Desta Yirsa, a farmer in Ethiopia. Image: Oxfam
Desta Yirsa, a farmer in Ethiopia. Image: Oxfam

Day 1: Changing Value Systems, One Village at a Time

19 November, 2012 | Food and Gender: Online Discussion

If in the course of earning income women farmers are systematically exploited, have their control over what is grown and how taken away from them, and are left with a denuded natural environs, then this is a heavy price to pay for so-called empowerment.

By Nidhi Tandon, activist and Director of Networked Intelligence for Development

If there is one core factor underpinning systemic power imbalances between women and men in the food system, it is the overriding influence of the “market place” on society.

Societal power and earning capacity make up the two sides of the same coin – one feeds the other. The more financial leverage one has, the more likely one is to project power: gain voice, respect, independence, and the ability to negotiate terms and indeed get a more favourable hearing before a court of law. This sounds simplistic, even glib, but it is a reality that especially affects women. The rights that women have fought to secure are under siege by the dominance of a globalized market society.

"The rights that women have fought to secure are under siege
by the dominance of a globalized market society.

One approach to enhancing women’s power, supported by Oxfam, is to position women ever more ‘strategically’ into the ‘value chain’ of globalized production, on the assumption that if only they had the opportunity to earn the equivalent of their male peers, they might earn an equivalence of power and influence. In so doing, a fundamentally flawed food system is being further ‘propagated’, in effect out-casting other food systems.

Women are generally solid about their pivotal role in securing daily food and water. But when they join global supply chains, women, like men, become complicit in a livelihood system that keeps the family in a state of permanent impoverishment.

From my conversations with women in rural communities, it is apparent that they would like to see their roles properly dignified, valued, acknowledged and supported.

This is not about ‘fixing a broken food system’; it is about changing the model and its values entirely. We cannot assume that women are seeking high incomes at any cost. They don’t necessarily share those values! Other values are much more important – including health, food, consumption or other lifestyle choices; these are the values that need to be weighted heavier than earning income.

Values and the two parallel food production systems

At the extreme ends, there are two parallel systems of food production: one values sustenance and nutrition, the other values profits.

In the food system that is primarily about local production for local markets, the decisions and to some extent the control over what is grown, distributed, cooked and consumed rests with women. They deliver a steady supply of sustenance and nutrition despite lacklustre public or private-sector support.

Seed preservation continues to be an important activity of rural women, ensuring that families have a wide variety of foods which are entirely outside the market. Their land-use decisions are bound up with secure employment and with agro-biodiverse ways of farming in a symbiotic relationship with water, forests and nature’s biomes.

In the parallel food system at the other extreme, women are but cheap labour in commercial enterprises at scale. Plantation workers, who have tended to be male although increasingly female, work in unprotected conditions and are impoverished. Family and community life is disrupted by the violence of displacement and evictions that plantations cause. Several studies show how the contract labour system is responsible for family breakdown; increased alcoholism, drug use and crime; the proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV AIDS; as well as perpetuating a cycle of poverty that entrenches poor nutrition, inadequate education, and illness. All of these factors reinforce each other and the negative costs on community are enormous and long term.

Earning income is not necessarily empowering

A common argument put forward by those seeking equality between men and women goes like this: “poor rural women need equal employment opportunities to earn income for medicines, education, food and clothing and to become economically empowered”. The problems with this argument are:

  • To begin with, inserting a small farmer into the commercial exchange system of the international market is exploitative to the farmer no matter what. They are not, in the scheme of things, economically empowered;
  • Secondly, taking the best farmland away from cultivation for local consumption and converting that land to farming for export puts local people in a situation of dependence on a profit-motivated market over which they have absolutely no control. With this dependence comes vulnerability;
  • Thirdly, the international economic model does not work for small farmers. Consistent evidence shows how market liberalization has been designed to benefit the rich while poor people simply do not matter.

"Inserting a small farmer into the international market
is exploitative to the farmer no matter what."

If in the course of earning income, you can expect to be systematically exploited, have decision-making choices over what is grown and how taken away from you, and be left with denuded natural environs, then this is a heavy price to pay for so-called empowerment.

Articulating a vision – changing values

Unless and until the over-emphasis on the values that underpin the global market economy is reversed, equality and equity for women is doomed. For men’s and women’s roles to be rebalanced in a just food system, other values must be reasserted on an equal if not dominant footing: societal perceptions must equate ‘power’ with the know-how of doing as opposed to the know-how of selling and buying.

When traditional knowledge, science and common sense are combined on the farm, and the roles of both men and women in building smart communities around food are re-established, there is much more of an imperative for mutual respect between men and women. Where farmers supplying local markets invest time and labour (and equity in terms of care and energy) in a diverse set of activities – the socio-economic, community and ecological rewards are far higher than any financial transaction returns. 

"Societal perceptions must equate ‘power’ with the know-how of doing
as opposed to the know-how of selling and buying."

This reversal of values can only take place at a human level; money cannot be thrown at it. It is inter-generational work that places a central value on enviro-cultural relationships between humans and the lands that they inhabit, a movement that reinstates values from one village to the next, from one community to the next. These relationships are essentially priceless – and the sea-change needed to retain and change perceptions of values needs to happen on many different levels, from education systems to the politics of trade and investment.

If we are willing to stand by only the principles of gender equality and by extension accept and even determine that the fate of poor women should be equal to that of their poor male counterparts, then there is something fundamentally amiss in our interpretation of human rights and development. The problem is larger, systemic, and structural. It is not reducible to individual rights. 

The values that underpin the food system today are about food for profit, as opposed to food for those who produce it! The conversation needs to begin with a national reassessment of how globalization is impacting society rather than pushing for women to be inserted into an iniquitous system, and what it will take to thrive and to protect what is important in a rapidly changing world – where the winners take all and the losers have everything to fight for.

"The values that underpin the food system today are about food for profit,
as opposed to food for those who produce

Download: Changing Value Systems, One Village at a Time

Lauren Ravon, discussion moderator, asks: What do you think about Tandon’s article? Do you agree with her when she says that integrating women into global agricultural supply chains is fundamentally exploitative rather than empowering?


Empowering or Exploitative?

What do you think about Tandon’s article? Do you agree with her when she says that integrating women into global agricultural supply chains is fundamentally exploitative rather than empowering?

and what about the cooperative movement?

I agree broadly with Tandon's article. It is true that we need to change the model and its values, more importantly I think here in the developed world if we want to impact significantly what is happening in the developing world. 

My question is: do you think that the cooperative movement can be one of the solutions to counteract the negative effects of the global agricultural supply chain on not only farmers but also consumers, and as a result to allow the reinforcement of the local/regional food value chain?

In this case, food will be valuable not only for those who produce it but also for those who eat it....


As a farmer in Canada, I am not empowered by the fact that I am part of the value chain in the food system, I am exploited.  The best image that explains where I fit in the food system, is that of a hamster running on a wheel.  Being a part of a marketing cooperative helps, but not enough.  Like air and water, food is fundamental to our survival as a species. It is so invaluable that neither its producers nor food itself should be open to exploitation and speculation by the rich and powerful.

Unequal power brings unequal outcomes

I agree with Nidhi.

Women are involved in local markets and exchange, these village level and village to village, even village direct to consumers (not corporations) in towns can be beneficial and can be enhanced.

At a global level, however, and when it comes to linking small producers to corporations and global supply chains the term chains becomes appropriate.

The dominant power relations of gender, class, and international relations are strongly wieghted against rural African woman. Even if we can get what seems like a good deal in the global market today for a particular group of women, likely due to a companies interest in brand building or 'corporate social responsibility' claims, the long term trends are clearly towards worse and worse terms of trade that lead to a self exploitation of rural women to try and 'compete' in the market. It is the logic of power, the logic of the market and the logic of corporations operating to achieve the best return on investment for their shareholders. 

Partly agree

I partly agree but how can we dignify thier rule and make it more valued if its not going to be global? what ideas and actions can we make? by putting those questions on the table first thing i could think of is global market!! after reading the whole ehssay i understood more about it but still jammed in thinking of an apropriate solution which can be easily and quickly done by women there without exploiting thier efforts at the same time .

Providing health services ,food and many lifestyle choices can be easily optained by the higher income they will get if thier agricultural resourses are taken advantage of in the best way. Therefore, women there should get same income as men and i strongly support these following words:" more income more power" this leads to better life style.



More income NOT necessarily more power

"more income more power" is too simplistic and too often not the reality. Think about these few points: women spending more time working for a cash income either have to neglect child care (that women still do far more of than men) or pay someone else to do it negating the benefit of increased income; more income if there are more expenses can mean no greater beneft to the farmer, they work the treadmill of desperatly trying to get enough income to pay for the fertiliser, to pay the debts, etc... ; not only farm input costs have gone up in the last years, so have costs of services like health care and eduction as services have been privatised or comercialised, women have sufferd most from this as they often have to foot those extra costs.

Amita Shah's paper "Priority Changes for Strengthening Women’s Role as Producers, Processors and Providers of Food and Nutrition" in IDS bulletin CVolumn 43 amongst other papers addresses some of these points.

This does not only affect women. USA  farm incomes as one example have gone up and up over the last fifty years just as have input costs and the net benefits to farmers have not risen driving the majority of farmers out of farming just as incomes have risen the most. Over 270,000 farmers have comitted suicide (Yes, an incredible number) in Inida in the last 17 years, not so much for lack of income, but because of the debat burden they built up while trying to imporve their income.

Don't put women into a simple chasing income trap the situation is far more complex

More income not necessarily more power and better life style

Growing up and working in an agrarian region, I have witnessed some level of income appreciation on the part of some farmers resulting from value chain or profit focussed farming systems. However, these profits have at the same time been eroded as a result of price rises in the cost of staples.

This is because these farming systems are inherently non-promoters of the cultivation of indigenous staples and food preferences. At the same they compete for productive resources and time of the farmer with the production of traditional staples. Implying indigenous food preferences will have to be sacrificed for the production of so called profitable commodities. The plight thus suffered by staple commodities is then compensated for by rising indigenous food prices which has shown capability of eroding so called profit gains.

Inherent in traditional farming systems especially by women small farmers lies access to varied and more nutritious meals for the household which is core in the definition of better well being and life style.

Additionally, while income could result in some level of empowerment, the fundamental avenues of disempowerment, discrimination, violence and right denials against women found in traditional, cultural and religious beliefs, norms and practices must not be ignored.      

Not so sure.

I don't think that there exist a correlation between local vs global and women's exploitation. Moreover, it's not the same being exploited in big farms -which is true- than small farmers selling in the international markets -which is desirable-. Those "other values" that Nidhi mentions - health, food, consumption or other lifestyle choices- need money to pay for them. The women's economic initiatives I've known in many countries make them proud and more empowered, because they say that they have more voice if they have money. 

The discussion of which kind of food system is better for women's empowerment is complex, and I don't have the figures to sustain my position: only my experience, as Nidhi does. We need consistent research to sustain one or the other stance. Thanks for this discussion, it can bring some light on it. 

Anything global

Everytime you go global the 1st thing you notice is that your good quality product is so great yet the only way to make money globally is by large quantity.Something most female farmers dont have.So you do want to compete but then reality comes quickly against you.Local markets makes more sense until we have harnessed enough land and resources to expand.Basics will always come first.

Remember the joke of the Broker from NYC who encouraged fishermen  from a beach community he was vacationing at?He said get bigger vessels catch more fish sell them make lots of cash and quit your job and enjoy.They said small boat just great go out 4 am come back at 8 sell fish and home by 10 and vacation all day till next morning.Why suffer self with huge vessel out at sea for months at a time for a "future" that may not pen out.Women have to compete as well as take care at home.So dont gain money by compromising family.Enjoy both.

Changes in value sytem towards local sustainable food production

I absolutely agree with Nidhi Tandon's conclusion that in the name of gender equality the fate of poor farmer women must not be equal to the fate of their poor male counterparts.  Many of us have encountered evidences that globalization of food production has impoverished our farmers and polluted the food chain.  We as a society made ourselves vulnerable as our food production is controlled by global market.  We must not make female farmers as vulnerable as their male counterparts.  We must advocate for local sustainable food production system while working to make role of women farmers visible and recognized.

Me too

Enjoying reading these thoughtful comments.

Using research methods to empower women in Senegal

This case seen in Casamence in Senegal shows what can be achieved through local action oriented research combined with awareness of national legal provisions for land access and use. Women here, made use of both tools with the support of CBOs to transform the way that local customary authorities valued women's productive contribution. This is beginning to fundamentally change their access and rights to land, by couching their demands within a collective community need to avoid expropriation of land by large scale agri-projects. See link to OpenDemocracy's report 'Land Belongs to those that work it' below.

"For the first time in our area, research methods borrowed from academic and scientific approaches (literature reviews, semi-structured interviews, focus groups etc.) are being put to the service of a collective project of positive social transformation initiated by rural women. The project has already delivered on several fronts." 

Land Belongs to those that work it - Senegal

This is a good example, thank you Isabel

Nidhi Tandon's response - Cost of food monopolies

Thank you for your comments and thoughts. Vibrant local economies are not necessarily synonymous with the global market - on the contrary, given the concentration of the agri-business sector, women producers will be valued by their local communities more than if they produced for a global market that is in the hands of powerful negotiators.  I highly recommend this report - while it is US focused, its findings are extremely valid to all rural communities:

Rural communities often bear the brunt of agribusiness consolidation. For nearly 80 years, academic studies have documented the negative impact of agriculture’s consolidation and industrialization, which aligns farms more closely with food manufacturers than their local communities.

The rising economic concentration has contributed to the decline in the number of farms and the increased size in the farms that remain. Communities with more medium- and smaller-sized farms have more shared prosperity, including higher incomes, lower unemployment and lower income inequality, than communities with larger farms tied to often-distant agribusinesses.

Food and Water Watch November 2012

Yes, but...

I do agree with the general statement and drive of Tandon’s article: the market system is an exploitative one and it is not favouring women’s autonomy. Within this system finding equality means equality inside poverty and growing degradation and bigger inequality. I think that we need to have clarity on this in order to give an adequate dimension and necessary complexity to our response. Bu ‘our’ I mean as a general global movement working for women’s (and men’s) independence and autonomy. Then it is crucial to distinguish individual and collective rights, giving priority to collective rights.

I do also agree that it is only men and women who can change this.

My problem with Tandon’s article appear when she says that there are only two parallel models. Though this is valid in general, my impression is that there is a 3rd model: I am considering as a 3rd model those value chains in which men and women find the way to be inside the chain, as a community, generating a liberation project. By ‘liberation’ I mean giving priority to collective, communal rights.

I am thinking on chains that we know quite well. I am thinking of organised women working in value chains like flowers, coffee, bananas and tea. In the case of flowers I have seen women using Colombian labour law, organising trade unions inside flower exporter companies. They can tell from inside the chain what the problems are and which are the solutions. In the case of bananas, I have seen some of the best negotiations with Europe promoted by women groups involved in the banana exports. In the case of bananas, coffee and tea we have to see carefully the impressive role performed by Fairtrade, where women become global negotiators. Having their set of social values, they compete with big businesses, defeating some of them in very specific markets and super-stores. In the case of Fairtrade it is important how the global (social) brand facilitate that women from different cultures and languages work together for achieving a liberation project, having clarity on where is the enemy!  In all these cases women keep decision power and they become global negotiators with successful businesses. In this way they are generating a model of what is possible to achieve if you organise and develop an adequate strategy.  In all these cases, men and women have generated a successful global movement which has reached consumers.


Another point of view

You are my inspiration, I possess few blogs and often run out from post :). "'Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive." by John Sheffield.

Changing Value Systems, One Village at a Time

The "value system" which ought to be changed does actually NOT begin in the village.  It begins with "language construction."  Clearly the very words "earn income" are fundamentally faulty, or incongruous, or not meaningful, or an embroidery, or an embelishment, or simply a lie. For sure "earning income" DOES not reflect any kind of a universal fact, and therefore the nomenclature has to be changed, if it is to reflect what we want it to reflect. There inside that United Nations or Oxfam, FALSE usage of language must first stop. Otherwise you are all collectively involved in spreading lies (by ommission, because you don't know what the words you are actually using actually mean.)


I agree with you whole-heartedly Osunga - and my interpretation of 'village' is a broad one - you and I perhaps belong to the same 'village'.  "Earning an income" has come to mean the equivalent of empowerment, which it is not - and as long as we value those earning above all else, then its meaning becomes inflated.  The language does have to change to steer the change in values too - they go hand in hand.

Changes in the Value System

I tend to agree with Tandon's writings. However I do want to throw this out there. What if we went back to a bartering system. What if women were the keeper of the seeds and the nurturing to the earth and the providers that kept the family unit together? If  we went back to this sytem then males  would have to learn to respect females all over again. Due to the changes that people have seen then there will always be a powere system, but wouldn't a bartering system solve these problems? Would it be possible to teach and implement these into the indigenious societies? I believe if we implemented this system women would become empowered. Back to Basics.

Barter system

There are in fact an increasing number of "local exchange trading systems" (LETS) where currencies of exchange within communities are used to 'barter' for products and services - and the value of the exchanges stay within the community.  Most exchange systems within communities rely a lot less on the exchange of national currencies and much more on sharing responsibilities.  These barter systems are making a come back across Europe too.

i wonder..... do land reforms fit into this discussion? for women made extra complicated and controversial by personal laws which limit/deny their access to land and productive assets.


False dichotomy?

Good afternoon,      

Although I agree with many of the points that Tandon makes in her thought-provoking paper. Thanks for spurring this dialogue!       

Certainly, global markets can be exploitative, but I do not agree that there are two simple choices.        

Supporting women in local markets can be highly beneficial, but what is the longer term view? In my experience, most women farmers would like to educate their children and provide them with choices beyond the farm. That is, they do not want to perpetuate a smallholder existence for the next generations.       

When commercial markets are not exploitative, they have the potential to offer women and their families with more choices. For example, this summer on assignment in remote areas of Pakistan, I witnessed over and over again how women are eager to find ways to increase household income so that they can educate their sons and daughters. They cannot do this through local markets because everyone grows their own food (and you share with your large extended family). Of course, this begs the question - what is a 'local' market - would the urban centre still be local even if national?.....       

This does not mean that export markets are always equitable or the right choice. But, it also does not mean that local markets are always the best alternative either. To me it means that contexts are different and complex, and we must understand the context in which we work to support people in making choices and finding solutions.       

Further, how many of us are going back to growing our own food, or will we continue to benefit from the global food chains? If we propose local markets, will we also walk the talk?       

Thanks for the discussion,       

Linda Jones


A dichotomy of values

Hi Linda

Yes many women want to increase their income and fair exchange between people is not in my view intrinsicly bad. For me a key statement in Nidhi's piece is "This is not about ‘fixing a broken food system’; it is about changing the model and its values entirely. We cannot assume that women are seeking high incomes at any cost. They don’t necessarily share those values!"

Its about not assuming 'high income' is what its all about and not assuming the same values as the global market system. And we do need to move decisively away from the corporate dominated 'broken food system'.

I think there is a real dichotomy between the values of the global corporate agro-food system and one that is geared towardsmeeting the needs of all people (including those in  poverty today) in a sustainable way. Within the later value system, that I think will be much more what most rural women want, I think there is lots of room for mutually beneficial exhange based on more respect for what rural women bring. This could, and in some places people are making this work, link producers and even urban markets in alternative food networks that are not beholden to the corporate agro-food system.


Another point of view

Rattling excellent info can be found on web site. "It is fast approaching the point where I don't want to elect anyone stupid enough to want the job." by Erma Bombeck.

Change needs to be lasting

I agree.   I think we need to improve our understanding of what human development is and what it means to a particular individual.  It’s not about, what brings in the highest income; it’s about having the freedom to live a life that is valued by that individual.   

Farmers can prosper within their community and region. It doesn’t have to mean selling their produce or wares on the global market. The reality is that only a few are going to survive on the global stage, which again leaves the majority at the mercy of the few.

Change needs to be lasting.  A plantation/factory/mine that brings “relative” income to a community for 1 or 5 years, and then packs up, does not promote a human development that can be valued or lasting.  History has shown, time and again, that these communities are worse off and the consequences are irreparable.   It is a short lived experience that certainly does not bring empowerment to women.  

Powerfully articulated!

Very well written and powerfully articulated! One can't help but sit up and take note. It is like a casino, where the house always wins and the deck is stacked against the small player.


Creating sustainable food system for consumption and health purposes is indeed an idea that has surfaced throughout the modern history of commercial food system. Can we realistically reverse the course of history and reclaim protection of local market and trading systems that is more just and equitable? And perhaps, re-fixing of national, regional and global market norms must remain integral part of the campaign for food justice. Achieving it just by creating local food systems may remain a romantic idea.


Very thought provoking!

Far too simplistic

There is a lot of useful information here; however, I would strongly disagree with the presentation that there are two parallel systems of food production. Far too simplistic! But for the sake of brevity, I will limit my comment to say that like a few social activists out there, Tandon paints a far  too romantic picture of the local production system. I would argue that there are various models of local production systems operating across the globe today and women’s positionality varies, with different effects on what it means to live in dignity and for their empowerment and agency. Within some local production systems, women often do not have control over what is grown, distributed, cooked, and consumed. In some cases, they take care of the animals and their husbands sell them and they are lucky to see a dime of the money. They are cheap labour in this system that according to Tandon values sustenance and nutrition.  But does it value women? We need to understand the heterogeneity of local production systems,  gender relations, and how markets function within all this. As Karl Polanyi said ages ago markets need to be embedded within society rather than society being embedded in markets (which is the current situation in the profit food system). So indeed we need a reversal of values. But we need to avoid these black box terms like globalization that do little to advance practical ways in which poor women farmers’s labour can be valued and properly renumerated. 

Can development actors support women farmers without....

Development actors may be able to support women farmers to organize and engage in (local) markets without necessarily destroying the values of caring for the land/biodiversity, care, and community. I would propose that the process of informed choice, and women's agency, is critical.

I agree that often the process of agricultural enterprise/markets development is very top-down, expert-driven, with unexamined assumptions that profit and cash income will make women (and their families) 'better off'.  Similarly, many women are not and don't want to be 'entrepreneurs' (how many of you reading this are entrepreneurs?) because of the financial/commercial/social risks involved, when lives are already quite vulnerable or stressful. However, enabling more stable livelihoods may include market-based livelihoods in some measure.  

We (partners of Oxfam in some countries) have been piloting a dialogue process to make the trade-offs/risks for women more visible and explicit, and to promote women's agency. We've started the discussions by asking 'what are the services and goods that are sources of household welfare/ wellbeing' (including community services, natural environment, religious, social 'services' and care), and who does work to facilitate/provide these services and goods? Then 'what are or will be the trade-offs with the work for the new enterprise'... and 'what do women want to renegotiate?' In many cases, it is clear that a new enterprise/value chain activity is unrealistic given the 'package' of work women are already engaged in, and find important. Yet many activities are burdensome and arduous. I propose that many women do want changes in their activities, including collective action, including livelihoods and agricultural activities and markets. Facilitating women's agency, and informed choice, seems to be critical, rather than predetermining the choice of women in any given context .  

Back to the issue of empowerment

Thanks Nidhi for sparking this provoking discussion! I am challenged by how you rightfully point at  false empowerment modes, where women are stimulated to opt for a 'piece of a poisoned pie', as Gita Sen put it at sharply at the AWID conference to argue that our development paradigm needs to be transformed and humanised, by embracing and valueing in a new way  beyond the limited way the market economy does.

Though statements shared on the status of the current global economic system ring true, questions on how to move from the current situation to food system(s) that work for women are not resolved.  

A rather romantic image of rural life is painted, and ignores that both at 'village' level or higher up the chain in the global economic system, rural women's rights can and are  disrespected, their knowledge and voice  ignored and their labour  under- or unvalued.

Which for me raises the question of where and how empowerment and change towards equality in a meaningful way takes place. Change I've learned often requires not only a change in systems, legal frameworks and policies, but requires also change from within: particularly transformation of values requires a transformation of people, regardless of whether they move at the 'village' level or are part of the global food machinery.

And from that point onwards, awareness and then critical engagement, solidarity and mobilisation can spring up, in an effort to build women's agency, knowledge, power to decide and the power to control - natural and other productive resources. Because through changed people, the system itself can actually change.    


Another point of view

I really appreciate this post. I have been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thx again!

Умный дом


Thank you for this thought provoking paper. Based on my own experience their are two elements to the type of local markets being described here: the first is product grown for the consumption of family and very local sales such as extended family, wider community and social networks. This includes some product which is processed and directly sold on a very small scale. The second is for product which is marketed -sold to middle persons, local markets and in some cases larger processors - some of which may be farmers organisations. Local markets are very beneficial in terms of triple bottom line sustainability (positive economic, social and environmental outcomes) as they have a high local multiplier (higher return to the local economy) and generally a lower carbon footprint than exports. Carefully designed local production and sales also has a high potential for improved well-being.

My understanding of women's empowerment within the context is the development of skills and knowledge regarding the value chain and the wider market system and of opportunities for economic leadership  within this system. This so as to increase influence and equity and therefore power as discussed earlier - but only on own terms and to their own (self-identified) benefit. I understand this to be within a wider initiative for all small scale farmers as opposed to women only but with a determined focus on removing disabling market factors relating to women and building on those, releasing opportinities for women.

I agree that it's very important that initiatives are based on sound sustainable development principles - a new economics that strongly considers the well-being of people and the environment/resources and provides a sustainable return on investment (including labour and risk). Although some current approaches do reflect these principles I do see the well-being element as crucial and requiring definition, implementation and measurement within these approaches. 

The key seems to be that the approach is genuinely locally designed or at least co-created - that in this context local woman design the intervention with supporting organisations in  the way that most suits their well-being rather than just their income. For example being valued and knowing that you are offering value is an important contributor to well-being just as the way in which you decide to contribute your labour or management input. Also that the model disciplines this consultation with local woman in designing the approach. I  believe that it's crucial too that this approach is reflected across the whole local market system at value chain, support service an enabling environment level to the degree that this is possible for reasons of efficiency and sustainability. 

Striking the Balance

Nidhi gives insight to areas not critically considered by us when we talk about globalization, trade, investments, women, jobs, empowerment, human rights and the rest that should strick the balance needed, yet it's one that is quite difficult to do.

It reminds us that the system is not yet perfect and should be working towards that which the GROW campaign seeks to attain. 

I do agree with Nidhi that intergrating women into global agricultural supply chains is fundamentally exploitative rather than empowering. The question now is, how do we remove women from this system to focus on meeting just local demands, yet empowering them and not exploiting? How fast can this happen and what does it take? 

In all we must continue to empower women in every way we can to meet her needs and that of her family, while to strive to make such empowerments do do exploit, debase because of their gender. 

Women empowerment

Women empowerment is an essential for women future. In the world today women   are more than men in every where. Look the children I your village, school or at your home.  In Somalia my home country women play bigger role in the day to day lives.

The two decades the of wars in the country women wake up the care of the families when men faced by jobless   whiles some other engaged fighting. Women were busy with caring the family and booming the economy. When you look the market in Somalia you may feel that women play bigger role in the economic of Somalia

So if we empower women reality they will serve for more  and this may contribute to the millennium development goal 15

Thank you

To all those who took the time to comment, I really appreciate your inputs and thoughts - some of you have given me food for thought. Hope to see/read you over the coming 10 days!


The Oppression of Women Behind of The Food Market Competition

yes agree with nidhi. thousands of years, women displaced from manufacturing jobs, and cause women, especially poor women lose a lot of access and declining competitiveness. I agree when nidhi says that "This is not about ‘fixing a broken food system’; it is about changing the model and its values entirely.", it is a matter of values ​​contained behind all this. One of the estates in North Sumatera , women workers had to transport thousand of pounds of yield per day, without being given adequate security. the use of unsafe chemical pesticides cause miscarriage rate becomes very high and the majority of workers are not educated in lying to the traditional belief that they were asked by a miscarriage because of her ancestors. a female worker banned to bring other family members to help its work, while male workers can bring their wives, but wives were not given wages.they had no other choicebecause they do not have adequate skills or education to get a decent job.This is a form of structural oppression in the name of market liberalization, cooperating with governments to exploitate those who are weaker because they had no choice.. is it true that food security will be realized at the expense of rural women? I dont think so

Another point of view

But a smiling visitor here to share the love (:, btw outstanding layout.

Changing Value Systems, One Village at a Time

 I agree that;

Women don’t necessarily share some values! Other values are much more important – including health, food, consumption or other lifestyle choices; these are the values that need to be weighted heavier than earning income.

The challenge here comes that, there are things women give first priority which it's impact can directly be measured and or seen to the Family and or community.

The sectors or knoledgeable people should provide education to laymen.


Thank you

Thank you Rose - you remind

Thank you Rose - you remind me of a story from Antigua where women (wives) were invited to a fisheries workshop - the sole purpose of which was to prepare the fishing men in how to deal with the 'bends' when they dive deep for Conch shell, and the women were invited to learn how to care for their husbands.  At the end of the workshop the women more or less walked out of the workshop - stating that the health of their husbands/boyfriends/sons/brothers was far more important than the value of a conch shell and that they - for one- would not be supporting the activity by offering to care for deep sea divers!  They had a different take on the value of health and the Ministry of Fisheries had to re-evaluate the entire business proposition.


Beyond Market


While I agree with Nidhi that the problem is structural, systemic and larger, I would diverge from analysis that influence of market place as the core factor for inequalities in the food systems. Between basic needs and markets, we have social positions, norms, values, customs that would determine the land rights, crop chioces, decisions related to buying and selling in the market.Unless development actors address the social positions, lasting changes to address inequality will be a dream to be realised. Since gender equality concerns the relationships between men and women, which are changeable and subject to negotiations, lack of comprehension of social construct that governs men’s and women’s behavior and gender relations, can undermine actions directed at women’s empowerment and well-being.I wish the problem is as direct and simple as discussed.

Another point of view

I was reading through some of your blog posts on this site and I think this internet site is very instructive! Retain putting up.

Changing Value systems

As a woman (small) organic  farmer I really appreciated Nidhi's insights and illumination of challenges. I face an additonal dimension of problems.

The women far.mers I work with in the Caribbean are also organic or trying to be such and face the additonal problems of policy direction to commercial agriculture - male owned withwomen as labour-force, with attendant invested supports; funded  & grant interventions directed at 'communities' of farmers where farmers are supposed to work together and where women, who have less access and ownership of land than thier male peers are often pushed to the perifery of decison-making;  while we organic farmers may or may not operate in a community and have very little voice at all. At least not a voice that is recognised by national and regional policy-makers, and not even by those in the UN agencies who proclaim organic production as the system best addresing  climate change challenges.

By closing off avenues for our voices  we are losing women's knowledge, not seeing thier passion and commitment to change and not valuing what are in effect heroic efforts at bringing significant change to accepted production systems and patterns

Only Local Markets..??

Dear colleagues

I agree with Linda Jones on her on her argument supporting women business to external markets as well ... The mainstream case where companies work to just MAXIMIZE profit may well marginalize or exploit women entrepreneurs further ... But we also need to advocate for this not to be the case always. ... There are practical examples (which is proving effective) on this -- promoting 'Social Business'' based on Grameen Bank's microfinance ...

The Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus and his Grameen Bank serve 7-8 million microfinance clients in Banglades (95% women). The Bank is clients' owned. .... In a ''social business'', the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point. Purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company, no personal gain is desired by the investors. The company must cover all costs and make profit, at the same time achieve the social objective, such as, healthcare for the poor, housing for the poor, financial services for the poor, nutrition for malnourished children, providing safe drinking water, introducing renewable energy, etc. in a business way.

The good news is that Grameen bank is attracting a number of big companies from the Western World (social investors) into Banglades working on activities directly impacting millions of women businesses including: Helath Care, Family Planning, Nutrition, etc  ...

Perhaps you can view more of this from their web-site:

Kind Regards

Women empowerment

If women empowerment should be sustainable, then women must lead the process.

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