Why Farming Yields Opportunity for Women Globally

By Kathleen McLaughlin
November 6, 2015
Passionfruit hang from a branch in a field

When it comes to pressing global challenges like climate change, food security, and inclusive economic development, many look to NGOs and governments for the solutions. But one place that is also very much worth looking to is the private sector.

I had the opportunity to talk about this at the International Women’s Forum in Boston last week. One subject I addressed is how retailers are helping empower women farmers. At Walmart, we are passionate about this cause, and we’re trying to address it in several ways.

First, our purchase order can provide the assurance farmers and development partners need to plant a particular crop, or invest in better agricultural practices. For example, in Kenya, we have been working with Wilmar Flowers Limited, TechnoServe, and the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development to help 400 smallholder farmers grow sweet yellow passion fruit. At the end of the first phase of the project, in which farmers were trained on agricultural practices to improve quality and yields, we saw our growers’ passion fruit incomes increase 71%.  

Teresia is one of these farmers, growing mangos, beans, cowpeas and maize on 2 acres in the Mbeere District of Embu County. She embraced the opportunity to plant sweet yellow passion fruit, and put in 50 vines. Through the project her crop is collected weekly and is being sold on the local market. Teresia now has a regular income, and she is able to support her husband in paying school fees for their 6 children. “Due to this consistent weekly harvest and payment, I have decided to increase the number of vines to 150 in the coming season,” she said. “This crop is capable of educating my children.”

A second way we try to help is through philanthropy, which can go beyond business initiatives to accelerate social and environmental progress.  To date, the Walmart Foundation has funded training for nearly 800,000 smallholder farmers throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America — more than half of them women.

Our third strategy to empower women is using special initiatives to overcome specific barriers such as lack of access to capital. Through the WEAmericas Partnership, Walmart and other companies have come together with the U.S. State Department, the Inter-American Development Bank, and NGOs to provide training and develop innovative new financing mechanisms for women businesses to tackle lending challenges like credit history and requirements for collateral.

A fourth way we’re helping women farmers – and all farmers – is by developing tools to help identify and track aggregate progress on social and environmental issues in supply chains. We worked with other companies to launch The Sustainability Consortium, which produces a sustainability index. Nearly 1,300 of our suppliers use it to assess and improve the social and environmental sustainability of product categories.

And a fifth way we’re addressing these challenges is by engaging in dialogue with suppliers, policy makers and civil society to shift standards. With palm oil for example, we’re on track to meet our goal of sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil for our private brand products through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. We have been advocating with others for stronger RSPO standards that would address issues such as preservation of high carbon stock forests and peat lands. 

Our customers are increasingly interested in these issues. They want to know where products come from, and how they are produced. By taking on these challenges, we are doing right by our customers, improving our business, and helping make global systems safer, more transparent, healthier and more accessible.