Empowering women, strengthening the food system

Empowering women, strengthening the food system

Gabriella Cynthia Andries
Gabriella Cynthia Andries
Communication Coordinator

Women are resilient agents of change in food and agriculture. They comprise nearly 50 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries and play essential roles throughout the value chains. However, the gender gap in the food and agriculture sectors remain extensive. Many women are facing barriers that detain them from improving their livelihood and getting the recognition they deserve. The challenges include lack of access to land, services, information, market, financing, knowledge, as well as limited involvement in the decision-making process within their community and organisation.

By 2050, the global population is projected to exceed 9.6 billion (FAO). To keep up with the ever-growing population, we must address inequalities between women and men in food and agriculture. At Rikolto, we have been empowering women to have better access to resources and opportunities across our programmes. Get inspired by some stories and insights from our programmes in Indonesia.


Rikolto's rice programme in Boyolali in the Province of Central Java, successfully combined agriculture and business to help women farmers generate better income. We encouraged them to add value to broken organic rice by producing and selling ready-to-eat food such as crackers so they can earn additional income for their families. Through a series of business training and coaching, women can also start developing their agribusiness and gain more knowledge to be involved in the management of the rice cooperative in Boyolali.

Our coffee programme has also unravelled women's potential in the agribusiness value chain. In Merangin, the Province of Jambi, women groups are leading the robusta coffee business. They process coffee cherries into fine robusta green beans using three different processing methods (natural, full-washed, and honey), then sell the products under a brand called the Robusta D'jangkat Sungai Tenang.

Meanwhile, in Toraja in the Province of South Sulawesi, a women's group is developing a business of natural fabric dyes made from coffee waste. To support this initiative, Rikolto has invited a facilitator to provide training on natural dyeing techniques and is currently in the process of developing a business plan to help market their innovative products.


Rikolto realises that equipping women with knowledge and skills is key to increasing women's involvement in agriculture, but more importantly, in improving their representation and role in the decision-making process within the farmers' organisation.

In 2019, a postgraduate student of Wageningen University explored gender mainstreaming in the cocoa value chain in Masagena Cooperative, Rikolto's cocoa partner in South Sulawesi. The findings showed that Rikolto's intervention in facilitating access to key stakeholders such as buyers positively influenced the gender roles and relations in the area. Rikolto's programme has also given opportunities to increase women participation in the value chain. Since 2016, Ayu Antariksa has been leading the Masagena Cooperative with more than 2,200 farmer members in the Masamba District of South Sulawesi. Besides being the first Chairwoman of Masagena, she's also the first woman ever to lead a farmer's cooperative in South Sulawesi province.

Empowered women empower many more women. Another significant update came from Rikolto's coffee cluster where three female farmers representing respectively Koerintji Barokah Bersama, MPIG, and Merangin Cooperative, participated in several national coffee exhibitions in 2019. Their participation encouraged other women farmers to be active in farmer organisations' activities. Many also have shown a strong commitment to training fellow female farmers.


Thanks to a multistakeholder collaboration that includes the city government, NGO and schools in Surakarta, the Province of Central Java where we implement our Food Smart City (FSC) programme, we were able to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for healthy school canteen and have it integrated in 10 schools in Surakarta. Women have a significant role in influencing the implementation of healthy canteen SOP that can provide students with more nutritious food and snacks. The programme also linked the green circular economy component with the Village Responsive Gender Programme initiated by the government of Surakarta. Together with the Surakarta Children's Forum, Rikolto and the city government also conducted a healthy food campaign to increase awareness and knowledge on the importance of good nutrition.

Women's involvement has been prominent throughout the FSC programme implementation. We are proud to see many women leading the way to a better and more secure food system, including as operators of the healthy school canteen, volunteering in the food sharing initiatives, to pioneering the urban farming initiative. Women are also leading efforts to influence more sustainable food consumption practices, including the food surplus sharing initiative.

We are proud to be partnering with Gita Pertiwi Foundation in Surakarta that is being led by a woman with a 90% female staff. The survey on family food consumption and literacy in 2018 by Gita Pertiwi reveals that 54% of women are responsible for managing their family consumption. The number underlines the vital role of women in ensuring nutritious food for their families.

"Women, as the most prominent stakeholders in the city of Surakarta, play an essential part in realising the Food Smart City programme. The role of women is not only limited to the family level but also in society. By being engaged in the health and food issues, women have been able to accelerate the awareness of nutritious food in both public and the government level."

Titik Eka Sasanti Programme Director, Gita Pertiwi Foundation


TAKTIK, our cinnamon programme partner in Kerinci in the Province of Jambi, implement a working hour policy from 08:00 to 15:00 to accommodate women employees to have more time in taking care of their households. In 2019, TAKTIK began employing more females in its production unit to fulfil the demand from Tripper and Haldin for organic cinnamon. Today, 23 out of 34 TAKTIK staffs are women. Most of them support the processing facility and are responsible for quality control.

Devising ways to foster gender mainstreaming requires identifying challenges faced by women and finding effective ways to address gender issues in programmes and policies in agriculture and food systems. Our past years' experiences gave us valuable insights into the effective inclusion of women in the organisation's spaces and on how to institutionalise gender equality as an internal policy of farmer organisations. Rikolto is committed to continuing addressing women's needs and aspirations, supporting equal access of women and men to resources and opportunities, and improving women's engagement in agriculture value chains.