What Businesses Need to Know About Women Farmers in Indonesia

What many agricultural businesses and other organisations in Indonesia often fail to see is that 40 percent of farm work in Indonesia is shouldered by women. Women farmer’s role in agriculture often goes unnoticed by the private and public sector. Companies struggle to see women farmer’s decision-making power and potential impact on both the ‘bottom line’. Even those business and public leaders who do see the incredible potential of women farmers as powerful decision makers, suppliers, consumers, and workers, often struggle to reach them or address them in their business strategies.

PRISMA sees that local agribusiness strategies tend to focus only on men. This includes everything from the sale of equipment and raw materials to training opportunities to upskill farmers.

PRISMA understands that markets are key to reducing poverty in Indonesia and, at the same time, increasing food security. But we also know that food security cannot be achieved if such a huge swath of the farmer population is being excluded.

Having worked for more than 6 years in Indonesia and having increased the income of nearly half a million households by many million rupiah per year, we’ve come to believe that companies need to understand how women are integral to their core business models. This means understanding three key points about this elusive market segment that is hiding in plain sight:

Women are Hidden Decision Makers - Identifying and reaching “Decision Makers” is Marketing 101 for many businesses, and Indonesian women play a significant role in farming household decisions– often serving as the household financial managers. 

A survey on Financial Access and Inclusion (SOFIA) in rural households conducted by the program showed that 61% of women make the financial decisions in the household. This is despite women in Indonesia having little financial agency, for example, they rarely own land, assets or have access to bank accounts.

While the influence of women farmers may vary depending on the region, the type of activity, and the specific household dynamics, PRISMA has found that targeting women is one of the quickest ways to improve uptake of new and existing products.

Women Prefer to Learn from Other Women - The source matters, and research and experience show that in many cultures – including amongst women working in agriculture in Indonesia – women prefer to receive information when channeled through other women.

We learned this when partnering with private sector companies working with maize farmers in Madura, East Java.  We discovered that the women in farming households had significant influence on technology adoption and how money was spent. However, the marketing strategy of these companies had never considered using women as part of their sales force targeting women farmers. Once this was tested, it led to an increase in the use of high-quality maize seed and adoption of better agricultural practices, which in turn led to higher household income.

Businesses we are partnering with now invest in their marketing strategies, product design and packaging to attract more women and they are seeing the results with increased sales. Marketing events take women’s needs, their struggles and preferences into account, with many providing childcare services, for example.

It’s Not as Difficult as it Seems - To CEOs, chief marketeers and field specialists, it can feel overwhelming to learn that an entire market segment is missing from their strategy, and businesses may believe they need to overhaul their thinking to get it right.

Based on strong collaboration with market leaders, we know that perceptions around the investment and risk associated with reaching women are overstated and opportunities are often ignored. Change can be as simple as leveraging practices that already exist and adapting current sales and distribution strategies to target women.

Subtle changes to business models can generate huge outcomes along the whole agricultural value chain. These changes can be as light as extending invites to both women and men to attend relevant information sessions, or to adopt a more inclusive recruitment strategy.

PRISMA’s six years of working with private and public partners has encouraged businesses and district governments to look into consumer behaviour and consider that different segments – youth, women, men and other groups - have distinct profiles, preferences and habits. We learned that recognising this is crucial for corporate strategies and District Government farm support.

PRISMA has so far benefitted 469,879 households in Indonesia’s agriculture sector and is a new way of delivering development assistance to Indonesia.

 

Maryam Piracha is the author of this piece who is currently the Head of Portfolio 5 and GESI (Gender Equality and Social Inclusion) team of PRISMA program.

The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author and do not reflect the position of PRISMA, the Government of Australia or the Government of Indonesia.