Female farmers need a stronger voice for equality
Empowering rural women through agriculture has great potential in Azerbaijan.
Olga Babayeva, a 52-year-old farmer from the Samukh region, North-West of Azerbaijan, is a well-recognized businesswoman in her community. Apart from being the biggest producer of vegetable seeds for onions, coriander, dill, radishes, parsley, and others, she is also known for her strong support of women’s engagement in farming.
A farm life attracted her as a young child, as she used to spend her summer holidays helping her parents in planting vegetables. It was in the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Olga, in her nineteens, started renting a 10-hectare plot to grow beetroot, and become the first young female farmer in Fuzuli village.
“But it was not that easy,“ says Olga with a smile, who cultivates 14 hectares of land already.
For more than 30 years she has been engaged in agriculture which includes managing the vegetable seed cooperative “Barakat” translated as “Blessing” from Azeri, with 1 400 villagers as members, as well as establishing the Samukh Seed and Vegetable Corporation that ensures laboratory testing for sorting and drying. Today, the corporation is selling seeds at both national and foreign markets.
“In the beginning, I faced situations when a tractor driver who was usually a man refused to cultivate my land just because I was a woman or officials at local government body neglected my requests as they did not accept the fact that woman can be engaged in farming professionally”, tells Olga. “‘Your place is in the kitchen – this is what women hear very often, ‘not in the land’.”
Empowering rural women through agriculture has great potential in Azerbaijan, as according to the State Statistics Committee of Azerbaijan, 77 percent of women reside in rural areas, and the percentage of female entrepreneurs engaged in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, is higher than of men (32 percent and 24 percent subsequently). However, women face a number of challenges such as the gender pay gap, the informality of jobs, triple work burden (housework, working on household production, and wage work), and poor access to social services, hindering them from leveraging their full potential. In total, women do an average of six hours of unpaid work, while men spend two hours on the same.
“As I was divorced with a little son and daughter in my hands, I had no other option, as to earn our living to survive. I had to work much harder than any other male fellow as I bared triple responsibilities: working on the farm, at home, and engaging in village initiatives. Today, my children are adults, but perceptions, challenges are still there,” adds Olga.
Olga knows very well the challenges women face in agriculture as she had to go through many of them. This is why FAO considered her as a future mentor for female farmers.
To this end, Olga received several trainings on farming and business management and will soon participate in a training for trainers’ workshop. Since 2020, FAO, in cooperation with the Government of Azerbaijan, is focusing on providing support to rural women for improving their knowledge and farming practices through innovative technologies in cultivating fruit trees, vegetables, cattle breeding, poultry raising and other areas.
“Women are engaged in agricultural production, however, they are less educated in sales and marketing, and have little information about micro-credits and non-financial services, says Flora Poladova, FAO gender specialist in Azerbaijan. “With the improved farming techniques, they will be able to do commercial farming. Increasing their income through essential business, marketing, and leadership skills will, in fact, raise women's self-confidence and make their voice heard.”
“FAO plays an intermediary role between female farmers, state, and private service providers. We are working on stakeholder mapping now to bridge this that will help women to learn about free advisory services, soft loans, and other services,” Poladova added.
To keep up the momentum, the project mobilizes rural women’s groups and already succeeded in connecting over 100 female farmers from 20 regions of Azerbaijan. Olga is part of this network and communicates with other members and shares farming knowledge via a mobile messaging application.
“I am so happy to be part of the big changes ahead! Grateful women are not alone and support is there. Women and girls deserve fair opportunities and treatment and once financially stable, they will have a stronger voice to be equally recognized,” says Olga.