For most people, the word "farmer" conjures up an image of a broad-shouldered man with strong, calloused hands and a face lined by the sun. But in reality, those toiling hands and that weathered face are just as likely to belong to a woman. Women make up 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force on average (that figure reaches 70 percent in some countries), according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Women around the world also typically perform the majority of unpaid domestic work.
The Rainforest Alliance honors the women in our partner communities who devote their lives to making the world a better place—one patch of earth at a time. Here are four exceptional women from the Rainforest Alliance family tree. Their stories, in their own words, show the diversity, complexity, and importance of what it means to do "women’s work."
Sikobihora Marie Françoise, Rwanda
More than three billion cups of tea are consumed around the world every day. Teatime wouldn’t be possible without the labor of tea farmers like Sikobihora Marie Françoise, who is one of more than one million tea farmers in her country alone. Francoise, whose farm is in the Kitabi region, has studied and implemented sustainable farming practices in order to maximize her output of this critically important export crop.
“I am a tea farmer and a member of Kobacyamu Cooperative. In the training from the Rainforest Alliance, they told us to plant trees. As they advised, I have started bit by bit and am planting trees progressively. I’m still working at it. As yet, the trees don’t cover the whole area. They also taught us about farming in terraces to reduce soil erosion and the grass strengthens the terraces too. Before, I used to dump rubbish everywhere, but after training, we were taught to make compost and keep it all in one place. They also advised us to keep organic and non-organic waste separate because they should not be mixed. So, I’ll keep on working harder and taking care of the tea bushes.”
Juana Payaba Cachique, Peru
The vast rainforests in the community of Madre de Dios, deep in the heart of the Andean Amazon, provide many indigenous communities with their livelihoods. The locals in one of our partner communities, Tres Islas, use sustainable methods of harvesting timber, Brazil nuts, and palm fruits. When mining companies came in and began to destroy the forests around them, the former president of Tres Islas, Juana Payaba Cachique, began an epic legal battle to defend her community’s way of life. She took her fight to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and eventually to the Peruvian Constitutional Court, which ruled in her favor against the mining companies. Today, the communities of Tres Islas are building a sustainable indigenous economy with support from the Rainforest Alliance.
"The miners not only destroyed the communal territory, but also brought an increase in bars and introduced child prostitution to the area. There was always mining here, but it got to the point that there were miners here 24 hours a day. They were destroying trees because they didn’t live here. It wasn’t their home, and they didn’t care about the land the way we did. As leaders, we have to think about the future and our children. We can’t think about ourselves."
Mojisola Enitan Oluyeye, Nigeria
Lead agricultural trainer Mojisola Enitan Oluyeye is on a mission to lead women in the Ondo state of Nigeria toward financial independence. The specialized training she provides for cocoa farmers has been eagerly taken in by the women in the region. Approximately 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa comes from smallholder farms. Numbers like that give context to the critical importance sustainable farming is for areas where a good or bad crop can have immediate financial impacts on farmers.
"The more women I am able to bring into sustainable production, the more able I am to help take households out of poverty and food insecurity."
Yunyan Huang, China
The Green Fountain Tea Estate is China’s first Rainforest Alliance CertifiedTM tea estate. It covers 2,400 acres and produces 1.1 million pounds of tea each year. The enterprising co-owner and president, Yunyan Huang, hired an independent consultant to train her employees and prepare for the certification process. The streamlined, environmentally conscious practices have resulted in consistently abundant crop yields each year.
"We are proud to become the first farm in China to achieve Rainforest Alliance certification. We hope to serve as a role model to other farms, demonstrating the importance of sustainability and the benefits that certification brings to the environment, workers and our livelihoods."