Strengthening Rural Women’s Leadership in Farmer and Producer Organizations

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By Ronit Ridberg

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 80-90 percent of the food grown and sold in Sub-Saharan Africa is done so by women. And improving women’s access to training, credit and inputs has been proven not only to increase production,  but also to improve food security and health. This technical training, however, is not enough according to Jeannette D. Gurung, Director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN), who believes strengthening rural women’s leadership in farmer and producer organizations is a fundamental and obvious next step.

To continue to improve food security and health, Jeannette D. Gurung argues for strengthening rural women’s leadership in farmer and producer organizations. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Gurung spoke in Washington DC yesterday at an event organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development and International Food Policy Research Institute. She and her colleague Barun Gurung suggested that many leadership training programs fall short of their goals because when women return to their producer groups they are under-represented in decision-making roles, and the organizational culture favors a leadership style more often associated by aggressive and masculine tendencies.  Instead, they suggested, the institution itself has to be changed from the inside-out; addressing and involving men is critical in this effort, and the “content of a women’s leadership course needs to build awareness and skills to address the inherent predicament of leadership.”

Drawing from their experiences in Nepal and the Philippines, Gurung and Gurung described their project’s five objectives of “building regional /country capacity to train and mentor rural women leaders; preparing women members of producer organizations as leaders and change agents in their organizations; fostering enabling environments within these organizations for gender sensitivity and women’s leadership; promoting the lobbying capacity and involvement of women farmer organization leaders in national, regional and global policy processes; and creating a sustaining network of allies of women leaders.” WOCAN’s own network includes over 700 members in 93 countries.

While anecdotally the changes in producer organizations with improved leadership roles for women may be evident, the question of how to quantitatively measure change was eagerly discussed in the Q&A following the presentation. To read more about WOCAN’s Leadership program in Asia and Africa, see Rural Women’s Leadership in Agriculture and NRM Scoping Studies. And to read more about programs that focus on women in agriculture, see Turning the Catch of the Day into Improved Livelihoods for the Whole Community, Women Farmers: An ‘Untapped Solution’ to Global Hunger and Women Entrepreneurs: Adding Value.

Ronit Ridberg is a research intern for the Nourishing the Planet project

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