Staff Writer | Palladium - Mar 03 2020
Women in Indonesia are Farmers and Decision Makers: What Businesses Need to Know

Photo Credit: Paolo Nicolello

Contrary to popular belief, ~40% of smallholder farmers in Indonesia are women. Despite this, their role often goes unnoticed, particularly by private sector companies who fail to recognise their decision-making power and potential impact on the bottom line. Even those who do see the incredible potential of targeting women as suppliers, consumers, and workers, struggle to reach them.

According to Maryam Piracha, a leader on the “Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Promoting Rural Incomes through Support for Markets in Agriculture (PRISMA)” program, the result is that local business strategies tend to focus only on men. This includes everything from the sale of equipment and raw materials to training opportunities to upskill farmers.

“Well-functioning markets are key to reducing poverty,” Piracha says, “but not if such a huge swath of the population is being excluded.”

Companies need to understand how women are integral to their core business models, which means understanding three key points about this elusive market segment hiding in plain sight:

1. Women are Decision Makers

Identifying and reaching “Decision Makers” is Marketing 101 for many businesses, and Indonesian women play a significant role – often serving as the financial manager for their household.

“While the influence may vary depending on the region, the type of activity, and the specific household dynamics, targeting women is one of the quickest ways to improve uptake of new and existing products,” Piracha explains.

Piracha shares the example of Mama Guem, a widow from Flores who relies on pig farming to raise her four children. After losing her house to a fire in 2015, she describes her pigs as “her only hope,” and the challenges of rearing them with traditional practices.

“I used to spend seven hours to prepare the feeds… now with the improved feed, only one hour per day,” she says. “It used to take nine months to sell piglets; now in two months my piglets are ready for the market. While previously I earned 2.5 million a year (AUD 270), now I can get up to 16 million a year (AUD 1,700).”

Mama Guem isn’t an exception, and targeting farmers like her with new methods and improved products is a win-win.

Mama Guem relies on pig farming to raise her four children, and represents a key target market for local businesses.
Mama Guem relies on pig farming to raise her four children, and represents a key target market for local businesses.

2. Women Prefer to Learn from Other Women

The source matters, and research and experience show that in many cultures – including amongst women working in agriculture in Indonesia – women prefer to receive information when channeled through other women.

Piracha learned this when working with women in East Nusa Tenggara.

“When PRISMA discovered that our work to improve productivity wasn’t reaching any women, the team began to probe deeper into the reasons for this,” she describes. They shared what they learned with the businesses involved, who in turn recruited more women for promotion.

“Businesses also invested in their marketing products and package sizes to attract more women, and saw the results they were looking for.”

3. It’s Not as Difficult as it Seems

It can feel overwhelming to learn that an entire market segment is missing from one’s strategy, and businesses may believe they need to overhaul their thinking to get it right.

But Piracha believes that perceptions around the investment and risk associated with reaching women are overstated, when change can be as simple as leveraging practices that already exist and adapting current sales and distribution strategies to target women.

“Subtle changes to business models can generate huge outcomes,” she says. “These changes can be as light touch as extending invites to both women and men to attend relevant information sessions, or to adopt a more inclusive recruitment strategy.”

PRISMA’s approach encourages businesses to understand consumer behaviour and consider that different segments have distinct profiles, preferences and habits. The program has benefitted 469,879 women in Indonesia’s agriculture sector as of December 2019.

Click here for more information on PRISMA’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion strategy.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of Australia and the Government of Indonesia.