Project ConVERGE conducts Women and Youth Forum and Action Planning 2022

Just like extras or supporting characters in dramas and films, women and youth are traditionally not treated with the same relevance as other sectors when it comes to farming. Albeit the inequality and lack of attention they are being confronted with, women and youth are vital to agricultural development and agrarian reform. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, these sectors are catalysts for rural transformation, given their potential for creating employment and stimulating value addition. Agriculture-related enterprises provide opportunities for both women and youth to engage in entrepreneurship and innovation.

Among the objectives of the IFAD-funded and DAR-implemented Project ConVERGE is to ensure the inclusion of women and youth farmers in the delivery of its support services and the involvement of the said sectors on its various value chain activities and interventions. Despite the identified youth beneficiaries and women comprising 41% of the enterprise workforce over its nearly 6 years of implementation, the project sees the need to underscore the importance of these sectors in ConVERGE.

With this notion at hand, Project ConVERGE conducted a Women and Youth Forum and Action Planning last September 22 – 23, 2022 in Cagayan de Oro City, participated by the women and youth farmers and beneficiaries of the project across its three (3) regions. The said forum assessed the participation of youth and women in planning and implementation, served as a platform to share best practices of women and youth in agricultural participation, and conducted a sustainability planning in support for women and youth of the value chain enterprises.

What roles do they play: where the women and youth stand in project implementation

According to ConVERGE Project Manager Gomer Tumbali, women have successfully handled funds and managed groups of agrarian reform beneficiaries, became recipients of distributed land, elected as leaders or treasurers for instance, and are now more involved in community activities and development works. 

Project ConVERGE conducted a gender-responsive value chain analysis to ensure that gender needs are identified in the course of the project implementation. Results show that women membership in the project’s 142 agrarian reform beneficiary organizations (ARBO) is at 41% with leadership involvement at 11%. They are well-represented in credit access, training, and equipment use. 

Professor Rosalyn Echem of the Western Mindanao State University elucidated the gender differences in the contexts of before and during ConVERGE during her talk. Based on the Project ConVERGE Gender Study led by Professor Echem, there was a significant decrease in the time allotted by the women beneficiaries of the project on doing household chores and other stereotypical women-led tasks. In addition, women beneficiaries now have more access to project training and information, while improvements are still needed in the corporate aspect.

Meanwhile, a number of youth beneficiaries are either underemployed or unemployed. Thus, the project is directing the youth into doing agricultural labor work, as well as encouraging them to become members of community groups. The main goal of getting them to fully pursue agriculture still remains, considering that part of the sustainability of the value chain enterprises is to ensure the involvement and capacity building of the youth who will soon be taking over the operations in the future.

Stories of Women and Youth in the Limelight

During the forum, youth and women participants shared their experiences, stories and best practices in the value chain. This also served as a way of harvesting lessons from the past that still bear relevance to the present. 

Rosebelle is a woman rubber farmer, and she was able to initiate a startup association for her fellow farmers. With ConVERGE, she improved the enterprise as shown by a significant difference in the selling price of rubber after project intervention. 

Rosevilla is a woman actively involved in the value chain, and also a cooperative manager. She was an ARBO manager last 2018. Through ConVERGE, she enhanced her management skills. She recommended the multipass rice mill as a way forward.

Jessie, a young ARBO member, is full of motivation. He was aided by the government through conVERGE. He traveled for capability building under the project. He sadly noticed that some young farmers lack passion and perseverance. They must be encouraged to be true cooperative members. In his experience, youth must be emboldened to engage in rubber farming so they can use the land as their parents’ successors.

Genevieve has been the secretary since the age of 17. She has been dedicated to the cooperative’s operations. She is actively involved in management. With her participation, the cooperative has helped out-of-school youth by employing them.

Imelda is a woman auditor in a coco sugar enterprise. She believed in the need to participate in the cooperative’s operations to enhance the cluster. She believes that women can give invaluable support to families through these enterprises. She suggested exporting as a way forward in the enterprise.

Marilyn is a farmer’s daughter who believes that youth is vital for nation-building. The youth should be engaged in agriculture as it can be foundational for one’s future. She was going to be a soldier—however, she chose to stay in the cooperative, since she saw that her participation is vital to its sustainability.

Juanita is a secretary, who although more into paperwork, immersed herself in the technicalities of the enterprise. She thanks conVERGE for support, value chain equipment, and projects given to the ARBO.

Leonora is a beneficiary of international projects, being part of a cooperative known for its excellent performance. She grew up in a poor family, but she managed to overcome many obstacles in management. She says we must devote an organization’s services to aiding a community.

Mary Jane is an farmer-awardee, who is actively involved in enterprise development. The organization to which she belonged has been helped through training, workshops, and support services.

Beyond the ‘curtain call’: Taking what resonates, sustaining project efforts

Through the forum and action planning, Project ConVERGE was able to identify what practices to amplify and what aspects are to be focused on, especially that the project is already nearing the end of its implementation.

Among the factors considered to be focused in the enterprise where women and youth can be actively involved and engaged are on the conduct of training on financial literacy, improvement of consolidation strategies, and provision of support in input generation. Cooperative financial management must be improved. This includes the sharing of income among members. Equity should still continue for both men and women. The youth should be constantly encouraged so they choose to participate. Women and youth committees should be functional to intensify the involvement of these sectors in the value chain enterprise.

Moreover, plans for sustainability should include the regular generation of financial ratios. Very importantly, the enhanced participation of women and youth must be emphasized. For their participation to be worth the costs, financing for production must be ensured. Employment must be generated for youth members, identify cooperative scholars and adopt youth members. Capacity building, gender mainstreaming as well as computer literacy training must be given. All these and many more endeavors must be geared towards empowering women and youth.

Our women and youth must no longer be identified only as supporting characters and extras when it comes to rural development and agrarian reform. Giving them the center stage and platform through the forum, it was affirmed that they are vital instruments that can concretize and realize the hope that we all have for our agrarian reform beneficiary organizations. Their involvement is a huge factor for the enterprises to prosper and become more harmonized and sustained. 

Indeed, “Sa usaping Agraryo, kabataan at kababaihan, hindi napag-iiwanan” (In Agrarian Reform, youth and women are never left behind)

By: Carlo Anthony Peralta, Jullienne Veronica Tuazon, Katrin Anne Arcala & Charlemagne Kierra Rubillos