A unique survey conducted on thousands of women working in agricultural processing plants from several countries in Africa and India, found that the work offered them opportunities that exceeded financial benefits. Olam International, the agricultural supply chain and food ingredients company, found that women working in its cashew processing plants, said the work they were doing gave them confidence, independence and choices that they would normally not experience.
Nearly six-thousand women were surveyed from Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania.
“We asked the women in our cashew processing plant, over and above their wage, what was the single most important factor to them in their employment, and 36% of those women identified that working gives them independence and choices,” explained Briony Mathieson, head of corporate & sustainability communications for Olam International. She added that at a close second, 33% of the women, said the work also gave them status and confidence.
Mathieson explained that the cashew supply chain requires intensive labor for it to be done well. The outer skin of the cashew nut must be peeled without breaking the nut. She said the nut is worth more when it is peeled whole, and the women working in these plants are very skilled in doing this.
In addition to performing unskilled labor, Mathieson pointed out that the women who work in agricultural processing do have opportunities to advance to more skilled positions.
“They are very good managers and they then gain more status within their communities, and obviously we offer them maternity rights and other benefits over and above the wage that they have as they would in any developing country,” said Mathieson.
The survey also found that women are more responsive to the opportunities that training gives them in many cases, than men.
“So women on the shop floor are given the opportunity to progress if they show an interest in doing that. I should point out that many women who do this unskilled work for us are in fact using this as a supplementary income to the fact that they’re also running a family farm. So generally, we build our factories close to where the cashews are actually grown so we could create a local economy,” explained Mathieson.
She said another benefit of working at the cashew processing plants is that 19% of the women found they receive useful information to take back to their families.