By most measures, agriculture is the world’s biggest employer. It is especially important for the poor, 75 percent of whom live in rural areas. But low productivity and weak market access typically hold them back, keeping their hard work from leading to significant income.
IFC understands the need for targeted initiatives to increase women’s participation in the sector. In Bangladesh, where 91 percent of the women’s work force is unskilled, we helped train 400 local women farmers who then created the first Women’s Seed federation, with each earning nearly $500 in annual additional income by selling seeds to local buyers. In Tajikistan, we helped our client banks increase lending to local small-scale cotton farms, helping their owners improve working conditions for nearly 6,000 women farm workers.
Even in remote rural areas, change can come quickly when conscientious new private investors enter the scene. Seeing opportunities that others overlook, they fill in the gaps, adding value and selling to new buyers. They turn agriculture into agribusiness, the turning point for higher productivity, employment, and incomes in this critical sector—especially for women.
This has been the case in Ukraine, thanks to changes introduced by a dynamic local company called Mriya Agro Holding. Named for the Ukrainian word for ‘dream,’ it was founded soon after the fall of the Soviet Union by Ivan and Klaudia Guta, an entrepreneurial local couple who had once worked at a state farm. Seeking to make the most of land privatizations in one of their country’s poorest areas, rural western Ukraine, it began leasing numerous plots from local smallholders who were typically unable to do much with them, consolidating them into the large-scale land holdings commercial farming requires. Mriya then began investing in farm equipment, storage facilities, and other needs, and in time became a major producer of wheat, corn, sugar beets, and other crops, selling both locally and abroad. Starting with just one square kilometer of land in 1992, it now has nearly $300 million in annual revenues.
Using this integrated business model, Mriya has increased its female work force from 160 to 364 since 2009. Some are clericals and farm laborers, but many others are professionals such as agronomists, lab specialists, and division heads. With local financing hard to find in Ukraine’s difficult banking environment, IFC has just provided Mriya a new working capital facility to help maintain its growth in this distant part of the country with few other opportunities for women. It is just one way we work to extend the impact of this all-important industry.