Livestock provide vital nutrition and income for numerous households in developing countries. And it's often women who do the bulk of the work caring for the animals. But this doesn't mean they reap the benefits. In many communities, women are excluded from making management decisions about livestock, like when to sell them, or how to treat them. They also don't get to control the income that the livestock generate, or the valuable livestock products made. And this is particularly the case for the larger, more valuable animals, like cattle.
How can livestock farming help build gender equality in such communities, instead of repeating traditional and unequal gender norms? ILRI’s research is part of many worldwide efforts to empower women and girls. The second season of The Boma kicks off with an episode for International Women's Day 2022, taking a close look at ILRI's Women in Business project, which empowers women to benefit from chicken farming in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Presenters and Princeton-in-Africa Fellows Brenda Coromina and Elliot Carleton talk to Alessandra Galiè, Gender Team Leader at ILRI, Upendo Ramadhani Simba, a university graduate of animal sciences who began as a chicken vendor through the project, and Adolf Jeremiah, a research field coordinator at ILRI with a background on gender and youth programming.
Brenda: Welcome Back to The Boma. A podcast from the International Livestock Research Institute where we discuss how sustainable livestock is building better lives in the Global South.
My name is Brenda Coromina.
Elliot: And I’m Elliot Carleton. Before we jump into today’s episode, I want to welcome our listeners to the second season of The Boma. We are looking forward to welcoming some brilliant guests in the coming weeks, so we hope you’ll stay tuned.
Brenda: I’ll second that. And I’m especially excited because today is International Women’s Day and this year’s theme according to the UN Calendar is “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”. Here at ILRI, Alessandra Galie, the Gender Team Leader is exploring this theme by finding ways of empowering women through livestock –and specifically chickens—in a gender inclusive way. But why chickens?
Alessandra: livestock and chicken in particular, again, are quite a good entry point to support women's empowerment, because traditionally it is quite accepted that women owned and controlled chicken. You know, they can actually own the chicken and take decisions on the chicken. They can sell them without having to consult anybody. And this is, again, extremely important. And another argument is that in case of divorce, women can take the chickens with them
Brenda: Before we begin talking about women’s empowerment, what is it and what does it look like across the world?
Alessandra: the empowerment is very much as, you know, the ability of an individual to achieve their desired life goals. So it's very much about self-determination and the capacity of individuals wherever they are, to really make up their life what they want their life to be like.
The idea is very much what I like, very much the concept of equitable or life outcomes of similar value. We don't want all the women, all the men to end up with the same lifestyle on the same life goals. But we want to make sure that they can all have, you know, a life that is of equitable value, of similar value, so that the outcome of their choices are of similar value, whatever these are.
Brenda: Alessandra’s been working at ILRI since 2013, but her interest in gender in agricultural development began in 2000 when she was traveling and studying Arabic in Syria. And it actually speaks to a bigger problem of women being historically underrepresented in the literature about livestock development, and why having an International Women’s Day is so valuable today.
Alessandra: what was striking for me is that when traveling and, you know, it's just in everyday life, I would see a lot of women in the fields. But then the literature that I was reading, agricultural development, referred always to men in agriculture. So this gap between what I was seeing and what that was being, it really made me wonder and pushed me to do a Masters in Anthropology and Development at the University of London. So that's why I started very much focusing on gender issues in agricultural development and now with more specifically on livestock development.
Elliot: Statistics show that in low and middle-income countries, most of the people working in livestock farming are women. So it is really good to hear that people like Alessandra are working to better understand women’s impact on agriculture and within rural communities. But I’m hoping we can dive a bit deeper into how exactly livestock development relates to women’s empowerment, and ultimately gender equality.
Alessandra: Livestock development offer is a key entry point for women empowerment, because women can own and control livestock more easily than other assets. Such as, you know, building on machinery.
We say that livestock offer opportunities to support women's empowerment because women can build wealth through livestock. And again, this is particularly evident with chicken because, you know, chicken is not very expensive and very often actually women get them from their neighbors or their mothers, you know, the younger women and so on.
And this means that women can just start building their flock of chicken and then possibly, you know, sell it and move to something maybe more more valuable or, you know, more lucrative in that sense.
Brenda: All of these reasons led to Women in Business project by ILRI, which looked at chicken farming in Ethiopia and Tanzania.
Elliot: And what’s the story there? How did that project come about?
Brenda: OK, so a different project worked with farmers to identify the best breeds of chickens that would suit the local environment. Alessandra’s team then started thinking about how these improved breeds could help empower women in rural areas.
Alessandra: We thought, okay, what if these women in remote areas had access to improved breeds that would produce a little bit more, then they'd be able to earn a little bit more out of these chickens and start building This is, you know, an economic empowerment better.
Elliot: And how did they get those improved breeds to the women?
Brenda: by identifying opportunities. It turns out that private companies, who were multiplying the improved breeds of chickens were selling them to brooders. These brooders, who raise the chicks for a while before selling them on, are mostly middle-aged women who were facing their own set of challenges.
Alessandra: The brooders would get they all chicks from the private company together with a number of inputs, and then they would raise the chickens for a little while, and then they would sell them to other women farmers who you know, would, you know, eat them or raise them for a long time. What became apparent is that this this valuation was very short. So the women brought this very soon, kind of sold chicken to all the neighbors in the community, and then they got stuck and nobody wanted chickens anymore. So the idea of the project was to really expand this reach and try and make sure that women brooders could, you know, sell also to other communities and to women rural areas that were further from their community.
Elliot: But I imagine that you would then have the problem of getting the improved breeds from the brooders into the more rural communities?
Alessandra: We focused a lot on the figure of women vendors. These are young women graduate graduates who would pick up the older chickens from the brothers and bring them to the women farmers in the rural areas, together with advice and any input that the women needed. And these are vets, so they can do that. And then a few months later, they would go back and buy the older chickens and bring them back to the urban areas to sell to whatever…
So we built the whole project around putting these young women vendors through a a business incubation process. So we would build their skillsets, business people and specifically skills about chicken business and so on and so forth.
Brenda: That’s a very innovative approach. So, the women who sell the chicks are best placed to transport them to the communities. They’re educated in animal science and can give the birds vaccines and medicines. Everyone stands to benefit. It sounds like a true win-win. And I guess it satisfies “locally meaningful definitions of empowerment”.
Elliot: Exactly. But you can’t have a great project without also thinking about sustainability. The project ends in September, but because of the experience, the training and the connections that these vendors are getting, they’ll be able to carry on even after the project finishes.
Alessandra: It has been amazing to actually see how these women have picked up on this opportunity. Some of them have decided that they don't want to be vendors, only they want to do both brooding and bending. So now they have accumulated some of the chickens and they're brought in them and they're then bringing them to their customers in the rural areas. Other women have teamed up and have created a bit of a tiny company, you know, where they can share tasks, which of course helps with their work It has been incredible. And the government also picked up on this initiative and supported our women, other women in the community by bringing them on. So they can raise their their support, their livelihood. So it has been beautiful to the point that our scientific design is a bit challenged because, you know, the women have developed so many different models of business that will be hard for us to assess exactly what this work is. But that doesn't matter because as long as we have impact on the ground, I think that's that's beautiful.
Brenda: One of these women is Upendo Ramadhani Simba, a university graduate of animal sciences who began as a chicken vendor through the project and is now a brooder.
Upendo: Actually at the beginning, I started by doing that, becoming a vendor. I became a vendor. I was going to their villages, um, looking for farmers who are interested in keeping poultry. It happened, but we got lots of them. We are so interested to get their poultry and therefore we had to collect them for good brooders around their places. Therefore, we help them to get the chicks from their brooders to the places to help them with different technical services.
Later on, I came to find an opportunity to own it. Therefore, I became a brooder. So rewarding. I'm getting chicks, rearing them. After a month I distribute them to the farmers.
Brenda: After she graduated from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, Upendo was having trouble finding employment, when she happened to meet some ILRI researchers.
Upendo: I was volunteering at the district. So when these came to our district, it they wanted to meet with girls who just finished their studies, but they couldn't get jobs And it happened that I was one among them. But from that, I my passion is keeping poetry and coming from their families that are keeping poetry. Animals in general. Yeah. Therefore, when I got this opportunity, it was a pleasure for me.
Elliot: Passion, I think that’s a good word for how she feels. And it shows that there are opportunities for women like Upendo who come from families that keep livestock.
Brenda: Right. And the special thing about chickens is that rewards come quickly.
Upendo: You can get the profit in a very short period of time. Therefore, I think these are good enough to prevent or to reduce the poverty around their areas. So I was so interested in keeping them helping other people, keeping them. So, yeah.
Lots of women wanted to keep poultry, but they didn't have good sources So after we introduced this, it came it became easier for them.
It also, I'm being employed myself. I'm not in such a hurry to find a job searching for another job. So it's easier for the women of their remote area. Because we we have to have good contracts, contractual arrangements where we pick their chicks from their brothers and deliver them for their farm direct. So they are not getting that reliable transportation. Yeah, they don't worry anymore about that. They are sure that they whenever they want chicks, they get the chicks at affordable prices. Yeah.
Brenda: It sounds like she is really happy with the work she is doing and the business opportunities in brooding. But, with the project ending in September, the question is, does she plan to continue this work?
Upendo: Absolutely. I came to love it so much. So I have plans. Yeah.
I, actually happened that I got to know lots of suppliers or are applying those day-old chicks. So I think after the process out, it would be easier for me to continue. I think nothing would be changed so much. Yeah, I, and I have also get connected to lots of farmers so it'll be easier.
Brenda: But it’s clear to Upendo what the most meaningful part of this experience is.
Upendo: Career development. As I involved myself in this project. I came to know so many things, so I to until this time, my career has developed, this I actually have got connected to different people the way I am in community development. So those are maybe the outcome of it.
Elliot: It’s really great to hear Upendo’s story and the success that has come from this project. But, Brenda, we mentioned earlier the importance of gender inclusivity in gender research… so I’m wondering, when do men start to figure into all this?
Brenda: Right now! Adolf Jeremiah, a research field coordinator at ILRI with a background on gender and youth programming says involving men in the work is just as essential.
Adolf: It's really important to involve men in gender, in, say, a project like this because in men is part of the big society. And on the for a long time, men have been enjoying the privilege which is being invented by them through the cultural gut grounded factors, as I can say. So involving them first of all is creating awareness of the imbalance. And in the and if they could understand the same imbalance, which is existing in the community and they they get to agree with this imbalance and agreed to be champions to address the imbalances.
Brenda: If men don’t participate, the sustainability of any initiatives to boost women’s empowerment will be in trouble.
Adolf: If we only include women in this, the men will start in creating a defense mechanism to to come against the women.
So I think it's good if we do and involve men as well because involving men is something it's very important for the sustainability of the activity as well as involving men. It will be easy to address those hindering embedding social cultural norms in the build from the particular society.
Brenda: And Alessandra Galie says that thinking about women and men together is just as important as focusing on women when we’re thinking about gender equality.
Alessandra: I think it's essential also that we move away from just the pure understanding about women's empowerment without the gender lens, because, you know, and this has been a big paradigm shift in the in the research on gender in the sense that we need to not just target women or men, but really try and understand how the technologies that we are producing interact with gender norms and dynamics Identities have a lot to do with local gender norms. So you cannot look at women without looking at the man. You cannot look young women without looking at older men. They, you know, younger men and so on and so forth. So it's very much understanding these gender dynamics and norms that affect the way they interact with our with the technologies that we in the innovations that we are, you know, collaborating with them on, but also how gender norms and dynamics affect affect the whole food system. So very important that we engage with moving beyond just gender but really integrating the other social markers in the work that that we do.
Brenda: On a different note, as we said earlier, women do most of the work looking after livestock in the developing world. Livestock farming can help women transition out of poverty – but could it also have the effect of keeping women at the production level?
Alessandra: We've also talked about we heard also from some of the women in some of the communities that livestock is so traditional that is very hard to move beyond the gender norms. And really progress towards gender equality.
And so one question is livestock is so traduced and all that is very hard to engage with. You know, changing that, the traditional norms that keep women mostly in the production level and, you know, really support their empowerment we're working on it. We are engaging with gender transformative approaches to really understand the potential of livestock in supporting women's economic empowerment. And as a pathway out of poverty.
Elliot: OK, so at the end of the day, what I take from this project and much of what we’ve discussed, is that for women, even starting out with a few productive chicks can be life changing. Because those few productive chicks might eventually turn into a flock, which can then provide enough profit to let them buy, say, a goat. And over time, they can accumulate enough wealth to have more choices and a greater ability to achieve their life goals. It puts them on a more equal footing to their male counterparts.
Brenda: Right, gender equality today, for a more sustainable tomorrow. Livestock, and specifically poultry, can give women economic and social significance. ILRI’s Women in Business project shows that clearly. And of course, we have to acknowledge that when we’re having these conversations about women’s empowerment, it’s also important that we recognize how the different genders can work together.
Elliot: Right, like Adolf said, inviting men to be a part of the conversation creates a space where they can better understand the imbalances and become champions of transformation.
Brenda: Well put Elliot. And I think that’s a great place to leave off for today! Thank you so much to Dr. Alessandra Galie, Upendi Ramadhani Simba, and Adolf Jeremiah for taking the time to discuss women’s empowerment with us today.
Elliot: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. We would love to hear your feedback about today’s episode or the podcast more generally. Feel free to send us a message on Twitter at Boma Podcast to let us know your thoughts on the show, and also, what topics you’d like us to cover in the future. And if you enjoyed today’s episode, please don’t forget to subscribe.
But for now, so long and we’ll catch you next time on sThe Boma. My name is Elliot Carleton.
Brenda: And I’m Brenda Coromina
[BC1]Edit to only “take the chickens”
[AD(2]Yes—take the chicken…with them