How Climate-Smart Cashews Nourish Gender Equity and Environmental Sustainability
This post is by Cristina Manfre, Global Gender Director, and Devon Melville, Deputy Chief of Party, BeninCajù.
Climate change threatens to reshape our world, but its effects will not be distributed equally. The United Nations Climate Change panel found that it "exacerbates existing inequalities between men and women." Women farmers are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change for a number of reasons. On average, they have less access to extension services, savings, and finance; they have unequal decision-making in households and organizations; and the land that they farm is more likely to be susceptible to natural disasters and climate shocks. Such is the case for rural women in Latin America. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change can “augment unequal household gender dynamics and contribute to resource grabbing and violence as a means to maintain control,” according to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
But boosting the resilience of women farmers can help to address these risks. A recent case study about the BeninCajù program — a partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and TechnoServe to support livelihoods in Benin’s cashew value chain — highlights some of the ways that we can create more inclusive agricultural systems that support the resilience of women farmers to climate change and other shocks.
Improving access to training on climate-smart agriculture for women smallholders
It’s imperative that farmers have training on adapting climate-smart agriculture to improve production and to better navigate shocks such as climate change. Yet we know that women are less likely to receive extension services, including such training. One reason is childcare responsibilities that often make it difficult for them to attend meetings, which means it's very important that we consider when and where we schedule trainings, as well as provide adequate accommodations for mothers and other caretakers.
In the program’s first year, just 18 percent of training participants were women, reflecting the inequalities in the sector. By adopting a gender lens in recruitment, the international and local organizations that carry out the training under BeninCajù were able to boost the share of participants who were women to 40 percent within two years.
Boost women’s access to assets and resources
It is essential that women farmers have the capacity to adapt to changing climatic conditions. Access to finance or savings is important for climate resilience because it enables people to invest in their farms, withstand inevitable droughts and disruptions, and provide protection against lost harvests. But traditional financial institutions rarely serve smallholder farmers well, and this is particularly true for women farmers. Alternative savings groups are one way to work around this challenge. With the BeninCajù program, cashew producers receive financial education and training to help them start or join savings and internal loan communities. As a result, more than $500,000 has been distributed to nearly 8,500 members of these groups. The importance of being able to access cash through savings and internal loan communities during times of crisis was apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many farmers faced economic challenges.
Inequality in household-level decision-making also makes it more difficult for women farmers to access needed resources, so it’s important to engage both men and women on more equitable household dynamics. In the case of BeninCajù, modules on the topic were included in the agronomy training program provided to men and women farmers. The impact on attitudes was significant: using the five-point Ladder of Power and Freedom Scale, women’s perception of their power in cashew decision-making grew from one to three between the beginning and end of the program, while men reported a decline from 4.5 to three, signalling more equitable dynamics within households.
Make organizations more inclusive
Farmers cannot confront the impact of climate change and other shocks alone: They need an ecosystem of supportive farmer organizations and government agencies. It is vital that these organizations promote the leadership of women and adopt a gender lens to their activities. In Benin, the BeninCajù program worked with the Fédération Nationale des Producteurs d'Anacarde du Bénin (FENAPAB), the national cashew-grower cooperative union, to create greater awareness of the need to engage women as both members and leaders. The union halved the amount of land farmers needed to own to join a cooperative to make membership more accessible to women, and women leaders have had more opportunities to rise through the organization. As a result, between 2017 and 2021, the number of women members has increased from 745 to 20,891. “Five years ago, I would have never imagined that the FENAPAB would be directed by a woman. Nowadays, there are three women within the board of directors of the FENAPAB. Before, the role of women was really minimum,” said one staff member at the organization.
The program has also helped l'Agence Territoriale de Dévelopement Agricole (ATDA 4), the public-sector agency promoting the production of cashew and other cash crops, to raise awareness of gender issues among its staff. The program worked with the agency to identify 26 local leaders in the cashew sector to serve as gender focal points, helping to embed a gender lens at the community level.
Increasing the competitiveness of the industry
By taking these approaches, BeninCajù has strengthened the climate resilience of women in cashew-growing communities while improving the competitiveness of the sector as a whole. The program aims to increase yields and revenues for 42,000 smallholder cashew farmers, catalyze the development of the nascent by-product market, and set the sector on a path for continued growth and success.
Women are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change around the world. By engaging with actors across value chains and food systems, we can help ensure that women have the skills, resources and power to better navigate this growing challenge. TechnoServe is committed to climate change mitigation and adaptation by implementing programs like BeninCajù which provides access to knowledge, networks and markets within the agricultural sector.
Women in Benin's cashew value chain describe their challenges
Women in Benin's cashew value chain describe changes from the program