Women reap the fruits of learning with women
Sichuan province is an important focus of our work in China. The Foundation’s programs there are giving women new space and opportunities. They are sharing and learning together as smallholder fruit-growers.
Farming worldwide relies heavily on the female workforce. Like other professions, it has the potential to drive women’s autonomy. Yet, across the ages and in all cultures, women are also generally expected to be the primary homemakers and raisers of children. Even in the twenty-first century, their opportunities beyond the domestic setting can still be limited. This tends to be particularly true in more rural and less developed areas.
Our team in Sichuan has always encouraged female smallholders to participate in workshops, field days and discussion groups. However, traditional family roles can often discourage such involvement. Women thus miss out on some of the advice and support available at these practical, communal activities.
Our Foundation has therefore designed a series of programs to bring together female farmers. Encouraging them to find their voice supports their emotional requirements. The programs also help them gain access to more profitable markets – rather than, for example, selling fruit produce in bulk at a lower price. “The ideas explored through these programs are informed by smallholder women’s perspectives and preferences”, comments our team member Duan Yuwei. “Experimenting with a female-only training course, we saw how this put many women at ease. It gives them the space and confidence to speak freely and bolsters their interest in mutually beneficial social networking.”
As one of our Diversity & Inclusion Champions, Yuwei is well aware of regional differences in China. “The larger urban areas provide women with good opportunities for increased empowerment”, he comments. “But for many female smallholders in rural areas, particularly in the north, their role is still a traditional one. Society expects them to stay close to home and have little voice in the public sphere.”
To attend agricultural events outside the home, women may need to feel the support of other women. Our Foundation therefore encourages female participants in the training programs to bring along friends if they wish. Many of the women have young children and are their families’ primary caregivers. Our Sichuan team therefore also organizes a temporary crèche. Volunteers look after the children while their mothers train.
Another important element of the program are the female tutors. They share their tips and experiences as women and encourage the attendees to experiment with different working methods. One of the tutors remarks: “I first participated myself in one of the Syngenta Foundation programs. I love the vibe and culture of respecting women. I was encouraged to try a lot of new things, and this made me believe I can make a difference. So I now want to help more sisters to do so.”
The women smallholders receive training on fruit sorting, grading and packing. They are also encouraged to incorporate modern techniques and technologies into their farming practices. These include using smartphones for online streaming and webchat sales. Learning how to use e-commerce to sell their produce also includes tips on access to market information.
Commenting on the Foundation’s training, one of the participants says it has given her the confidence to step forward and try something new. She has also made new friends through the joint experience. “Covid has made things very hard,” she reflects, “but I am inspired by all these women who are working so hard and doing their best to give their family a better income.”