“Women in general have always been involved with agriculture – for hundreds of years – but it is usually behind the scenes,” Christine Daugherty, PepsiCo’s VP of Global Sustainable Agriculture & Responsible Sourcing, recently told FoodNavigator-USA. For example, she said, in the US, women are more likely to keep the finances for family farms, rather than go out in the fields. But in the rest of the world, she added, women are more actively involved in agriculture and tending the crops.
However, she explained, they often do so, “without access to the same resources as their male counterparts, whether that is fertilizer or credit or even titles to the land. They just don’t have the resources. But a lot of studies show that if women did have the same ability to tap into those resources, they could increase productivity,” and by extension help feed a population that in 30 years will require an estimated 50% to 70% more food.
To help address this, earlier this year, PepsiCo invested $18.2 million with humanitarian organization CARE to support the She Feeds the World Initiative, which aims to provide economic and educational support to women who work in agriculture and their families.
“This program is really related to addressing gender inequality in the ag sector. If you think about it, if you provide resources to women in agriculture and they can increase productivity that also has the ability to feed more people, provide better nutrition and increase farmers’ livelihoods and build better communities,” Daugherty said.
“We want to do this work with CARE all along the supply chains in which PepsiCo is active because we know just going into a community and providing resources is helpful, but how do you make it long lasting? How do you make sure that when the actual resources stop that the community is able to maintain? It is like that old cliché not to give a man or woman a fish, but instead teach them to fish. That is what we are trying to do,” she added.
As part of that investment, CARE and PepsiCo launched the “Closing the Crop Gap” campaign, which tapped local women film makers to show the trials, tribulations and jobs women experience in agriculture globally, Daugherty said. The campaign also involved the broader community by giving them a chance to watch and vote on the films as well as donate to different organizations, she added.
An admirable goal fraught with unintended consequences
As PepsiCo creates new opportunities for women up and down the global food supply chain, Daugherty explained it has had to do so without offending the social and cultural norms in regions outside the US.
“Just going in and providing resources to women would have unintended consequences. So, we want to work with our partners USAID, Oxfam and others to be sensitive to those cultural and gender issues, so that we don’t inadvertently promote gender-based violence,” she explained.
For example, she said, in West Bengal, PepsiCo is working with USAID to provide training to women by women and at times when women can attend. This may mean going to villages to train women while they also care for their children and homes.
Avoiding other unintentional consequences requires more advanced solutions and less obvious partnerships, Daugherty said.
She noted that PepsiCo is partnering with mobile technology entities to reduce the risk of violence against working women while still improving their status.
“In some developing countries, women are referred to as non-bankable because they don’t have access to financial institutions. They don’t have credit, they don’t have bank accounts and a lot of times they are paid in cash, which could lead to gender-based violence against them because they have cash,” Daugherty explained.
“So, we are looking at how to partner with other entities to bring our mobile phone financial institutions to them so that they can be paid on their phone, get credit through their phone and use that technology to build up their credit history and maintain some type of financial stability,” she added.
The company also has helped women in Columbia who have been victims of armed conflict and violence to obtain jobs, social support and shelter through a partnership with a plantain peeling plant. According to PepsiCo, "the project has positively impacted the community and local economy, with the plant becoming the biggest plantain supplier in Columbia, providing 40% of PepsiCo's demand for the popular NatuChip."
Inspiring more women to enter agriculture
While PepsiCo is investing in women already involved in agriculture and the food supply chain, it also is actively recruiting the next generation of women to become involved in the field.
“A lot of women graduating high school or college who want a STEM career focused on science, technology, engineering and math … don’t necessarily think about, ‘Wow, I am going to use my STEM career to go into farming,’” Daugherty laughed. But, she added, that is exactly what PepsiCo is trying to convince them to do.
“We need those individuals that have those technology skills. Think about it, if we look at the technology that is used in agriculture, everything from using drones to satellite imaging on crops to GPS positioning of tractors to developing ways to grow crops with less nutrients or new ways to harvest – that is technology and math and science and engineering,” she said. “And we really want to encourage those folks to think about agriculture as an opportunity because the future is bright, but a lot of people might not think about using their careers that way.”