Can women customers transform agribusiness value chains?

A new report shows how companies can open new markets by better serving women

By Tania Lozansky and Alexa Roscoe

Introduction

Agribusiness companies are missing out on an important market: women.

Women play crucial roles in agriculture; however, too often these roles remain informal or unacknowledged. This means that while women may actually be leading production, processing or other tasks, agribusinesses are most likely to market and sell to men. As a result, women are left without the resources they need and firms — particularly supply and service providers — are left with underdeveloped customer bases.

However, a new breed of business is reaching out to women in agribusiness. Examples from International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) new report Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains show that it’s time for the private sector to think of women not just as suppliers but also as valuable customers.

The business case for closing gender gaps in agribusiness

Agribusinesses across the value chain are increasingly finding that they can grow their businesses by investing in women.

For instance, the report highlights how Mondelēz partnered with IFC in Indonesia to study the role of women in the cocoa sector, ultimately producing a series of solutions to help women cocoa growers while strengthening their supply chain. It also explores a partnership between Primark, CottonConnect, and SEWA, which reduced chemical pesticide use by more than 50 percent while increasing the profits of women farmers by more than 200 percent.

These initiatives are crucial to promote gender equality and drive agricultural productivity. However, to date gendered investments in agribusiness have overwhelmingly focused on women as suppliers. To really transform value chains, companies need to consider women as customers as well.

Women as customers in agribusiness value chains

Some agribusiness companies, notably in food processing, have already recognized the power of the women’s market. However, there is ample opportunity, particularly among input and service providers, to grow by closing gender gaps.

Case studies from IFC’s report show how two very different businesses were able to leverage their investments in closing gender gaps to help build their customer bases and open new markets.

· Building markets for quality inputs among smallholders: The report highlights the case of Krishi Utsho, a micro-franchise operated by CARE Bangladesh, which provides high-quality supplies to farmers — in part by acknowledging that many local smallholders were women who could not easily access goods elsewhere. By decentralizing the input market and bringing supplies directly to women smallholders, the company has already grown to over 100 stores and has plans to expand to over 200.

· Opening up storage to women farmers: The report also highlights the case of African Exchange Holdings (AFEX), a regional commodity exchange. AFEX, in partnership with Palladium, sought to build a national market for long-term storage among farmers in Nigeria by aggregating demand from woman-run cooperatives. At the time of writing, the partners had already reached 45,000 farmers.

In both cases the pattern was the same — companies built demand and opened new markets by targeting a group of under-served, marginalized customers: women. Women themselves also benefited immensely through access to production-increasing inputs as well as to storage that prevented damage and increased profits. Many more initiatives such as these are needed to address underlying gender gaps in agribusiness value chains — and to increase the efficiency, productivity, and sustainability of the agribusiness sector.

Conclusion:

The business case for serving women — in agribusiness and beyond — is well-established. The companies that recognize this opportunity will win the loyalty of female customers — and help drive sustainable value chains.

Join the conversation online with #IFCAgWomen or download the report at IFC.org/IFCAgWomen

Tania Lozansky is Head of Advisory, Manufacturing Agribusiness and Services with International Finance Corporation.

Alexa Roscoe is a Strategy and Innovation Officer with the Gender Secretariat of International Finance Corporation.