The launch of our Closing the Crop Gap initiative starts a new phase of PepsiCo’s work to promote sustainable agriculture in our own supply chain and across the farming world.

Women have played a central role in global agriculture since the first seeds were deliberately sown into a patch of dirt. Growing up in the farm belt of the U.S. (specifically, in Iowa), I was surrounded by agricultural communities where work, commerce and culture converged. Men oversaw farming activities and women were in charge of domestic life, but also frequently managed the financial and business related activities of the family farm operation; a no less demanding or important role. In my sophomore year of college, Barbara McClintock received a Nobel Prize for her work in discovering ‘jumping genes’ in corn (maize); small pieces of DNA that could move around within a plant and cause visible changes in their appearance and growth. This discovery helped to spark a new understanding of what was possible in agricultural science and, for me, also showed how women could take a lead in building a more productive and sustainable food system.

(Indian or Calico corn that exhibits the ‘jumping genes’ trait)

When I became a professional researcher and agricultural scientist in the mid-1980s, NASA dominated the news.  Scientific discoveries were taking place in laboratories in space, and female astronauts for the first time were joining the ranks of those flying on shuttle missions. My studies, which were funded by NASA and flown aboard the space shuttle, shed light on how we could grow plants in space for long term space exploration.

Back on Earth, though, it has always been my belief that science and technology can provide only some of the answers that our food system needs if it is to meet the vast demands that humanity makes of it. We must not only work to find ways to produce more crops with less impact on the environment, but also strive to maximize the potential of the people who work the land and work to make farming a more effective tool for social and economic development.

It is quite clear to me that the food and agricultural sectors are not making the most of the immense skill and hard work that women bring to farming. In developing countries, including regions from which PepsiCo sources crops, women represent 43% of agricultural labor. In Pakistan, for example, nearly three quarters of working women are employed in agriculture. Yet, across these regions, much of the work women carry out is without training, key farming inputs, land rights and often even pay. From my perspective, too often today agriculture reflects and engrains gender-based injustice rather than offering women a platform to excel.

While PepsiCo respects cultural differences and recognizes the importance of providing support for all of our farmers, we also understand that, as one of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies, it is important that we show leadership in addressing gender imbalances. So, starting this year, we are making the empowerment of female farmers a specific goal of our work at PepsiCo to contribute to building a more sustainable food system.

Through our Sustainable Farming Program, PepsiCo already develops, promotes and scales environmentally responsible agricultural practices and technologies in our supply chain. Through this program, we work with farmers in an effort to help boost efficiency, optimize crop yields, enhance livelihoods, promote respect for human rights and enable communities to prosper.

In order for efforts to empower female farmers to become a more prominent element of our sustainable agriculture work, there are four steps my team is taking this year:

 

  1. We are engaging directly with non-profits, like USAID, IDH and Landesa, as well as industry peers, suppliers and female farmers themselves, with the aim of better understanding the barriers women in agriculture face and what role PepsiCo can play in helping them to overcome such barriers. For us, listening and learning is an irreplaceable foundation for action.
  2. Our aim is for this improved understanding to inform how we tailor the Sustainable Farming Program to better meet the needs of female farmers, while still respecting cultural norms. Currently, female engagement with the program significantly lags in comparison to male engagement. We aim to design interventions to close this gap, both through independent action and through new partnerships.
  3. We will work with the PepsiCo Foundation and non-profit partners, like CARE, to increase the resources we provide to support female farmers in developing countries in working to overcome barriers. We have committed to invest $100 million by 2025 to support the empowerment of millions of women and girls in communities near where we work, including in agriculture.
  4. Because supporting women in agriculture in advanced economies matters too, we will engage with industry organizations and other partners to consider how PepsiCo can do even more to help young and female talent in North America and Europe in building the skills to work, thrive and lead at the cutting edge of agriculture.
I am extremely proud of the progress PepsiCo has already made in driving change in our agricultural supply chain and beyond, but there is so much more to be done and we still have a lot to learn. Our vision is to be a leader in building a more sustainable food system. As the amazing farmers featured in our Closing the Crop Gap initiative show, women around the world have what it takes to be at the heart of this transformation. PepsiCo will be here championing them.

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