart full of groceries from a market in Feira Livre.

Image: Reuters/Nacho Doce

Thanks to grants and loans provided by Agroapoyo five years ago, farming communities achieved organic certification after a 12-18 month process costing around $10,000, which is renewed every year.

“When we started buying from the farmers, we deducted one or two cents from the purchased plantain to recover (the loan). It’s not going to have a big impact on them,” Narvaez said.

“It worked really well, otherwise the communities wouldn’t have been able to do it.” While few agribusiness entrepreneurs are women, women make up around a quarter of the agricultural workforce in Latin America and around 40% globally.

Yet women farmers often earn less and produce 20-30% less harvest than men, mainly due to the barriers they face in accessing loans, insurance and quality seeds, as well as the lack of land rights, equipment, storage and training facilities. .

Research by the United Nations and the World Bank shows that women-focused initiatives like Barnana Ecuador help reduce rural poverty.

Narvaez said she has seen firsthand how such projects can improve education and health outcomes, as women are more likely to spend their earnings on their children and reinvest in their businesses.

“The impact you have with women is greater because women distribute their income and knowledge better,” she said.

This story is part of a series supported by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative

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