Women make around 43 per cent of agricultural labour whether they are migrant farmworkers, market traders, or caretakers. Despite this, women’s important role in global food systems is undervalued and women farmers often have fewer legal rights and social protections than men.
ActionAid conducted research across 13 countries in Asia and Africa and found that COVID-19 has exacerbated the challenges faced by women farmers. Increased burden of unpaid work, limited access to food and decreased mobility are just some of the issues that women farmers are facing.
Here are three stories of women farmers who, with ActionAid’s support, are overcoming the difficulties of the pandemic.
Mam, a mother of five living in The Gambia, took part in a training conducted by ActionAid where she learnt about business and farming techniques that are more resilient to the effects of climate change. She built a lucrative groundnut processing and soap-making business that allowed her to support her family, build a larger house and employ other women to help with production.
But Mam’s business took a hit with the outbreak of COVID-19.
“I spent a significant amount of money to process the groundnuts into paste and oil. Unfortunately, the trade fair was cancelled due to coronavirus. The lumos [weekly markets] have stopped. This makes the marketing of my products very difficult. The baobab and sorrel got spoilt and I sold the groundnut paste and oil at a giveaway price.”
To keep her business afloat, Mam applied for a small loan. This initiative, run by ActionAid’s partner Apex, meant that she could borrow money at an interest rate of 5% which is much lower than banks and other credit unions.
Now, Mam has restarted her business and is earning a steady income to support her five children through the pandemic.
“With cash support I was able to buy food for my family and restart my business,” Mam says.
Mavis is a smallholder farmer who grew up in rural Zimbabwe. After receiving training by the Zimbabwe Small Organic Farmers Forum (ZIMSOFF) in collaboration with ActionAid Zimbabwe, Mavis began growing drought–tolerant grain crops.
The crops she grew kept her family well fed and allowed her to earn an income by selling the surplus at the market.
But the pandemic presented new challenges for Mavis, such as closing the local markets and increasing the burden of unpaid care work.
“I stay with my grandmother and two cousin brothers. I spend a lot of time doing household tasks and sometimes I wake up very early in the morning so I can balance with my garden work. My grandmother is old, and it is my role to take care of her during this period of Covid-19,” Mavis notes.
Through ActionAid’s training Mavis learnt to cultivate small grains such as sorghum and rapoko and created seeds for her community to store and replant when needed. Community seed banks are an ActionAid supported initiative that increase food security and help women prepare for emergencies like COVID-19.
“These crops were underestimated yet they are nutritious. More awareness is needed to teach famers out there to venture into growing OPV [open pollinated varieties] crops and I have seen that less costs are also involved as they do not require fertilizers,” Mavis says.
Dulali is an agribusiness entrepreneur living in a village in Northern Bangladesh.
Since 2016, Dulali has been working with ActionAid’s partner SKS, participating in the local women’s savings group called Zamuna Women’s Group. In 2018 the group received livelihoods training which enabled Dulali to set up a small poultry business.
For a while, her business continued to grow and she was able to support her family.
But as was the case for many, 2020 looked significantly different for Dulali, and her income and food supply plummeted. Markets closed and transportation was limited making it hard for Dulali to sell her chickens. She was forced to close her business and sell back the 30-day-old chicks for much less than she would have made at market.
In the first two months of lockdown, Dulali relied on her savings.
“I became very frustrated when I lost everything due to COVID-19 pandemic and became desperate how would I support my family,” Dulali says.
Despite these challenges, Dulali was determined not to give up and with a small loan she was able to open a tea shop. Now she is earning a small income for herself and her family and is developing her skills as an entrepreneur.
COVID-19 has left women smallholder farmers in an even more vulnerable position. A donation can help ActionAid train women smallholder farmers – like Mam, Mavis and Dulali – in innovative business and farming techniques so they can improve their food security and earn a stable household income.
Read the full policy brief about ActionAid’s work with women farmers during COVID-19: Advancing_the_rights_of_women_farmers
 According to estimates by the World Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – http://www.fao.org/3/i4741e/i4741e.pdf
 Bangladesh and Nepal in Asia, and in Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, The Gambia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.