In the run up to the Livestock and Fish gender working group meeting in Addis Ababa in October 2013, ILRI agro-economist Jo Cadilhon shares some ideas on the importance of gender in value chain development.
I have finally realized the importance of incorporating gender into my research on value chain development. From a development perspective, numerous studies have shown how the empowerment of women (through education, increased incomes and getting a real say in household decision making) has a powerful impact on the livelihoods of households.
We, however, still need to make the connection between this wider understanding and the specifics of our value chain research. In particular, we need to gather information and data to prove that our value chain interventions have positive impacts on women.
So when the Mulukanoor women’s dairy cooperative in India approached ILRI to gather evidence to help it take decisions towards its strategic development, my colleagues and I jumped on the opportunity to undertake research on value chains with an obvious gender focus. This activity would make an extremely relevant contribution to the gender components of the CGIAR research programs on Policies, Institutions and Markets and on Livestock and Fish, in which ILRI is actively involved.
The Mulukanoor dairy cooperative is owned entirely by smallholder women dairy farmers. It currently gathers milk from women dairy farmers to produce pasteurized milk, ghee and curd, which it then markets under its own brand to consumers in the Karimnagar District of Andhra Pradesh. To develop its activities further, the cooperative wishes to increase the milk productivity of its current members, to widen its collection radius by enrolling more women dairy farmers, and to diversify its processing activities into dairy sweets, which would be sold to consumers under the already-recognized dairy product brand.
So as to help the cooperative make strategic decisions on how to pursue this business plan, ILRI is currently undertaking a dairy value chain assessment in Karimnagar Disctrict. Through focus group discussions with farmers and individual interviews of a limited number of milk traders, milk processors and sweet processors, we hope to gather an overview of the constraints and opportunities in milk production and milk marketing. This will allow us to provide advice to the cooperative on which new enterprises to undertake and how.
Now, how do we identify gender empowerment through our value chain assessment? We propose to do this mainly by choosing a sampling and survey protocol that allows us to disaggregate answers by gender and by market channels. Having first ascertained that it was not an issue for a male interviewer to gather information from women farmers in Karimnagar District, ILRI employed Kumara Swamy, a young professional who just completed his PhD in agricultural economics, to undertake the study. I accompanied him to the field in August this year to test a dairy adaptation of some of the questionnaires in the Livestock and Fish value chain toolkit.
He is now currently gathering data for the value chain assessment. Gathering data from the women cooperative members is easy because they have all been introduced by the cooperative. These women only sell milk to the cooperative so understanding the dairy value chain in which they are inserted is also relatively easy. To understand how women dairy farmers fare when they are not part of the cooperative, we have asked Mulukanoor cooperative to introduce Kumara Swamy to women dairy farmers whom it intends to enroll as new members. And we asked each of these ladies to come with a man dairy farmer they know from the same village. By conducting some sections of the focus group in gender-segregated groups, we hope to identify how men and women conduct their dairy enterprise, how they insert themselves in the value chain, how they make decisions in their household, and what are the constraints and opportunities they face. We will also interview the manager of another dairy cooperative with mixed membership to identify any gender-related differences in the marketing arrangements for dairy cooperative members.
Realizing that milk trading and sweet processing was undertaken by men only, the gender dissociation of our interviews with these chain stakeholders did not apply; we just needed to make sure we understood if there were any differences in the way they conducted business with their milk suppliers, whether men or women.
This small research project will allow ILRI to propose interventions to the Mulukanoor women’s dairy cooperative that are best fitted to support the empowerment of women in the local dairy value chains. Lessons learned will definitely be useful for adaptation to other geographical contexts and to provide further insights into how women are gaining from their involvement in agrifood value chains.
Jo Cadilhon, Senior Agro-Economist, Policy, Trade and Value Chains Program, ILRI