Contract farming is a viable and popular strategy to help smallholder farmers gain better access to inputs and markets. Stories of farmers who have prospered under such an agreement are laudable but perhaps even more so that of women-farmers. A group often overshadowed in the traditionally male-oriented sector that is farming, women-farmers are increasingly being recognized for their participation in farming activities – contract farming being one of them.
“I used to be a very shy and quiet person,” shares Mrs. Khamphouvieng Chanthavongsa who got acquainted with contract farming through her husband, Mr. ThongOne, head of a GAP rice farming group in Khammouane. In 2016, the couple decided to collect paddy from farmers for selling to rice mills. Her work revolved around recording paddies bought and sold, paying cash to farmers and running bank errands. “Helping my husband taught me how to better negotiate with farmers who are interested to sell their paddy.”
While her husband is the primary contractee, Mrs. Khamphouvieng took the opportunity to learn more about contract farming arrangements through the various activities organized in their house such as meetings with rice mills and farmer groups, individual and group mapping workshops and trainings on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standardization. In turn, she shares the knowledge she has gained from these initiatives to villagers and fellow farmers.
On the other side of contract farming are the rice millers and here, women engagement is also present. Mrs. Sysamay Manisotsay, owner of Sysamay Rice Mill in Sebangfai district in Khammouane, has been working with farmer groups under a contract farming arrangement since she signed up for the EWEC Project’s business linkage model in 2013.
“Before joining the Project, I used to already work with farmer groups in distributing inputs for them, but it was not very systematic,” she explains. Now, through the Project, Mrs. Sysamay has improved her arrangements with farmers with the introduction of a written contract farming agreement certified by local authorities. The Project has also supported her in organizing meetings with various farmer groups to better facilitate contract farming arrangements, as well as holding training programs for farmer group members.
In her years of working with farmers, one of Mrs. Sysamay’s key takeaways as a contractor is managing risks. “One of the challenges is always setting a fair market price to farmers since the market prices are quite often volatile,” she explains. To reduce such risk, she has learned to gather adequate information on different markets and buyers first before offering a price to farmers.
Similarly, an important realization is the value of contract farming, which also explains why she has continued with the scheme. “Having a secured supply of paddies is also very beneficial to me because it means I can also secure my market. Farmers are more likely to sell their paddies to others if I don’t have a contract with them,” she adds.
Mrs. Sysamay’s success as a contractor has made her one of the Project’s strong enterprise partners. In one instance, she was invited to share her experiences and lessons learned in contract farming with other rice millers in neighboring Savannakhet Province, thus enabling the scaling up of the business linkage model among rice millers in the province.
Yet more can still be done in shining the spotlight on women-farmers in places like Khammouane. According to the Project, of the more than 900 registered farmer households under contract farming, about 200 are women. Interestingly, while work in the field are equally shared between men and women, registered names in the group are those of the men. What would make a difference, observed Mrs. Sysamay, who shares that men and women respect her once they see her determination in doing business, is an initiative that will provide close support and empower women’s participation in the first place.