Agritech can empower women to build stronger, inclusive value chains

Though often overlooked by financial service providers, women play an outsize role in making Côte d’Ivoire the world’s largest producer and exporter of cashew nuts. From producing to picking and processing cashews, women are key actors throughout the country’s cashew value chain.

But even as the government has prioritized the expansion of local cashew production and processing to drive economic growth, women’s productivity and incomes remain constrained by poor access to finance and markets.

Photo: World Bank/ Arne Hoel

Recognizing the cashew industry’s importance to the national economy, CIDR Pamiga, MSC (MicroSave Consulting) and Mobisoft/Agristore joined forces to address the complex issues facing actors – including women – across Côte d’Ivoire’s cashew value chain. Together, they launched the Wi-Agri agritech platform, a “one-stop shop” for agricultural value chains in West Africa that offers financial services, market access, business training and extension services to smallholder farmers, wage laborers, buyers, small processing businesses and exporters.

Because of the critical role women play in the cashew industry, their needs are at the core of Wi-Agri’s product design. By leveraging financial services to improve rural women’s access to and returns on labor and markets, Wi-Agri’s offerings can help them build more resilient livelihoods and a stronger cashew value chain.

How lack of access to finance and markets affects women’s livelihoods in the cashew value chain

Women make up about 20% of Côte d’Ivoire's 350,000 cashew producers. An additional 1.5 to 2 million women are involved in picking and processing the crop.

Women in these roles often lack access to markets where they can sell crops at good prices. As the chart below demonstrates, they also lack access to formal banks and microfinance institutions, and many rely on informal finance provided by savings groups. Although most have a mobile money account, they remain largely unaware of the range of financial services available from their phones, primarily using the accounts to send and receive remittances.

Source: CIDR Pamiga

This lack of access to markets and finance affects women in different ways across the value chain.

Producers rely heavily on the income they earn from cashew production to cover household expenses. Women in this role tend to be older than those in other roles across the value chain. They often work the land themselves, sometimes with the help of their children. Women cashew producers often lack access to financing for inputs and labor, which limits their productivity, and they often rely on informal local buyers who typically offer below-market price for cashews. These constraints ultimately limit earnings.

Wage laborers that producers hire to harvest the fruit and separate the cashew apple from the nut are often referred to as “pickers.” These workers tend to be younger than producers, averaging 30 years old. Many work on cashew farms to cover their families’ expenses, while also growing subsistence crops for household consumption. Because many cashew producers lack the funds to pay laborer wages, they are often forced to either pay pickers in-kind with a portion of the cashew crop or wait to pay until their harvest is sold. For pickers paid in-kind, access to markets can determine when they are paid and how much they ultimately earn. For those who aren’t paid until producers sell their crops, lack of access to formal savings or credit to fall back on until they receive their earnings leaves them unable to cover urgent family expenses.

Once the harvest is complete, pickers often seek jobs at local cashew processors. They use their earnings to save and invest in their own farms and businesses in hopes of improving their livelihoods. However, employment at local processors can be unreliable. An estimated 80-90% of Côte d’Ivoire’s cashew production is exported as raw nuts to be processed abroad. Because processors only hire when they can source cashew from local producers, competition from exporters means lost income for the tens of thousands of rural women