Losalio Daimoni is a female farmer in the Tigwirizane Farmer’s Field and Business School, and on Monday, she showed me a flipchart that made me sit up and take notice. I work in development, so my life runs on flip charts. It’s pretty rare moment when one astounds and impresses me. Losalio’s did.
Her flip chart shows how Losalio and her fellow members of the Farmer’s Field and Business School calculate the price at which they should sell their grain. As part of CARE’s Pathways program, the Tigwirizane FFBS has done marketing training that allows them to measure how much they spend on farming, how much they should sell for, and how much they earned. This may sound pretty basic, but for Losalio and her peers, it’s the start of a revolution. What is the big deal about this flip chart? It shows three changes in her life.
- Losalio is treating farming like a business. For the first time ever, instead of just selling their crops at harvest to whatever buyer comes along, Losalio and her peers are considering what it costs them to grow their crops, and what it would take to make a profit. Losalio said, “Before we learned this, we had no idea what to do. We just sold any old way, and took whatever price they gave us. Most years, we were selling at a loss.” Smallholder farmers live too close to the bone to afford losses. About 75% of hungry people in Africa are smallscale farmers, and this is part of the reason why. With no real knowledge of what it costs to grow food, and no cushion to help them through the year, they are at the mercy of buyers. Learning what they should be charging gives them negotiating power.
Not only is Losalio able to calculate her profits and losses, she’s also able use market information to decide when to sell her crops. Instead of selling immediately after harvest, when prices are low, she and her farmer’s group decided to wait until the price was higher, so that they could make a bigger profit.
- Losalio thinks she matters. A lot of the lines on Losalio’s chart count up the value of her own labor. It doesn’t seem like much, but in fact, it’s a huge change. In a world that very rarely values women’s work, and where women spend the majority of their time on unpaid labor, for Losalio to value her own time is practically unheard of. Even in development models that teach business skills, quite often we don’t count women’s time as an investment. Programs often depend on women giving their time and energy to new businesses, trainings, and volunteer work, and we do not count that as a program cost.
But the Pathways Farmers’ Field and Business School model counts women’s time, because we know their time is precious, and already occupied. We value the time women spend on the work they do to improve their own lives. This change means two things for Losalio: one, she actually thinks of her own time as an important asset, and two, even if she sells at a low profit, she will still have made a wage for herself over the time she was farming.
- Losalio is earning a profit. This year, Losalio’s crop earned 71,000 Malawian Kwacha, about $160 US dollars. That’s in addition to the $50 that she paid herself for her own labor. So this year from farming, Losalio was able to earn $210—roughly three months’ wages for the average Malawian. Instead of making a loss, she earned a profit.
So what does Losalio do with her income? She pays her children’s school fees. She has also noticed that because they are better fed, her children don’t get sick as much anymore. A little arithmetic, and learning to value her work have changed Losalio’s life. Losalio and all of her FFBS members have agreed that it is their responsibility to share the information with everyone in their community. They want to make sure that everyone can benefit from their new skills. They even have volunteers who work with illiterate people to help them with the math and the planning.
Losalio is not alone. She is one of 50,000 women farmers in CARE’s Pathways project, who together have earned more than $3.9 million on increased agricultural yields as a result of the program.
About the Program: CARE’s Pathways Program is based on the conviction that women farmers possess enormous potential to contribute to long-term food security for their families and substantially impact nutritional outcomes in sustainable ways. The program builds on CARE’s expertise in smallholder agriculture, financial inclusion, nutrition, women’s empowerment and market engagement. Working in partnership with others, Pathways promotes transformative change in women’s live and the lives of their families by combining and expanding upon the best of what we know. Pathways aims to increase the productivity and empowerment of women farmers in more equitable agriculture systems at scale. Specific objectives include increasing the productivity and empowerment of 50,000 poor women farmers in sustainable and equitable agricultural systems; enhancing the scale of high-quality women-responsive agricultural programming within and beyond CARE; and influencing debates and policy dialog on women and agriculture at local, national and global levels. Mali is one of six Pathways countries, along with Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, India, and Bangladesh.
About the Author: Emily Janoch is the Senior Technical Advisor for Knowledge Management and Research for CARE USA’s Food and Nutrition Security team. She has 9 years experience in international development, focusing on how to work with communities to get solutions that work for them. She has a Masters’ in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.