Women play essential roles in farming households, both in crop production – including preparation, planting, transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and postharvest – as well as household management, such as cooking, cleaning, managing workers, educating children, caring for the elderly. Yet, women face social, political, and economic structural challenges including (but not limited to) inequitable access to knowledge and training about the farm and household management, compared to men. For example, although women often make daily financial decisions for the household and farm, women are less likely to have access to knowledge on financial planning even though we know that knowledge improves women’s economic empowerment and financial independence. Women’s role as mothers impacts the quality of children’s health, which can be improved if women have access to programs such as the Clean and Healthy Behavior training in Indonesia.
While women already face challenges accessing trainings and knowledge, there is another barrier – lasting myths about women farmers’ capacities, agency and interest in gaining new knowledge. In this blog, we try to unpack some of these myths, using insights from Grow Asia’s pilot project focused on empowering women farmers in Indonesia, called THRIVE (Train Her to promote Resilient, Inclusive Value chains and Economic empowerment). This is a joint initiative by Grow Asia and Corteva Agriscience, and in partnership with AIP-PRISMA in Indonesia, as well as Edufarmers Foundation and Save the Children Indonesia.
During the THRIVE pilot in Indonesia, we delivered three non-agricultural topics (family health, financial literacy, and sales and marketing) to 281 women farmers across 6 provinces with support from our partners and field staff of Corteva Agriscience through their Ibu Hebat program for women farmers. This was the first-time farmers were offered non-agricultural topics in the Ibu Hebat program. We outline three main myths we uncovered and started to de-bunk during the THRIVE trainings in Indonesia, drawing on the experiences of project staff, partners, and women farmers themselves.
Myth 1: Women are not able to manage finances
Across ASEAN, women in agricultural households play a major role as farm and household financial managers, making decisions about types of agri-inputs purchased as well as allocating funds for education or health. But because women may not have adequate access to information and resources about financial planning, there is a myth that women farmers lack financial skills and knowledge. Our THRIVE trainers noticed that many women farmers did not factor their own time in the on-farm labor cost, which affects the profit calculations. Some women we trained were also unsure whether they were running at a profit or loss. After women farmers received the training, 98% stated they received new information, and 91% said they would use the information they gained to “make a monthly budget” and “make farm budgets”. So, we learned that it is a myth that women farmers are not capable of managing finances – rather, they lack the tools and resources to track expenses and income in a formal way.
Myth 2: Women farmers can easily access and prepare nutritious foods for their families
During the THRIVE training, we talked with field staff who shared that many rice and maize farmers in the area were suffering from diabetes. There are two myths here: (1) since farmers cultivate vegetables, they must utilize some of their crops for their own families’ nutritional needs, and (2) since vegetables are cheaper than meat, produce would comprise a significant portion of farming households’ diets. Instead, we learned women farmers often lack time to prepare cooked meals for the families, as most of their time is spent on the farm. They may instead choose more convenient options, such as instant noodles, which require very little preparation. Women farmers appreciated insights from the trainers about ways to make nutritious meals more efficiently.
Myth 3: Women do not want to join training programs
In some contexts, field staff notes that women do not participate in training programs, creating a myth about women “not wanting to join training programs”. Yet from our THRIVE training, we learned that there are multiple barriers to women’s participation. For example, women farmers must leave their work on the farm in order to attend training. Sometimes the trainings are far away, which requires additional cost and time for travel. Thus, compensation in the form of transport stipends is a great tool for women to be able to join training comfortably. The timing of the training is another crucial aspect of women’s ability to participate. Women farmers tend to be reluctant to join the training during the planting season as they are busy in the field. Trainers should therefore design programs around important seasonal considerations. In addition, some women farmers have young children that they can’t leave at home unattended, so trainings should provide welcome and resources for children as well. With these factors in mind, we saw that women do want to attend trainings – debunking this myth - but it is the responsibility of the training host to address their needs and create a conducive learning opportunity.
The learnings from the THRIVE program are just a few of many other lessons that Grow Asia noticed from the diversity of experiences we encountered during the pilot. We encourage our partners to keep these myths in mind during trainings or programs that aim to empower women farmers.
For companies that provide direct training to farmers, especially women farmers, these debunked myths can serve as reminders to ensure that the training is designed to cater to their needs and respect their preferences.
For NGOs that deliver programs and partner with companies to reach women farmers, please contact Grow Asia with any training materials you might like to share or to suggest partnering with THRIVE.
For women farmers or agripreneurs, we invite you to consider sharing your story on GrowHer.org, a microsite that supports and empowers women agripreneurs across Asia, to share more insights on your experiences and common myths you face at the field level.