Addressing Agribusiness Challenges with Gender Smart Solutions
Mexicos agribusiness sector is one of the most influential business sectors in the country, impacting economics, trade, employment and even cultural norms. The number of the industrys small and growing businesses , including farmer cooperatives and agroprocessors continues to grow. Data from 2013 estimates 636 registered agribusiness SGBs are operating across the country. Because of the sheer size and reach of this sector, SGBs face intense competition and a constant need to find ways to increase both sales and operational efficiencies .
There is an opportunity, still largely untapped, for agribusinesses to address their business needs and to improve their business functions by applying a gender lens. Specifically, agribusinesses and their partners can increase business performance, improve internal operations, and reach more customers by applying gender inclusive solutions to common business challenges. Already, agribusinesses work with, source from, and employ hundreds to thousands of women. By adopting gender-smart and inclusive approaches, these businesses can simultaneously improve business performance while also generating a positive impact on women across the supply chain.
With an understanding of the competitive landscape of the agribusiness sector in Mexico, and a keen interest for applying gender inclusive approaches towards agribusiness performance, the advisory firm Value for Women and the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs , joined forces. Together, we created an accessible approach for adopting business-positive gender inclusion strategies in agribusinesses. The Walmart Foundation which has a farm market access giving program focused on smallholder inclusion in Mexico, Central America and India stepped in to provide grant funding for the work. The results of our 2-year project, Gender Inclusion in Mexican Agribusinesses, highlight both the challenges facing women in the agribusiness sector, as well as how businesses and intermediary partners can address those challenges while achieving successful returns
Getting practical - How to pursue gender inclusion in the agribusiness context
While many in the SGB and agriculture space are embracing gender inclusion, the big question many agribusinesses, investors and intermediaries face is, How do we do this?. The Gender Inclusion in Mexican Agribusinesses pilot was designed to address the question of how by developing a holistic approach to support agribusinesses with balancing the need to identify high-leverage strategies that address barriers faced by women producers, employees, and consumers, as well as keeping their focus on addressing business performance challenges. The approach elaborated here includes:
- A Business-self assessment tool: To systematically collect data in areas of human capital management, productivity management, and market analysis; and in turn to help inform decision making in these areas.
- Gender action cards: Road maps for addressing challenges identified in self-assessment
- Technical Assistance: Focused on data collection, data analysis, design and operationalization of the action card strategies, as well as assessing results on business performance and on impact.
VfW piloted this approach with five Mexican agribusinesses working in amaranth, granola, nopal, and vanilla, and found exciting positive results emerging:
- One company saw an increase in its overall sales by 46% compared to the previous month, and an increase in sales by 150% compared to the previous year, thanks in part to the significant contributions of an Innovation Group that brought women from different areas of the company together to think of new ways to meet the needs of women consumers.
- Gender- intelligent market research and the development of marketing communications based on men and womens customer profiles led to improved brand awareness of 2 of the pilots companies on social media platforms. This was measured by overall reach, as well as by positive interactions with media posts. On average, the pilots posts reached 56% more people than pre-pilot posts after the first month of implementation, and 92% after two months. The positive reactions increased an average of 37% in the first month and 88% after 2 months of implementation.
- A vanilla company measured the productivity of both women and men producers and first found that both achieved the same productivity levels- dispelling any myths that men generate more product. The company also found that women seek- more often than men- longer- term engagement with the company, and have more productive time to dedicate to this particular crop. With the goal of increasing productivity, the company saw fit to invest in technical assistance targeting women producers, inputs and business coaching. This has led to an increase of 4% in the number of women suppliers, and is expecting to see an increase of production of vanilla by 100 kg, or 0.6%.
In addition to these results, the pilot generated lessons learned for the agribusiness sector on gender inclusive business practices:
1) Benefits of gender inclusion strategies translate to both hard and soft skill improvements: The creation of new forums for participatory decision-making among women in non-leadership roles can increase skills and loyalty among women employees. Employees participating in the pilot and in new decision-making processes report that they acquired new abilities in teamwork, negotiation and effective communication. They also reported an increase in work satisfaction.
2) Sex-disaggregated data is key: Collecting and analyzing data from and about women is the first step to identifying gaps and in initiating change. Data can be used to design strategies that improve productivity, enhance customer targeting, and build employee loyalty. External expert technical assistance can be critical to getting a new data system off the ground, and translating results to strategies.
3) SGBs need to develop their own business case: Agribusinesses can identify the business-specific opportunities and wins of pursuing gender strategies, such as increasing sales among a specific segment of women, or bringing new ideas into their strategy by involving more women in decision-making.
Taking this work forward
As our pilot demonstrated, agribusinesses can address core business challenges by adopting gender inclusive strategies. As we continue to explore ways to expand on the findings from this initial pilot, we are eager to share our learnings and this approach with agribusinesses and intermediary partners. This methodology and the strategies we have tested are designed to be a jumping- off point for agribusinesses, investors, and intermediaries who are keen to launch and support new gender efforts among agribusinesses in Latin America and elsewhere.
We are all very encouraged by early results, and by the ability of this approach to potentially further drive market demand, and as a building block in creating more sustainable and equitable economies. Large corporations that supply from agribusinesses can adopt and test the approach in their supplier portfolios- using the simple data collection tools in their supplier portfolios, and by providing technical assistance to a subset of SGBs and larger suppliers. As consumers also increase their demand for fairly traded products and for transparent, equitable value chains, corporations have multiple opportunities to respond to consumers, to influence the market, and to work with their suppliers to continually improve the way that inequities are addressed, and in a way that also enhances sustainability and performance of the business.
The specific tools can be accessed for testing here and more on the case studies and learning here. To get support putting any of this into practice, contact Value for Women at firstname.lastname@example.org
Value for Women is a global advisory services firm with a mission to promote women’s participation and leadership in business, finance and investment around the globe, with a focus on emerging markets.