Gender mainstreaming in value chain development triggers women’s empowerment in Uganda

Gender mainstreaming in value chain development triggers women’s empowerment in Uganda

A gender focus introduced in value chain development in Uganda has allowed women and men to start new seed businesses, to train other farmers, and to share planting material of varieties that consumers want.

Banana is a major staple in Uganda. However, traders and other value chain actors face post-harvest loses that limit their incomes. The ‘Expanding utilization of roots, tubers and bananas and reducing their post-harvest losses’ (RTB-ENDURE) project implemented the Participatory Market Chain Approach (PMCA) with a gender lens to address this concern.

Jointly facilitated by Bioversity International and the International Potato Center (CIP), the PMCA began with a gendered value chain study to identify the needs of banana value chain actors and new market opportunities specifically considering post-harvest losses. This identified the short shelf-life of most cooking banana cultivars and the mismatch between the varieties grown by farmers and those demanded by consumers. Other challenges included low production of the market-preferred varieties due to a lack of access to clean and affordable planting materials, and limited linkages between farmers and major market outlets. Male and female value chain actors also highlighted these challenges in the first stakeholders’ meeting held as part of the PMCA.

During the PMCA, thematic groups were created in order to stimulate innovation in banana value chains, and seed was identified as a business opportunity for women. In several meetings of the seed group, banana market chain actors created a joint plan to focus on these business opportunities. Consequently, a low-cost seed multiplication technology using macropropagation techniques, developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), was introduced with five women’s groups and five men’s groups in Rakai and Isingiro districts in Uganda. Male and female farmers were trained to build the macropropagation and hardening chambers with locally available materials. They also learned to prepare corms and other seed production techniques. Farmer groups working with the RTB-ENDURE project developed gendered business plans so that men and women would reap equitable benefits.

The seed thematic group in PMCA was aligned to an existing Banana Multi-Stakeholder Platform to build trust and avoid the expense of costly thematic meetings. Male and female farmer representatives were elected to sub-county, district and regional level platforms, further increasing farmers’ networks with traders, input suppliers, fellow-farmers and other stakeholders. The chairperson of Bakyala Kwekulanya (‘women in development’) seed production group in Rakai was introduced to several potential seed buyers from these interactions.

When the first plantlets were nearly ready, farmers sold them using seed distribution models which ensured that both men and women members accessed clean seed of the market-preferred cultivars in exchange for labor, such as fetching irrigation water, preparing corms and weeding. When neighboring farmers saw the performance of the improved seed, they also ordered planting material. Women found it easier to access seed from women’s groups and men from men’s groups. In Rakai, one farmers’ group could not meet the high demand for seed and turned to the thematic group for advice.

The first strategy was to organize collective marketing with other groups. However, the seed was bulky and the groups were far apart. So the Bakyala Kwekulanya women’s group devised a strategy to build a new commercial chamber using their own funds. At a final event attended by district officials, technical experts and the private sector, the group showcased the large, new chamber. The district councilor was impressed and offered the group a grant of USD2,000.

The group realized the need to work harder to address challenges such the lack of water during the long dry season in Rakai, and to try other seed production methods they had learned. This required financial and technical support, yet the initial project had ended. This is when they banked on the linkages created during the project, especially with the Banana Multi-Stakeholder Platform. The group was able to acquire a water tank which eased the water shortage. The group also produced and sold plantlets worth USD3,000 in 2017, and now offer training services to NGOs to train other farmers in clean seed production.

Using a gender lens with PMCA enabled women to identify, access and benefit directly from a series of innovations. The reflexive process of identifying and addressing market chain bottlenecks and opportunities enhanced their negotiation and planning skills as well as their overall self-esteem. Income generated by the new initiatives is controlled by women, enhancing their economic empowerment. Their journey towards sustainability and growth is challenging, but for Bakyala Kwekulanya women’s group, it is one they are willing to pursue and invest in.

Photo: A gender focus introduced in value chain development allowed farmers to start seed businesses, producing planting material of varieties that consumers want. Credit: S.Quinn/CIP