International Women’s Month: Focusing on Women in Haitian Agriculture
From MFK Agriculture Research and Extension Program Specialist Ben Wiseman
In honor of International Women’s Month, the MFK agriculture team reflects back at the ways a gender-focus was integrated into its work in the past year.
In April 2018, MFK agronomists worked with a gender specialist to learn more about the priorities and challenges of women peanut growers. This activity was part of the International Development Research Centre’s (IDRC) project for improved aflatoxin control in Haiti. Through a series of focus groups and individual surveys, a few important points emerged, notably that women use peanut production as a way to fund household businesses, raise livestock, and send their children to school. This implies that a hefty peanut harvest creates ripples of benefit in a household’s finances. Another significant learning point was that women complete most of the post-harvest tasks in processing peanuts, a finding that identified women’s importance in aflatoxin control during critical processing stages.
In June through September of 2018, MFK’s continued partnership with the IDRC provided the opportunity for a University of Laval master’s student to complete a peanut value chain analysis. While the value chain study considered all actors in the value chain, the majority of the actors were women. Of particular interest in the study was the extensive role that regional, woman peanut merchants known as Madame Sara, play in the transport and sale of peanuts throughout Haiti. The peanut value chain is in many ways an informal network of small-scale business women.
In October 2018, MFK met with the director of the IDRC aflatoxin project to design a component to act upon the lessons learned regarding women’s role in the peanut value chain. MFK is currently working on the project’s implementation with two associations of women involved in producing peanut butter from peanuts. The project seeks to introduce aflatoxin control methods to the women so that they can be local suppliers of low-aflatoxin peanut butter for their communities.
In addition to MFK’s gender work with the IDRC, women play a leading role in MFK’s ongoing Farmer Training Program. A practicum student from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri is currently working with the agriculture team to better understand the priorities of women participants in MFK’s farmer training program in order to plan ways the program can be more gender-aware.
With increased awareness of women’s role in agriculture comes increased understanding of the barriers women face. The observance of International Women’s Month is an opportunity to celebrate women in agriculture and to envision more equitable inclusion of women in the agriculture sector.