Mainstreaming Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) is crucial for sustainable development outcomes such as poverty reduction, inclusive economic growth and equitable society. With the forethought, CASA prioritises GESI in all its project interventions. Amongst many, one intervention under vegetable value chain is the partnership with a private company named Himalayan Supervores, which works with the processing of vegetables. The partnership entails GESI focused plans and activities with the objective of having greater number of women into the company’s supply chain and contribute towards gender transformative change in the agri-sector.
The GESI focused activities in the partnership include Post-Harvest and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training where women smallholder farmers from marginalized communities are prioritised, Gender Sensitisation training is given to the Supervores’s management staff, lead farmers and cooperatives and Training on financial literacy and development of soft skills to the women smallholder farmers are provided.
These intervention activities yielded remarkable success, evident through the overwhelming turnout of the women participants in the trainings and their positive feedback. Besides, women farmers who received the trainings started exhibiting active negotiation, networking and marketing skills resulting in noticeable improvement in their client acquisition and retention of existing clients. Additionally, Supervores began expanding their vegetable sourcing by procuring from greater number of women-led cooperatives than before.
Below are some of the key takeaways from the implemented actions that CASA wants to effectively integrate into future inventions as well, while also serving as valuable learning points for other projects seeking to replicate them in their programs for improved outcomes and effectiveness:
· Having female trainers ensures greater participation of female participants in the training sessions
The Post- harvest training began with a three-day Training of Trainers (ToT). CASA-Supervores partnership made sure that the trainers hired for the training were at least 50% female. The main objective behind having at least 50% female participation was to attract more female trainees and promote them as active members in the value chain.
Based on the observation of the training sessions, it became evident that female trainers exhibited greater enthusiasm and conscientious in their approach to work, spanning from actual training to documentation and record-keeping processes. Conversely, when male trainers conducted the trainings, there was lower attendance of the female participants, instances of the participants leaving early and a lack of efficient documentation and record-keeping. This realisation prompted a recognition that female trainers were more efficient compared to their male counterparts in the ToT training, leading to a deliberate deployment of larger number of female trainers in the subsequent field level training.
The field level training witnessed a substantial attendance of female smallholder farmers, which aligned with our primary goal for the intervention. Consolidated data for the training revealed that out of 2192 farmers who participated in the training, an impressive 1428 were female. Nelson Shrestha, the company’s owner acknowledges, “The increased participation of women farmers in the training was made possible due to the female trainers’ ability to foster a comfortable and supportive environment for sharing and learning which boosted the trainees’ confidence to actively engage. This was particularly significant as the trainings took place in Madhesh Province where many women are still hesitant to come forward openly to participate in such trainings.
· Equipping women with financial literacy and soft skills enable them to effectively engage as market actors
Traditionally, women farmers have primarily been involved in cultivation, production and harvesting at the farm level. The training program by CASA-Supervores partnership aimed to encourage participation of women farmers beyond production, harnessing their soft skills such as networking, negotiation and marketing. Further, the training also aimed at equipping them with financial literacy to help them access and navigate financial services such as bank accounts, loans, saving schemes etc. so that they make informed decision-making with their agriculture investment and livelihood.
Ms. Yamuna Roka, a training participant says, “The learnings from the training has helped us assess and mitigate risks associated with agriculture investment. We have learnt to articulate the value proposition of our produce, have a better understanding of pricing mechanisms, and negotiate better deals for our agriculture produce. We are better equipped with the tricks to build a strong client base, maintain harmonious relationship with the buyers and explore networking opportunities such as trade fairs, farmer markets and Agri-industry events.”
· Women from heterogenous communities ignite increased collaboration and foster the formation of strong networks
Training activities played a vital role in fostering strong connections among the female participants. When women from diverse communities come together, they exchange innovative ideas and best practices that have proven successful in their respective communities as opposed to women coming from the same community groups. The cross-pollination of ideas enables women to learn from one another, adapt alternative approaches and incorporate new innovative methods into their own agriculture practices.
According to one of the participants from the GAP training, Ms. Lalita Tharu, “The networks created during the training have provided opportunities for us to share our knowledge and experience about diverse agricultural techniques within each other, resulting in increased collaboration and empowerment within our women farmer community”.
· Deepening men’s understanding of gender equality contributes to the process of women empowerment
Normally when gender equality is brought into conversation, focus is predominately on women. However, it is crucial to recognise that gender issues extend beyond women, and men are equally impacted by them. Bearing this in mind, the plan for the Gender Sensitisation training was to ensure maximum participation of male staff members and lead farmers of Himalayan Supervores. To ensure the effectiveness of the training, a female GESI expert was hired. The outcome of the event corresponded with our expectation, with 50% male participation rate.
GESI expert for the training, Ms. Ambika Paudel says, “The training covered issues with regards to challenging gender norms such as husbands having more control over financial resources in the family, the importance of equal involvement of women and men in household and investment decisions, the role men can play in supporting the aspirations of their significant others and women colleagues and the ways men can create comfortable space for women to share their perspectives and ideas and ensure their voices are heard.”
A male participant in the training, Mr. Krishna Bhakta Balami shared his personal insights by expressing, “The training has motivated us to become agents of change for a gender inclusive society where women can thrive in all aspects, be it education, career and leadership roles. We also learned how men can contribute by becoming mentors and collaborators providing guidance, support and opportunities to women for their professional growth and development”.
The lessons drawn from the partnership have made CASA become more informed in making choices for future interventions. CASA is committed to tailoring programs and activities to the specific needs and priorities of women and marginalised smallholder farmers to help strengthen the gender equality movement in agriculture sector a one step further while contributing to sustainable agricultural systems. A global flagship programme of UKAid, CASA is implemented in Nepal by Swisscontact.