Enhancing the Livelihoods of ‘Hidden Women’ in Global Smallholder Value Chains

Join us for this live written panel discussion on Enhancing the Livelihoods of ‘Hidden Women’ in Global Smallholder Value Chains. This event is part of the Business Fights Poverty Global Summit.

LIVE Panel
Wednesday 23 June 2021, 9.30-10.30AM EDT / 2.30-3.30PM BST

Many systemic challenges prevent smallholder farmers from accessing sustainable, equitable livelihoods. When it comes to women, these challenges are exacerbated – often women’s role in smallholder value chains is unclear, unrecognised or undervalued, and they face additional complex social and economic barriers compared to their male peers. How can we design interventions that not only deliver sustainable livelihoods for smallholder farmers, but ensure that the ‘hidden women’ in these supply chains are fairly recognised and their role valued? How can we encourage collaborations between global actors – civil society, governments, companies and their suppliers – to develop and scale solutions that enhance the livelihoods of women small scale farmers?


Leena Camadoo, Global Advisor - Women’s Economic Justice, Oxfam GB

Stephanie Daniels, Senior Program Director, Sustainable Food Lab

Julie Greene, VP Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability, Olam

Anu Huhtisaari, Senior Programme Manager, Ethical Tea Partnership

Ilaria Ida, Global Senior Manager Sustainable Sourcing - Livelihoods and Partnerships, Unilever

Inge Jacobs, Sr Manager Human Rights and Income, Cocoa, Mars

Emmanuel Mancion, Director & Head of Global Sales, Marcatus

Suzanne Munson, Director of Global Partnerships & Alliances, Heifer International

Martha Rainer Opoku Mensah, Programme Officer, livelihoods and private sector, Oxfam in Ghana

Leticia Yankey Cocoa Farmer, Ghana


  1. What are the biggest challenges to enhancing the livelihoods of ‘hidden women’ in global smallholder farmer value chains? What are the levers of change?

  2. What are the biggest learnings from your own experiences in this space?

  3. How can we design collaborative partnerships that better enable women to benefit within smallholder value chains and ensure sustainable, resilient livelihoods?


This is a text-based discussion. Panelists will be sharing their insights live below in writing. There is LIVE video meeting taking place in parallel for you to meet and interact with other participants. After the live session, this discussion will remain open, so please do continue to share your insights.

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Hello - this is Leena from Oxfam. Looking forward to this afternoon’s discussion exploring how to enhance the livelihoods of smallholder women in global value chains.


Hello this is Ilaria Ida Walton working at Unilever on our Smallholders Livelihoods work. Really looking forward to this learning session today!


Hello. This is Anu Huhtisaari from the Ethical Tea Partnership. Looking forward to the session this afternoon!


Hello, I am Elizabeth Njenga working at KTDA Foundation, supporting the implementation of Economic Empowerment and Climate change programmes across the tea landscapes. Looking forward to contributing and learning during this session.

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Hello! Am Leticia A Yankey, 2019 Most enterprising female cocoa farmer, the founder and chairperson of Cocoa Mmaa (women in cocoa cooperative) in Ghana . Hoping to connect with you during this afternoon disscussion.


I am Martha Rainer Opoku Mensah. Programme Officer, livelihoods and private sector. I work with Oxfam in Ghana based in Accra

Hello! This is Stephanie Daniels from the Sustainable Food Lab and the Living Income Community of Practice. I’m looking forward to the conversation today and learning from all of you!

Hi Everyone! I am Suzanne Munson, Director of Global Partnerships and Alliances at Heifer International. Very much looking forward to our discussion today.

Hello Everyone! this is Hariprasad Uday, Responsible Farming Lead (India) at Marcatus QED. I am very much looking forward to the conversation and take away great learnings to help support smallholder farmers and specially women farmers.

Hi everyone, this is Julie Greene from Olam International. I’m looking forward to learning and sharing about how to foster inclusive livelihoods, especially for women farmers

Hello! I am Inge Jacobs, Global Senior Manager Human Rights and Income, Cocoa for Mars Wrigley. I lead our work on human rights, income and gender in our extended cocoa supply chain, across the different origins where we source cocoa! Happy to join!

Hello and welcome to the live portion of this online written discussion. If you haven’t introduced yourself already please do.

Then our first question today is:

Great question! I find it really interesting that we talk about women being ‘hidden’. Arguably, this framing itself is problematic because it reduces women to being passive actors. Yet, women smallholders are there working longer hours than men. They are responsible for vital functions in the production of cash crops, they often bear primary responsibility for producing food crops and they bear almost all of the responsibility for unpaid care work and domestic work, both in the household and the community. So why do other actors not ‘see’ them? Why does the system not see them? Whose behaviour needs to change?


I agree, Leena. Women own less than 20% of land in the world, despite accounting for nearly half of the world’s smallholder farmers and producing much of the world’s food (up to 70% in Africa, for example). Their lack of ownership is due to customary laws that discriminate against women and give precedence to men, preventing women from owning land, accessing finance and markets, reducing their ability to generate income and achieve financial independence.

The pandemic has further impacted women’s livelihoods and ownership in smallholder farmer value chains, with women’s jobs globally 1.8 times more vulnerable to the pandemic than men’s jobs. By the end of 2021, it is estimated that around 435 million women and girls will live on less than $1.90 a day.

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• First of all, women contribute about 40% of the labor force within the Agric sector in Ghana but, their efforts are not recognized. The term ‘hidden women’ explains this. They are doing more but, they are not recognized therefore considered as ‘hidden’. Women farmers face lots of challenges compared to their male counterparts such as gendered social norms, unpaid care work, lack of recognition, gender stereotypes. They also have limited access to productive resources such as unequal access to resources- land/finance/inputs, labor, and others. This makes it difficult for them to realize their self-urgency and to be economically empowered.

Good question. Women are most likely to suffer from poverty and its impacts, such as violence, poor nutrition, and a lack of access to education and employment. In addition, women usually carry the burden of unpaid household and care work, contributing to poorer livelihoods.

Woman farmers often have less access to agricultural inputs, credit, and agricultural extension advisory services which support farmers to improve their productivity than men; Women farmers are also less likely to benefit from government subsidy schemes. The low number of women in leadership positions in smallholder associations means that women are largely underrepresented in the smallholder sector.

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I think the biggest challenge is the complexity of delivering holistic interventions. I believe it will take a multi-prong approach which we are currently testing in cocoa in Cote d’Ivoire:
o Socio-Cultural level: Importance to address women economic empowerment not in isolation from gender norms. We are promoting cultural shifts via household dialogues and are scoping a project for community sensitisation via theatre/radio.
o Technical level: Give access to income diversification training and access to inputs.
o Institutional level: Access to joint land ownership documents; For example, a consortium called CLAP with Meridia and other cocoa companies is simplifying the land tenure process through advanced data collection and joint land titles to advance women’s land ownership.
o Economic level: Access to finance and savings; examples include the setting up of VSLAs and cash transfers.
o Social capital: Training in entrepreneurial and business skills; gender sensitisation and co-op level.
o Physical capital: Innovation on time saving to lessen the burden and time women spend doing household chores (e.g. cookstoves).


This is very true Martha. Women are facing many systemic barriers within agricultural value chains. Interestingly, it wasn’t always like this. In precolonial times, women in many countries played an important role in agriculture and in society and had ownership over resources including land. This reality was ignored by the colonisers who exported their own gender biases to other countries and assumed that men owned the land and were leaders. The introduction of cash crops to these markets led to a loss of women’s political and economic power. These markets today continue to undermine women’s work and status by wedging them into discriminatory market systems. What would a fair market system look like?


Additionally, climate change is one of the biggest challenges in global smallholder value chains. Women farmers are particularly vulnerable to climate change as they are highly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and they often lack the resources needed to deal with its impacts.

Building climate resilience among women smallholders is key to improving their livelihoods. The Economic and Climate resilience for women programme helps farmers in Kenya access and replant tea clones that are better suited to future conditions – including warming temperatures, drought, and other irregular weather patterns

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