International Women's Day: Celebrating the Women Producers of the World

International Women's Day: Celebrating the Women Producers of the World
21 février 2024

Throughout the regions in which we work, from Rwanda to Nicaragua, there are many powerful examples of women leading the way in agricultural sectors which have long been dominated by men. We believe that gender equality has a vital part to play in strengthening communities and promoting economic growth.

In fact, The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that closing the gender gap in agriculture would reduce the number of undernourished people by up to 150 million. So, in celebration of #InternationalWomensDay we want to shine the spotlight on some inspiring female figures who are overcoming historical discrimination to pave the way for a new generation of women leaders.

Awa Traoré: CAYAT (Ivory Coast)

Awa Traoré is the General Manager at CAYAT (Coopérative Agricole de Yakasse Attobrou), a cocoa co-operative in Ivory Coast. CAYAT was formed in 2010 with 283 members. They became Fairtrade certified in 2012, and have grown to over 3,000 members located across 38 villages in Ivory Coast; 400 of these members are women. Awa told us: 

“We have demonstrated the important role women play in society. We have demonstrated that women must take a leading position in order to change things in our society.”

The co-operative created a Women’s Society in 2015 to support female farmers to play a greater role in business and community development. Today, CAYAT refers to this as the Women’s Union and it has 500 participants, including wives of male farmers, carrying out various income-generating activities, such as growing cassava and maize.

In 2017, CAYAT established a rural radio station with funds from the Fairtrade Premium. Now known as Radio CAYAT, this initiative aims to be the voice of the producer, discussing topics such as health, environment, agribusiness, gender equality and female leaders and role models within the community.

Awa said: “For us, it is important to create the Union to restore social justice first, and then women can play a role in community development, it is important for women to have autonomy so that they can work alongside their husbands and provide for the needs of their family.”

CAYAT members have also attended the Women’s School of Leadership, developed by Fairtrade Africa in 2017, which supports producer organisations to understand and integrate women more fully into all aspects of agricultural development. It offers a year-long training and mentoring programme focused on financial management and income diversification, as well as human rights and gender equality.

Shared Interest Managing Director Patricia Alexander said: “I spoke to Awa at a Fairtrade Foundation meeting and she told me that the women who attended the School of Leadership did not previously realise that they were entitled to equal opportunities. This emphasised the importance of the training and the powerful impact it has.”

Shared Interest first provided finance to the co-operative in 2016, enabling them to increase production and meet the growing demand for cocoa.

Learn More about CAYAT

Elizabeth Arista Salazar: COOPARM (Peru)

In the Amazonas region of South America, organic Fairtrade coffee producer COOPARM (Cooperativa Agraria Rodríguez de Mendoza)  is setting a precedent for gender equality by placing people and the planet at the forefront of their work in producing high quality coffee. One of 500 members, Elizabeth Arista Salazar is President of COOPARM coffee co-operative’s Women’s Committee. Elizabeth said: 

“I encourage all women to prepare for big goals and have confidence to achieve them, you would be amazed at the times this combination works miracles.”

On the Women's Committee, Elizabeth told us: “The main vision for the Women’s Committee is that we are given visibility of women’s issues and women’s needs - as mothers, as well as producers. Women are responsible for bringing up the children and organising the household. Some are single mothers. We don’t have much in the way of resources ourselves.”

Elizabeth explained that a small amount of Fairtrade Premium is given to the Women’s Committee: “We meet to decide what to do with it. We might buy seeds. We might use the money to support a female member who is ill or who is in particular need at any time (...) This is my second year as President. I want to keep on doing this to make sure that the female members of the co-operative are happy.”

In our interview with Elizabeth, she told us:

“Here, we do not have a gender distinction. We work hard and do incredible things.”

Shared Interest has provided support to COOPARM for over a decade and the co-operative uses their facility all year round. Due to farmers being located at different altitudes, they harvest coffee continuously and the finance enables them to pay farmers when their coffee is collected.

Learn More about COOPARM


Established in 1997 under the leadership of Merling Preza, PRODECOOP (Promotora de Desarrollo Cooperativo de Las Segovias) is a coffee co-operative in Nicaragua committed to raising awareness of women’s rights within and beyond their organisation. Land ownership is an important principle within their work.

Now General Manager, Merling is also Vice President of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Fair Trade Small Producers and Workers (CLAC), as well as a member of the Board and General Assembly of Fairtrade International. Merling told us: “We work on the issue of the Land Fund - a fund that uses the Fairtrade Premium - with the aim that women can have greater access to land. That is one of the challenges we face, even though we do have 854 women, the majority of these women have less than two hectares. Women have the smallest area of production in general.”

“We have extended the Land Fund programme (for the) renovation of coffee plantations and for economic ventures for women to diversify their income (...) Women are trained directly in both the value chain of coffee and also on issues in leadership, finance, management of credit, the whole issue of legalisation of land, access to resources (…) with the aim that by developing their skills they can access leadership roles.”

In 2006, Shared Interest provided finance to help the co-operative meet demand for their coffee and pay farmers at harvest time. Merling said: “Without Shared Interest finance, a large proportion of our coffee producers would have been denied a good income - they would have sold their coffee on the local market at very low prices.”

Learn More about PRODECOOP


Bukonzo Organic Farmers Cooperative Union (BOCU) are a coffee co-operative made up of 2,552 smallholder farmers in the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, where they produce high quality, organically grown and handpicked coffee. Josinta Kabugho is the co-operative’s General Manager; she describes her role as being responsible for overseeing all of Bukonzo’s day-to-day activities. Josinta told us:

“Gender equality is important because there is equal access to resources, which promotes empowerment. I have not had challenges but opportunities as being a woman leader…”

…”partners have been motivated to partner with BOCU because of the trust that women have. I have seen myself being confident in doing co-operative activities and the members have built trust in me.”

Josinta explained that the co-operative takes a family-led approach to safeguarding farming for the next generation. She said: “We are proud to make sustainability the focus for all of our activities and there is an abundance of life and diversity to be found on our farms.

The co-operative became a customer in 2014 and has since used our finance to build up stock levels for buyers to export and support their growth. Their membership has increased by over 60% and they have subsequently developed their processing capacity.

Learn More about Bukonzo


In the high Andes, women are traditionally responsible for livestock management as well as looking after their household. Historically, the challenging altitudes and landscapes are limiting in terms of income opportunities. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Programme Analyst Catherine Wong said: “The situation is even more difficult for women living in the rural communities. They have faced significant hardships compared to male agricultural producers.’

Many rural Andean communities rely on potato farming, but some are now learning about sustainable sphagnum moss harvesting thanks to support from social enterprise, Inka Moss. Working with the moss provides farmers with a 27% increase in their annual income. Two thirds of Inka Moss harvesters are women and this additional employment makes a huge difference to families, meaning that fewer men migrate to the city for work and women are able to earn their own money alongside caring for their livestock.

Inka Moss Impact Manager Juanjo said: “Traditionally in the Andean region, women play more of a household role while the men work in the fields (…) The women we work with now harvest moss while their cattle are grazing, allowing them to earn an income paid directly to them. This has started a shift within households as women are bringing money to the table and so seen as more of an equal partner.”

Bertha Mendoza Ramos is a moss collector and lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural village called Tambillo. It takes approximately two hours to walk to the area where moss is currently harvested. Sometimes the journey is made by horse and can be completed in less than an hour. Bertha said: “I have been working with the moss for five years. The community as a whole has definitely changed a lot thanks to this additional economic support.

“Working with the moss allows me to have the money to buy groceries for the family, it also helps me to buy proper clothing and shoes for my children. The support has been life-changing.”

Bertha’s niece, Fiorella Anchiraico Montalvo, is also a moss harvester. She began collecting moss eight years ago to earn an income to support her family. She said: 

“The main change I have seen in the community is that the children can now get the proper food that they need to be healthy and that the community as a whole has an additional source of income to cover the needs we have.

Inka Moss became a certified B Corp organisation in 2017 and Shared Interest first provided finance that same year, to help pay farmers when the moss is harvested.

Learn More about Inka Moss


The stories of these women resonate within their organisations as well as throughout and beyond their communities. The achievements and ambitions of Awa, Elizabeth, Fiorella and Bertha, Merling and Josinta also represent growing global evidence of women becoming economically empowered and financially secure through owning and benefiting from their own land, indicating a redistribution of power, fairness and justice throughout the supply chain.

In 2023, our Foundation delivered training in a variety of topics, including soilless farming, climate-smart agriculture and leadership to 832 women, whilst 348 women were supported to join a VSLA (savings group) and 486 women increased their income through the establishment of new enterprises. Meanwhile, Shared Interest Society supported 412,628 farmers, artisans and workers in 2023, of which over 130,000 are women.

We remain committed to bridging the gender gap in agriculture and empowering women throughout the supply chain, on International Women’s Day and beyond. 

Join us in support of the marvellous women who are farmers, craftspeople, leaders and mothers and #investinafairerworld today.


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