Interview with Mina Manuchehri, Landesa

15th March 2019

To mark Bonsucro Global Week, we’ve caught up with some of the speakers to find out about their work driving a more sustainable sugarcane supply chain. Mina Manuchehri of Landesa was part of the panel on the gender agenda – read some of her insights below.

Mina Manuchehri
Can give us insight into your work with organisations to achieve socially responsible investments in agricultural land, particularly in cane?

Companies and investors increasingly acknowledge that strong land rights for women and men create a more stable, resilient, and productive environment for both business and communities.

Recognising that the private sector is a critical actor in strengthening land rights, Landesa works directly with companies to build capacity to undertake land-based investments that are legally and socially sound; to navigate land risks and issues in their value chain; and to facilitate relationships between governments, civil society, and communities that are built on trust and transparency.

For several years, Landesa has worked with actors across the cane value chain – from buyers to processors and producers – in Africa, Latin America, and Asia to develop and implement policies, strategies, and tools to help companies better recognise and respect the land rights of farmers and communities throughout their supply chains. As part of this work, Landesa understands that investments in land have the potential to impact women and men differently, as women and men differ in terms of how they use land, participate in economic and social processes, make decisions, evaluate opportunities, and access information.

Thus, any investment in land must take proactive steps to ensure women and men are equal beneficiaries and that economic and social practices that disadvantage women are not further entrenched.

You are taking part in the ‘Gender Agenda: Women’s Role in Cane’ session, what are some of the key points you’d like to see be discussed?

To achieve more responsible investments in land, it is critical to not only recognise the important roles that women are already playing, but to identify and breakdown barriers prohibiting women from fully achieving economic empowerment. Acknowledging this need, I’m interested in discussing practical strategies for how to better empower women throughout the cane value chain.

Landesa’s experience shows that meaningful strategies should include ensuring women are better able to access information and inputs critical for cane development. Although women and men may have access to land for cane development, men are more likely to own land and have decision-making authority over its use. Consequently, they are more commonly seen as the recipients and beneficiaries of information and inputs. To ensure women are able to access to those, trainings and other events should be provided at a time and place that is convenient for women. Furthermore, companies should hire female staff and facilitators to conduct trainings and share information. Assessments should also be carried out to better understand the specific roles that women are playing or could play, which in turn will help to inform what information and inputs are most needed.

Similarly, all policies, standards, and certifications focused on achieving more sustainable investments should strive to measure the participation of women and impacts on men and women separately. Measuring such impacts is especially important when recognising that the monetisation of land, such as converting land use from subsistence to commercial farming, can change family dynamics, as men are more likely than women to be viewed as owners of and decision makers over such resources.

For example, women in Tanzania described how cane is viewed as a “masculine” crop, and therefore, their role  in the production of cane is limited. Consequently, taking proactive steps to directly involve women from the outset of any investment or development project can go a long way in offsetting these otherwise disproportionate impacts.

What are some of the key challenges that lie ahead in this key area of development?

A key challenge is cultural and social norms. Such norms may inhibit women from being viewed as “farmers” or other formal actors in the cane value chain, despite the fact that they are carrying out duties. Furthermore, cultural and social norms may limit women’s ability to serve in leadership positions or possess decision-making authority over how their household’s land is used or what agreements they enter into. Consequently, any strategy or initiative must grapple with how to increase women’s participation and empowerment throughout the value chain within contexts with challenging cultural and social norms.

Grappling with this tension will require determining whether or to what extent it is appropriate for the private sector to influence such norms. To mitigate risks associated with this, any efforts focused on empowering women should be driven by women themselves, leveraging existing networks and initiatives focused on women’s economic empowerment. Furthermore, strategic partnerships with key stakeholders, such as civil society and government, can help to provide guidance on how to navigate such norms in a respectful manner.

The theme of this year’s Bonsucro Global Week is ‘Scaling Impacts’. What is one outcome you’d like to see from multi-stakeholder discussions at Bonsucro Global Week to achieve sustainable cane at scale?

One of the outcomes I’d like to see from Bonsucro Global Week is a clear strategy in place for how key stakeholders, including the private sector, government, civil society, industry groups, and others can better collaborate, as achieving sustainable cane at scale will require a concerted effort amongst different stakeholders. Throughout the week, it would be helpful to hear concrete examples of how key stakeholders have formed partnerships that leverage respective skill sets and positions of influence to achieve impact at scale.

Landesa’s current work to achieve more responsible investments in land focuses heavily on the importance of developing networks of partnerships, particularly between the private sector and civil society. For example, over the past two years, Landesa has been working with Illovo Sugar Africa to build collaborative partnerships with local CSOs in Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania to help the company implement commitments to better respect land rights throughout its supply chain. Although such partnerships are still new, they are made possible and impactful when despite differences, stakeholders are able to identify common goals and build mutual trust.

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