TRADITIONALLY, women in rural Pakistan are the main actors in not only poultry farming but also rearing of livestock — goats, sheep, buffaloes and cows. They tend to them by taking care of their nutrition, ensuring they are vaccinated, milking them and keeping their barns clean. In fact, goats may be the first property they have ever owned. It is a lifeline for the poorest to tide them over.
In addition, when assets are put in their hands, the women’s bargaining power gains strength as does their role in household decision-making.
Yet, when the time comes to sell the animals, it is men who take them to the mandi (marketplace). This lack of female control over livestock has implications as men sell without always knowing the true value of the animals nurtured by women.
It is about time women took their livestock to the mandi and sold them independently. Having segregated women markets or a share in existing agriculture markets would teach them first-hand about market trends and trading.
Barriers must fall for women to have access to the mandi.
However, the first step towards making it easier for women to access markets is by removing some traditional barriers like the social non-acceptance of their interaction with men who are not family members. They will also need to have facilities to transport animals and a conducive environment for selling the animals.
A few weeks back, the Tando Allahyar district government arranged a women-led Marui Livestock Market, the first of its kind, not just in Sindh, but in Pakistan itself, in collaboration with an NGO, the Research and Development Foundation.
The mandi, part of a six-year Growth for Rural Advancement and Sustainable Progress project, funded by the EU (and implemented by the International Trade Centre with the aim of strengthening small-scale agribusinesses and reducing poverty in Sindh and Balochistan), was for the 300 registered women farmers a giant step in the right direction.
Bundled in rickshaws and Qingqis, pick-up vans and even motorbikes, they flocked from nearby villages with their goats and chickens to the designated place where weekly livestock mandis are held. The big ground, usually an all-male domain every Thursday, went through a makeover this month on a Saturday morning for women buyers and sellers. Many went back satisfied. Even the ones who were not able to sell anything vowed to return “better prepared” the next time.
With no first-hand experience of selling their animals in the market, or negotiating for the best price with the buyer directly, many picked up the tricks of the trade; a majority were discerning and said they were looking for breeds which would not only survive but thrive in challenging climates. They were seen haggling earnestly and discussing the characteristics of animals without feeling intimidated while talking to strangers.
Many were accompanied by at least one male family member, but whispered they were confident they would be able to come unaccompanied the next time. The common refrain was: ‘if women can do the difficult part of rearing, they can surely sell the animals’.
Although a 2018 UN report on Pakistan’s rural women found that the agriculture sector employed nearly 7.2 million women and was fast becoming their “largest” employer, their work, including livestock management, remained “largely unrecognised, unpaid or underpaid”.
Another 2018 report by USAID, stated that livestock in Pakistan was contributing around 56 per cent in the agriculture sector and nearly 11pc to GDP. It also pointed out that although women contributed significant hours of labour to livestock care, they had limited access to inputs and information, nor were they “directly involved in market transactions”.
The mandi also provided a platform to some enterprising rural women to sell homemade ghee, eggs, fodder and even handcrafted ornaments for animals. While some brought chickens to sell, there were a few who set up food and tea stalls. Not to be left behind, the government’s livestock department exhibited veterinary medicines and provided free vaccination services for the livestock that had travelled from their shelters.
Judging by its success, if such markets are held regularly, across the country, the role of the middleman can well be eliminated. Many women-headed households (including widows) depend on men from their villages, with business acumen, to take their animals to the market and sell it for them for a fee. The women may never know exactly how much the animal was sold for, relying solely on the word of the men engaged to carry out the task. Being able to conduct the transaction themselves would empower women greatly.
However, for these markets to succeed, they need to be held at different parts across the province and more regularly, with traders from bigger cities being persuaded to visit.
The writer is a Karachi-based independent journalist.
Published in Dawn, January 26th, 2022