Women’s financial inclusion and the tomato value chain

By Anthea Paelo, Ph.D

Despite the proliferation of supermarkets and delivery apps intended to increase convenience whilst shopping, I refuse to give up my relationship with my market lady, Maureen. Maureen and I have an understanding. I buy fresh fruits and vegetables from only her, and she, in turn, provides me with the best produce available. She procures the right size of produce, at the correct level of ripeness, and at a price we are both comfortable with. I am also a frequent beneficiary of the odd pawpaw, watermelon, or jackfruit at no charge, earning Maureen my unwavering loyalty.

Many fresh produce shoppers in Uganda have a market lady. Aside from the produce, they provide additional customer care that makes them irreplaceable. Unsurprisingly, women have become the face of the fresh produce market everywhere. But are these women earning proportionate financial compensation from their role in the agricultural value chain?

In 2022, FSD Uganda, with support from the FSD Network’s Gender Corpro, commissioned a rapid gender assessment of Uganda’s tomato value chain. The study sought to identify opportunities and understand women’s roles in this value chain.

The assessment found that women were more visible in two areas of the tomato value chain: production and retail, i.e., farming and sale to the final consumer. Men were more involved in tasks requiring additional capital and labour investment. Their visibility was prevalent as aggregators and middlemen in the tomato supply chain.

Women’s visibility and presence in the production and retail segments are due to structural and social factors. First, women have limited ownership of land and other key assets. This limits their ability to access credit to purchase inputs and machinery to improve production outputs.

Second, women often lack the knowledge, experience, and networks to participate at the trading level as middlemen.

An additional challenge limiting women’s ability to participate in other, more lucrative segments of the supply chain lies in the limited time resources to engage in these activities at a commercial level. Women, on average, spend about 5.2 hours a day on unpaid domestic and care work compared to the 1.2 hours a day that men spend.

The benefit of market vending is that the capital requirement is small compared to the value chain’s input supply, production, and trading segments. Through their local Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), women can save and borrow small amounts of capital to put up stalls to earn small amounts of income. Additionally, they can still perform domestic tasks, such as childcare, because they are stationed in one place. Due to the highly competitive nature of the marketplace, women often focus on providing quality customer care to attract and keep customers.

While it may be some time before social norms that limit women’s ability to participate and earn from the whole value chain are overcome, some wins are possible regarding access to financial services. A key route is strengthening the VSLAs and Saving and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) through which many women access financial services. In January 2023, Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority (UMRA) Operational Guidelines for Self-Help Groups (SHGs) took effect. The guidelines aim to provide structure, promote fair and equitable practices, and provide financial stabilisation mechanisms to even small self-help groups.

A second opportunity arises in the growth of digital financial services. VSLAs and SACCOs can digitise their transactions and based on this information, develop credit scores that could be used for loans. Rather than depending on physical collateral or being limited by the resources of the savings group, women can borrow more significant amounts of cash for use in agricultural activities based on their behaviour and spending patterns.

With the developments in the legal framework and the uptake of technology for financial services, we may find increased visibility and participation of women such as Maureen in the tomato supply chain and other agricultural segments. Increased involvement of women across these segments increases their potential income and contributes to a more sustainable economic livelihood.


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