Empowering Female Farmers to Lead Sustainable Businesses
The sun has yet to rise, but already the smell of boiling rice wafts through the air in the Sirisom family house. As she does each morning, Mrs. Suangkanok Sirisom prepares breakfast for her husband, daughter, and parents before spending another hour tidying the home, folding laundry, and seeing her daughter, Wichuda, off to school. She does all this, and then drives to her farm, where she works under the sizzling Thai sun until five o’clock in the evening.
The work of a sugarcane farmer is mentally and physically taxing, and the demands are exacerbated for women, who are responsible for a disproportionate number of household duties. With so much on their plate, female farmers seldom have the opportunity to seek outside support to improve their business operations. For that reason, the Coca-Cola system in Thailand, the Thai Roong Rueng Sugar Group (TRR) – a producer and distributor of sugar under the brand “Lin”, Khon Kaen Sugar Industry Public Company Limited (KSL) and Kenan Foundation Asia have joined hands to bring essential financial literacy and sustainable agricultural training to women farmers in Phetchabun and Uthai Thani provinces. By expanding their financial literacy knowledge and technical skills in this new pilot initiative, more than 600 female farmers will be capable of operating sustainable businesses, benefitting themselves, their families, and the community at large.
The project was carefully designed following a comprehensive study of Thai female farmers in the Coca-Cola value chain, which identified financial knowledge and outdated agricultural practices as the most pressing challenges limiting the success of these proud women. The two are intertwined, as sugarcane is a notoriously unpredictable crop (it takes between 3 – 8 years for sugarcane to mature), making long term yield projections and financial planning integral skills for farmers.
Most small- and medium-plot sugarcane farmers lack adequate financial educations, yet are responsible for managing both the technical and financial aspects of their businesses. For example, Mrs. Suangkanok must hire workers, monitor employee performance, and manage the budget, while also operating a tractor on a daily basis. Because of the heavy workload, household and business finances are often combined, leading to a host of issues during inevitable economic ebbs. To prevent female farmers from this precarious situation, Kenan is conducting financial literacy training that provides participants with fundamental knowledge of core concepts, such as spending, debt management, saving, household accounting, and entrepreneurship. The training gives participants the know-how to overcome economic setbacks without dipping into personal finances or seeking out informal lenders.
“This training was very helpful,” said Mrs. Suangkanok who participated in an August workshop. “I now understand the importance of personal finance and investing, which should help my family achieve our long term financial goals.”
In addition to poor financial planning, farmers under the project tend to utilize outdated farming techniques and technology, making their work overly labor intensive and inefficient. While large plot farmers have the capital and capacity to purchase state-of-the-art technology and accurately assess crop maturation, smaller plot farmers struggle in these areas. For this reason, TRR and KSL, who are both leading sugar suppliers in Thailand, will train women farmers on the best practices in sugarcane cultivation.
While the project will directly empower 600 female farmers and contribute to Coca-Cola’s global 5by20 initiative that aims to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs across the company’s value chain by year 2020, the positive benefits will extend throughout the communities of Uthai Thani and Phetchabun provinces. By increasing gender equality and raising the business skills of women, children will benefit, jobs will be created, and families will be better positioned to overcome economic downturns.