Roha Tariq | Palladium - Jul 29 2019
A Date with Opportunity

In Pakistan there is a cultural barrier to women working outside the household. It's difficult for women to work in commercial sectors and are usually limited to animal husbandry or making clothes. But one company in Pakistan is changing this cultural norm while growing its business.

Supply and Demand

Muhammad Jan owns a date processing company in Balochistan, the largest date producing region in Pakistan. His company Baloch Hamza Brothers (BHB) could initially process 400 tonnes of dates each year, but demand had increased, and the company was struggling to fulfil orders.

To the west of Balochistan is a more remote region, Panjgur, where Muhammad’s wife Nusrat Jan is from. Panjgur has an abundance of dates and Muhammad knows it could be a great opportunity to expand the processing company and increase its capacity, but the region struggles from limited processing and storage facilities, and private investment is difficult with its lack of accessibility and infrastructure.

Date farmers in Panjgur are also missing out. Currently, dates from Panjgur are sold to traders, who then transport them to other regional hubs. The dates are processed in these hubs and sold back to domestic and international markets. With such a long chain between the farmers and the final consumers, farmers are only receiving very small profit margins.

Nusrat Jan and her husband Muhammad Jan. Source: Market Development Facility
Nusrat Jan and her husband Muhammad Jan. Source: Market Development Facility

Change: Good for Business and Equality

Muhammad and his wife Nusrat decided to go against the cultural norm of women working outside the home. To meet the increased demand for BHB's dates, they would need to increase the capacity to pit the dates – a task that many women already do in the home. But they first needed to create an environment with which the community and the families involved were comfortable. 

Muhammad and Nusrat worked with the Market Development Facility (MDF), a private sector development program, to create a way to attract women to work for their company. They went to Panjgur and built a separate facility for women employees, only 10 minutes away from the neighbourhood of most households, where women now sort, grade, and pit dates with new processing machinery.

"Women are part of the society and should have equal rights to work and earn livelihoods for themselves and their families; alongside their male counterparts" says Nusrat. "I went door-to-door to convince women in Panjgur and their households to break the barriers of perception."

Nusrat now supervises the facility, which employs 12 women: 10 permanent and two seasonal. BHB gives the women flexible work hours and an easy commute, two crucial things so they can still be close to their family responsibilities while also earning more income in the formal economy.

MDF is also tracking how the women in the facility are able to use their new income. Many of the women employees keep their income to spend mostly on household expenses, including food, clothing, and education for themselves and their children; these women report a greater agency and influence over the economic decisions made in the household. Interviews with the women workers further highlight how these small steps are being recognised: other women in the community and their households are showing an interest in the BHB model.

The facility in Panjgur is also benefitting the local farmers. BHB is now able to process and pack a variety of dates and supply them to local retailers and markets, and eventually to farther areas in Balochistan. BHB helped the farmers with their other challenge of post-harvest loss by investing in plastic creates. Now BHB is now a consistent buyer and can offer a better price to the farmers, and with its investment BHB is also getting higher-quality produce.

Everyone is Better Off

Muhammad and Nusrat saw an opportunity to increase their business and are working step by step to change their societal norms – a change that is good for their bottom line, providing new opportunities for women to earn an income, progressing social equality, and improving the incomes of farmers. The entire region is better off.

One employee, Shagur, says, "In Balochistan, women do not get a lot of opportunities to work. However, there are exceptions like Baloch Hamza Brothers who are breaking barriers. They give equal opportunity and facilities for women in Panjgur to work independently."

Palladium manages the implementation of the DFAT-funded Market Development Facility project.