Addressing Gender-Specific Challenges for Women Cashew Farmers in Benin
For women and girls in the developing world, COVID-19 is exacerbating existing inequities and creating new challenges. In Benin, women cashew farmers like Elisabeth Atchade must juggle many responsibilities, including earning money for the household while also taking on the majority of child care responsibilities. Learn how a TechnoServe program is helping women address these challenges and emerge from the crisis even stronger.
Elisabeth Atchade comes from a family of farmers who have produced cashews, corn, and soybeans for years. Living in central Benin with her husband and four children, she usually depends on money from her cashew production to support her family. This year, however, things were different.
Cashew Production During a Pandemic
In March, lockdowns and travel restrictions in Benin led to a market panic, and Elisabeth watched with horror as the price for cashews plummeted. “The start of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the 2020 cashew harvest and marketing year,” Elisabeth explains. “There were no buyers. Prices dropped drastically to less than $0.36 per kilogram, making it difficult for me to reach my goal this year of starting construction of my house.”
While the market eventually rebounded, women cashew farmers like Elisabeth continue to struggle in the face of challenges brought on or exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. Since 2015, TechnoServe has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help smallholder cashew farmers in Benin improve their yields, boost their incomes, and increase domestic processing. A critical aspect of the BeninCajù program has been addressing the specific constraints that women cashew farmers face.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, women cashew farmers have faced significant challenges, both at home and on the farm. At home, women like Elisabeth are forced to juggle multiple responsibilities, including earning money for the household while also taking care of children.
“[Earlier this year], I was very stressed because my children were forced to stay at home, which increased the burden of housework for me,” she explains. Women also face an increased risk of gender-based violence when confined to the house and isolated from their usual support networks.
On the farm, the pandemic has made it more difficult for women to earn a living from their cashew production. Women typically rely more heavily on outside labor, so the increased cost of work because of COVID-19 affected their ability to produce and harvest their cashew in a cost-effective way. In addition, meetings within the Savings and Internal Loans Communities (SILC) were suspended, meaning that women could not access the credit they typically rely on.
And since cashew is a seasonal crop, many women also maintain side businesses for extra cash — many of which took a significant hit from the travel restrictions and economic contraction resulting from the pandemic.
Learning to Adapt
To address these emerging challenges, the BeninCaju program had to adapt quickly. Faced with early travel restrictions, the program delivered its cashew production training information — plus extra advice on preventing COVID-19 — through media such as social networks and local radio stations.
The BeninCaju team conducted radio programs in eight local languages and chose women radio hosts, airing shows at specific times when women were more available to listen. Partners of women cashew farmers went on the air to tout the importance of sharing childcare responsibilities, in order to help mothers carry out other economic activities outside the home.
Through the radio programs, cashew producers learned the symptoms of COVID-19 and the protective measures necessary to slow the virus’s spread, while also getting essential information on financing, markets, and agricultural best practices. Today, all Savings and Internal Loans Communities (SILCs) have resumed their meetings with proper safety protocols in place, meaning that women are once again able to access the credit they need.
“BeninCajù helped us find buyers that were offering good prices, provided us accurate market information, and helped us apply good harvest and post-harvest practices so that our cashew nuts were of high quality that appealed to our customers,” Elisabeth shares with a smile.
Investing in the Future
Due to this increased support, Elisabeth has been able to not only withstand the challenges of COVID-19, but to actually thrive. This year, she more than doubled her cashew production from last season — from about 440 pounds to nearly a thousand pounds this year. More cashews equal more money in her pocket, and more power to support her family and invest in her farm and community.
Elisabeth is now looking toward the future with optimism. “Within the next five years, my ambition is to acquire land and extend my cashew plantations to three hectares, with a production of 1500 kilograms [~3,300 pounds] per hectare.”