Driving along the winding dirt roads of Kenya’s central highlands, it doesn’t take long to spot scores of women farming in the mist. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that women perform 75 to 89 percent of the country’s agricultural labor. Yet all too often, this labor goes unrecognized.
Years of unequal education and training opportunities have left women with lower levels of literacy and less knowledge of agricultural techniques and markets than men. Women’s opportunities in the sector are further impeded by their limited access to land, machinery, inputs, and services. This isn’t just unfair—it’s bad for business. Researchers estimate that with the same access to productive resources as men, women could increase their crop yields by 20 to 30 percent.
In 2012, Root Capital launched the Women in Agriculture Initiative (WAI) to promote greater economic opportunity for women by supporting small and growing businesses that are committed to gender inclusion. Starting in 2016, Root Capital partnered with Value for Women, an expert in evaluating business practices with a gender lens, to help three Kenyan clients—The Village Nut, Sagana Nuts, and Shalem Investments—design projects to improve their inclusion of women and enhance workers’ quality of life.
Each client was awarded a Gender Equity Grant (GEG) of $20,000 USD for a one-year pilot. Each invested some of their own resources to implement the activities, while the grants offset most of their initial investment and risk. Our hypothesis was that, with a little help, committed businesses could make short-term investments in women that would pay off for the company itself in the long-term—building a “business case” for gender inclusion.
Late last year, Value for Women conducted an initial assessment of the social and commercial outcomes of Root Capital’s Gender Equity Grants. They completed in-field interviews, focus groups, and a document review for all three Kenyan clients.
In the evaluation, we learned that—while each client chose different projects based on the needs of their respective communities—all three GEG recipients reported significant benefits at the individual, household, and enterprise levels. Some workers described increasing their savings and learning new productive skills, which had positive benefits for the individuals and their families. Many of those interviewed also reported that the GEGs increased women’s (and men’s) satisfaction with their employer, leading to mutual loyalty and a drop in the number of workdays missed. This corresponded to gains in productivity, cost-savings, and a more consistent supply base—all trends that positively affect business. Based on these encouraging findings, we are working to expand the program in East Africa and South America.
With evidence of life-changing social benefits as well as promising outcomes at the business-level, the GEG program is strengthening the case for gender inclusion. By reducing gender gaps across their value chains, The Village Nut, Sagana Nuts, and Shalem Investments are demonstrating the unique capacity agribusinesses have to improve the lives of women in rural communities. The success of the first three GEG recipients is evidence that financial institutions and agribusinesses can work together to improve women’s opportunities and company performance at the same time.