About this tool

This tool provides a roadmap to help Matching Grantee (MG) Partners in the Cocoa Livelihood Program (CLP) in supporting women groups in the preparation, implementation and monitoring of food crop activities. In this tool we will take Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) as a starting point.

When do you use this tool?

  • When you want to build on VSLA for promoting food crop activities to contribute to income diversification, food and/or nutrition security.
  • When you want to contribute to women’s economic empowerment in cocoa growing communities.
  • When you want to learn about considerations from a gender perspective.


Steps to use this tool

Step 1

–         Building on VSLA groups: group visions, objectives, and group dynamics

–         Preparing for food crop activities: land, crop selection and inputs

Step 2

–         Providing trainings on GAP, marketing and entrepreneurship

–         Providing training on post-harvest practices

–         Establishing links with markets

Step 3

–         Collective marketing and processing

–         Home consumption and nutrition

Step 4

–         Sustainability

–         Addressing structural barriers

–         Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation

How did this tool come about?

This tool was developed because almost all MGs in CLP Phase II are working with women’s groups in cocoa growing communities and have indicated to be interested in more guidance on the implementation of food crop activities. In this tool we will take VSLAs as a starting point, because this model has not only proven to provide access to finance to the poorest people but also to be a platform for addressing the social norms that sustain gender inequality. VLSAs can therefore also contribute to the wider and more complex processes of women’s empowerment (Martins 2015).


Martins, S. 2015.


Why combine VSLA model with food crop activities?

This tool provides guidelines on how to combine the VSLA model with food crop related activities with the aim to empower women economically. Why this combination? Because:

  • VSLA is a form of collective action that brings women together and builds their solidarity.
  • By linking food crop related activities to VSLA, the use of existing group structures is optimized.
  • VSLAs promote savings and give its members access to small loans at affordable interest rates. This helps to overcome an important constrain that many women face: a lack of finance to invest in food crop production, trade and/or processing.
  • VSLAs are known to contribute to women’s empowerment, both in terms of creating opportunities for investing in income generating activities as well as increasing their level of confidence (and using their voice), financial literacy and (joint) decision-making in the household.

Who should use this tool and how?

This tool is particularly useful for companies that source in communities with active VSLA groups. For companies that aim to work in communities where there are no VSLA groups existent, we recommend that they contact organizations that are locally active and work with the VSLA model (e.g. CARE in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire).

It is, however, likely that companies will need additional support from an implementing partner to undertake the different steps in this tool and implement a food crop project. Capacities needed to use this tool are:

  • Experience in working with VSLA groups
  • Gender analysis skills
  • Facilitation skills
  • Technical skills

In this tool we guide you through a set of potential decisions that VSLA groups needs to take in order to benefit from investments in a food crop project. The direction a group takes should be led by the needs and wishes of the groups, within the scope and capacities of the project. It is crucial to avoid taking a top-down approach; not the MG should set the food crop objectives, but the objectives should be set by the group members themselves.

There are already many tools available on different aspects of implementing food crop activities with groups. For example, there are guides on good agricultural practices, there are tools related to marketing and business planning, and there are tools for understanding better the topic of nutrition. In this VSLA and food crop tool, we refer to existing tools and exercises that help you to roll out a program that fits the needs and the objectives of the groups. For each step in this tool, we highlight some key considerations from a gender perspective. We bring it together for you!

Limitations of VSLAs and food crops

Although linking VSLAs to food crop activities has a lot of potential, this combination also has some limitations. Two MGs shared experiences with VSLA and food crop activities in Côte d’Ivoire, illustrating that women do not automatically benefit from their time investments in food crops. For example, whether women will benefit depends on:

  • Decision-making power over savings and loans. Benefits for women depend on the extent to which women are able to decide for themselves what to do with a loan from the VSLA. This is linked to the way men think about women increasing their income. In some cases, men expressed that they don’t like their wives to earn more, as they are afraid they become unfaithful.
  • Decision-making power over income. Benefits for women depend on the extent to which women are able to decide for themselves what to do with the income they earn from food crop activities. In some cases, men expressed that they would take the money from their wives, if they think they earn too much.
  • The control women have over their own time, and therefore the time they can spend on (collective) food production, trade and processing. Linked to this is the already high labor burden on women, which can constrain women to benefit from the group activities.
  • Access to and control over land. Groups can find it difficult to access a plot of land that they can manage as a group. The available plot of land is often small (0.5 acre).  Also for individual women it can be difficult to access land for their food crop production. Often they depend on their husbands to make some land available for them.
  • The VSLA pay-out schedule. When the VSLA pay-out schedule is not based on the seasonal calendar, the risk is that there is no money available when it is time to prepare the land.
  • The available capital. Food crop related activities require seasonal investments, but in a VSLA group there is not enough capital for different members to take a loan at the same time. In addition, VSLA do not allow for medium-sized loans, for example to buy food processing equipment.
  • The set-up of the VSLA. VSLAs are not set up for group loans, but for individual loans. In case a VSLA would like to access a group loan to do collective investments in food crops, other financial resources need to be found.



Step 4: Sustainability

Transport, marketing and processing of food crops can be challenging for women groups. Particularly if the groups are relatively new and not yet went through the full VSLA cycle.

For the sustainability of the food crop activities it can be worthwhile exploring whether cocoa cooperatives have a role to play in this. This makes particularly sense for MGs that have identified women groups through the cooperatives they source from; often the wives of the male members of the cooperative are active in these VSLAs.

The need for the involvement of a cooperative depends on the strength of the VSLA but also on the existing relationship between the VSLA and the cooperative.

In Côte d’Ivoire some cooperatives indicated that they might see a business case for them to support VSLA groups in food crop activities if;

  • the group is well-functioning
  • the volumes that have to be transported or processed are significant;
  • the cooperative is committed to support food crop activities.

Before you start promoting involvement of a cooperative, you should be sure that the cooperative itself is strong enough to take up this role.

To incentivize the cooperative a value proposition could be developed that shows how the cooperative can benefit from providing services to the group. The Business Model Canvas provides tools to develop value propositions. CARE’s marketing tools also provide handy exercises to develop a value proposition.

Alternatively, and easier, is to invite cooperative leaders to the training on food production and post-harvest practices. This can facilitate a discussion on their potential involvement, and the costs and benefits involved.

Besides a role for cooperatives, potential other local stakeholders can be involved for the purpose of sustainability of the food crop activities, such as local service providers and financial institutions interested in providing financial services to credible groups. The involvement of the latter becomes increasingly important when women in the VSLA have the ambition to make (long-term) larger investments, like for the purchase of processing machines, fencing, tractors, build storage facilities, seed banks, etc. The cooperative might play a role in a loan guarantee function.

Addressing structural barriers
Because this tool links VSLA with income generating activities for women (i.e. food crop production, trade and processing) mainstreaming gender in all trainings and sessions is key. In most cocoa producing societies, men are considered to have ultimate decision-making authority within the household regarding the taking on and use of loans, as well as regarding the control of assets purchased through those loans. This can lead to a situation where, even though men are not members of those VSLA groups, they are still controlling the functioning of the VSLA group. To avoid that these gender norms constrain women in benefiting from food crop activities, awareness-raising and discussion sessions on gender including topics such as masculinity, sexuality, and violence against women should be part of any ‘VSLA and food crops’ trajectory.

CARE was able to collect evidence of how VSLAs with a gender transformative approach can help to change inequitable power relations within the household. This led to tangible results, including a better distribution of workload between men and women within the household, a fairer shift in how decisions are taken over household expenditure, and a noticeable reduction in levels of domestic violence (Martins 2015). CARE has developed different gender tools, as well:

CARE FFBS Gender tools
– introducing partner to the program
– Daily clock (time and division of labor)
– Household decision-making


Participatory Monitoring & Evaluation

 There are different tools and exercises that can be used for a gender-sensitive M&E. A recommended M&E tool for VSLA is CARE’s Participatory Performance Tracker (PPT) Tool: Self-Assessment.  The objective of this tool is to track individual and group level adoption of key practices in order to streamline data collection and strengthen program results.

The benefits of taking a participatory approach in M&E is explained in the tool on data collection, step 4. More tools are also provided.

Another very useful and practical tool for measurement of the impact of VSLA and food crop activities is the “Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index” (WEAI). WEAI is a survey based index to measure the role and extent of women’s engagement in the agriculture sector in five domains:

  1. Decisions about agricultural production
  2. Access to and decision-making power over productive resources,
  3. Control over use of income,
  4. Leadership in the community, and
  5. Time use.

WEAI training materials include examples of surveys that have been piloted to collect this type of data that enable measurement. See for more information the tool on data collection, step 3. In the tool on data collection you can also read more about the Women empowerment framework –developed by CARE. This framework is helpful to understand the interplay of changes as a result of VSLA and food crops in:

  • Agency: her own aspirations and capabilities,
  • Structure: the environment that surrounds and conditions her choices,
  • Relations: the power relations through which she negotiates her path.

 Scaling should be informed by participatory M&E. There are two ways to scale VSLA and food crop activities:

  1. Replication of this combination in other communities (horizontal scaling).

This tool offers the guidelines to do so, having as a starting point that the groups themselves decide on what to grow, for what purpose, how to organize it and with whom.

  1. Increasing the impact of the combination (vertical scaling).

The impact of VSLA and food crop activities can be increased in different ways, depending on the functioning of the groups, their objectives, available markets and the ability to address gender constraints.


Overview of resources in this step


(CARE) Marketing tools

(Strategyzer) Business Model Canvas

Addressing structural barriers

(CARE) FFBS Gender tools

Participatory M&E

WEAI training materials

(CARE) Women Empowerment Framework


Step 3: Collective marketing and processing

Collective marketing can have advantages, such as:

  • Bigger volumes
  • Uniform quality
  • Reliable sellers
  • Reliable buyers
  • Continuous supply
  • Higher price
  • Strengthen the group

But these possible benefits are not always easy to achieve, particularly because often the size of the collective land is small (around 0.5 acre). It is good to remind the members that besides the food that comes from the collective land, they can decide to collectively trade the food crops they grow on their own land.

CARE has developed marketing tools for group marketing, which can be found here. CARE’s marketing tools include sessions on market research, market planning, calculation of costs and benefits, marketing as a group and negotiating with buyers. It also includes practical guidelines for doing a market survey, a template on how to design a collective business plan, and an example of a sales tracking form if the group decides to market collectively. These tools can be used both for the marketing of food crops, as well of processed food. These tools also help you dealing with some of the challenges that are involved in collective marketing.

Adding value through processing can be an interesting business opportunity for the groups, particularly if marketing of the food crops is challenging and food runs the risk of being wasted. Providing training on post-harvest practices, including a market and business assessment are necessary steps to explore this. On the basis of these steps it can be decided collectively if this is envisioned as a group activity or not.

Although the tool gives guidelines for a gendered value chain analysis it does not elaborate on the gendered dimensions explicitly.

Key considerations from a gender lens:

  • Marketing of food crops goes beyond good understanding of production and market requirements. What is also important to understand roles of women in the household and to what extent women have access to markets and do the sales. We know that for cash crops men tend to do the marketing. If trading food starts to become a profitable business, the risk can be that men become interested in taking over the business from their wives.
  • Another key consideration is awareness on who has control over the food crops and makes the financial decisions. To what extent have women that participate in the VSLA the decision-making power over what to do with a) the produced food – whether it is for home consumption or for sales; b) the money that is being earned with the food – whether the women has control over that income or not; c) the use of the money that they can take as a loan from the group.

One way of getting to the core challenges for women of getting products to the markets, including socioeconomic and intra household issues, is to create a problem tree. The problem tree requires to look at the root causes of a problem.

Home consumption and Nutrition

Food crop activities can support VSLA members to generate income, and/or can help households in becoming food and nutrition secure. This requires education on nutrition, both for women and men. CARE has developed the following Nutrition Tools that serve this purpose:

  • Understanding Undernutrition
  • Food Groups and Nutrition
  • The Healthy Plate
  • Growing Nutritious Food
  • Planning a Home Garden
  • Cooking Demonstrations
  • Exclusive Breastfeeding
  • Workload Challenge

The tools can be accessed here.

If the decision of the group is to plant a new crop that contributes to a more nutritious diet, a market assessment needs to be done to make sure that in case of a surplus there is a ready market for this crop.

Key considerations from a gender perspective:

  • There is no evidence that investments in food crop production, trade and processing automatically lead to improved food security and nutrition.
  • We need to know better how decisions are being made within the household on
    • What to grow?
    • How the crop is used: for consumption or for sales?
    • Who controls the income earned with selling food crops?
    • What type of additional food products are being bought?
    • How food is distributed among household members?

Another useful toolkit is the Nutrition and Gender Sensitive Agriculture Toolkit (NGSA), jointly developed by the KIT and SNV. In this toolkit you can find practical tools that can help you to

  • Assess the context and current situation of a community in relation to nutrition, gender and agriculture;
  • Understand community perceptions about under-nutrition and its probable reasons; and
  • To collectively think through locally appropriate solutions, involving community members and key stakeholders.

Overview of resources in this step


(CARE) Marketing Tools

Interagency Gender Work Group (IGWG). Problem Trees. Tool.


(CARE) Nutrition Tools

(KIT and SNV) NGSA Toolkit


Step 2: Group Training

After, or in congruence with the general VSLA group training, further training on Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for food crop production are provided to help the group members to produce the crops in an efficient way. Business skills training and simplified accounting can be provided to increase marketing efficiency. Instead of the CBTs, it is recommended to involve farmer field school extension workers to provide food GAP training.  CARE has developed agricultural tools that provide useful participatory training materials.

Marketing skills and establishing links with (potential) buyers should be key-features of the training, as well as financial literacy (see also step 3 of this tool). If the objective of the group involves food security and improved nutrition, this should also be part of the curriculum. CARE has developed Nutrition Tools that can be used.

If it is the ambition of a group to process (part of) the food crops, either for consumption or for marketing it is key that the groups have access to training on post-harvest practices, including a module on access to finance.

CARE has developed a module on harvest and post-harvest management. While particular practices and the sequence of operations will vary for each crop, there is a general series of steps in post-harvest handling systems that are explained in the module (Module 2.12), these are:

  • Food safety
  • Quality assurance
  • Better storage
  • Better protection from pests
  • Reduce losses (quantity & quality)
  • Better marketing opportunities

WIAD (Women in Agricultural Development Directorate) is one of the public partners of the WCF in Ghana, providing training to MGs on gender, food processing and value addition. Gender-sensitive training modules that are being piloted with MGs with women groups in cocoa growing communities in Ghana are:

  • Farming & agro-processing as a business
  • Diversification of farm enterprise
  • Practical skills acquisition in adding value
  • Food safety & hygiene
  • Storage (availability and disadvantages)
  • Nutrition

What is essential in the different trainings is to establish linkages with the potential buyers of the produce and with other stakeholders that are potential (financial) service providers, or can in other ways contribute to the success of the groups.

Key-considerations from a gender perspective:

  • Extension officers and trainers should be gender-aware. Gender should be mainstreamed in the curriculum and in the training methods.
  • For particularly those sessions where gender relations can constrain or support change in behavior, it should be considered to invite women’s spouses (or other male members of the household) and to have training sessions with mixed groups.
  • In planning the training, women’s time availability and accessibility of the location need to be taken into account. If the timing is inconvenient or if the location is too far the participation of women will drop.

Overview resources in this step

The below resources are different tools that can be used in giving these trainings.

GAP training
(CARE) FFBS Agricultural tools

Entrepreneurship training
For more general reading and resources on Women’s Economic Development (WED), go to ILO-WED resource page.

Financial literacy
(ILO) Financial education

(CARE) Nutrition Tools


Post-harvest practices

WIAD  – Women in Agricultural Development Directorate, one of the seven Technical Directorates of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA) in Ghana

It is WIAD’s mission to develop effective policies that promote delivery of improved technologies and information on agricultural production and post-production in an environmentally sustainable manner. WIADs liaises with research and extension to analyze women specific challenges in the agriculture and seeking solutions to them as well as carry out new product/recipe development and sensory evaluation on new crops.


Step 1: Building on VSLA groups: group visions, objectives, and group dynamics

Building on VSLA groups: group visions, objectives, and group dynamics

Establish links with VSLA

The VSLA prototype was introduced by CARE in Niger in 1991. VSLAs provide people, no matter how remote or poor, with access to small amounts of local capital on flexible terms and to transact such loans frequently at very low risk and negligible cost. Most members of VSLAs are women; worldwide women comprise 78% of the membership (Source http://vsla.net/home). It is estimated that in Africa alone more than 4 million people are currently benefiting from VSLAs; most VSLAs have been founded by CARE (Source: CARE International in Uganda).

A VSLA is a self-managed group that does not receive any external funding. VSLA is known for providing its members a safe place to save their money, to access loans and to obtain emergency insurance. The strength behind the VSLA methodology is that members are enabled to lift themselves out of poverty with nothing but their own funds. Members can take out loans to cover expenses such as school fees and medical bills, or they can use the loans to invest in income generating activities to raise household income. As a result, VSLA members experience significant improvements in household health and wellbeing, and an overall improved quality of life (Source: CARE International in Uganda).

VSLA groups agree on a cycle, which is usually between 9-12 months. During this period the VSLA group goes through various phases and CARE assesses whether the group is ready to move towards the next phase (Figure 1). CARE selects community members and trains them. These community based trainers (CBTs) are the ones that visit the VSLA groups.

Figure 1 - Step 1

Figure 1: VSLA phases

At the end of the cycle, VSLAs become independent from the implementing organization and manage their own savings, credit and insurance activities. The self-managed adaptable system enables members to respond to economic opportunities as well as unforeseen shocks that may typically drive them into a cycle of uncontrollable and un-payable debt. Nowadays, VSLAs are more than a savings and loans group; and are often used as a platform for training, for addressing social norms that sustain gender inequality, and for contributing to women’s empowerment (e.g. Martins 2015).

For more guidance on how to support the process of establishing VSLA groups:

And for more general introduction to the VSLA model go to:

Group visioning, group dynamics and leadership

While CARE has many mixed VSLA groups, the majority are women-only groups. The original design of the methodology was to build solidarity among women, this explains why particularly women are interested in joining these groups. Participation in a group is determined by self-selection and in principal everybody can participate in a VSLA. There are a number of requirements, members must have:

  • confidence in each other;
  • reputations for honesty;
  • cooperative personalities;
  • the ability to save regularly, even in small amounts;
  • the ability to repay loans reliably.

The VSLA facilitator guide guide provides practical steps for how to engage members in safeguarding healthy group dynamics. VSLA groups potentially contribute to social cohesion in communities, but this will not happen automatically or always, and can take some time. A lesson from Côte d’Ivoire is that it should be avoided to organize groups around ethnicity, as this potentially affects social cohesion in a community. It is the role of the facilitator to keep an eye on the group dynamics.

In linking existing VSLAs to the aim of promoting food crop activities, one has to be aware that the group members do not necessarily have a common purpose (beyond the main VSLA activity that is saving), and do not necessarily share the same interests or have the same needs. The group members can be quite diverse! For example, there may be women in the group that are saving for trading activities and others that save and borrow for school fees, or for example to donate money at a funeral. Or women who find themselves in different moments of their ‘life-cycles’ and therefore having different needs, opportunities and challenges. For example, a young unmarried woman may want to make different decisions than a widowed women with 5 school-going children, who is running a household on her own. Dealing with diversity in the group can be challenging!

When working with already existing VSLA groups (that have already gone through a first cycle of intensive trainings to becoming self-managing groups – see module part III and IV of the VSLA manual), it is recommendable to start the collaboration in food crop activities with a group visioning exercise. In such a session, group members are guided through a process of deciding and formulating common objectives and goals. Such an exercise can help to understand how a VSLA can support food crop activities, and identify opportunities and challenges. If not all group members are interested in the food crop activity it should be possible to remain in the saving group, without participating in the food related activities.

CARE has also developed some facilitation tools that help the group members to practice viewing other persons’ standpoints before making a judgement. See page 28 (How Many Eyes? Valuing other Viewpoints.).

When establishing new VSLA groups, it would be important to ensure that food crop activities is an opportunity  that addresses needs that come up in an initial community needs assessment. See an example guide of such a session in this VSLA manual, page 16. Also ensure that the activity is discussed in subsequent community mobilization meeting (page 20).

It is also important to introduce the spouses of the women to the planned activities already in an early stage. This to be sure that they understand the project and to encourage them to support their spouses. CARE has developed a useful tool (4.1) to practice active listening and build support for women’s participation in CARE’s pathways program. This tool can be easily adapted for a food crop project.

Strong leadership is another important feature of a well-functioning group. Normally VSLA group members elect management committee members from the group. The VSLA facilitation guide provides practical training materials that help the group to understand the importance of electing a competent management committee for ensuring the proper functioning of the group, and the steps that are involved in this (module 1, page 44). If the management committee is not doing its work well, members may replace (members of) the committee.

When a VSLA group become involved in food crop related activities this can bring in some new challenges for the group leaders. For example when VSLA group members decide to work together on their communal land, leaders can be expected to play a role in motivating all the members to come to work on the land on the agreed moment. What to do if not everyone shows up as agreed?

The VSLA model normally has a so-called penalty fund, which is a relatively small fund that stores the fee of the penalties. Groups themselves decide the rules and the penalties that go with violations of these rules. Not showing up to work on communal land could be one of the penalties.

If VSLA groups decide to work collectively in food crop activities it is important to agree within the General Assembly (GA) on roles and responsibilities of members and leaders, and discuss sanctions or rewards. If not all VSLA members are interested to participate in the food crop activities this should also be discussed and agreed upon during the GA meetings.
Preparing for food crop activities: land, crop selection and inputs


When VSLA groups decide to collectively invest in food crop production, often the first step is to acquire a small piece of land. This collectively owned or rented land can serve two main purposes:

  1. Demonstration plot. This can be used as on the spot training site where women can learn by doing.
  2. Income generation through collective marketing of the food crops.

If the group decides to collectively work on a piece of land, CARE has developed a practical tool that gives guidance on which steps need to be taken to gain access to a plot of land as a group:

It is important to be aware about the possible implications of selecting the plot:

  • Be aware that in situations whereby the selected demonstration plot is owned by one of the members, it can create tensions among group members.
  • The selection of a demonstration plot can also reinforce certain power relations within the group (e.g. piece of land owned by a male member of the group)
  • The selection of a demonstration plot can be empowering. We have seen the example, whereby a woman managed to arrange land for her group, which boosted her confidence and inspired her to arrange more things during the school’s season.

Getting access to a small piece of land can be challenging, and sometimes there are only few options. There are some positive experiences where VSLA groups have managed as a group to access land from traditional community leaders. What turned out to be key was that these leaders were involved from the beginning in the food crop activities, which motivated them to support women with accessing land.

There can also be implications when using land that is owned by community leaders. For example, local elites or local chiefs can use their influence over the group activities for their own interest. If this is indeed perceived as a risk, groups can also try to find a more neutral space. This can be done when all members contribute financially to lease a plot of land. It is important that the term of the land lease is at least medium term.

The CARE tool does not elaborate on the gendered dimensions of land access and women’s mobility. It is good to take into consideration the following key points when facilitating the selection of a communal piece of land for the food crop production.

Key considerations from a gender lens:

  • The mobility of men and women can be determined by factors such as the roles that they have in the household, on the farm, and within the community. In general women have a lot of responsibilities in and around the house, such as taking care of the children and preparing family meals. These kind of activities bind them to home and generally make them less mobile. If the location of the demonstration plot is too far, this could affect their ability to contribute.
  • A lack of safety is for many women a constraint to travel too far outside their hometowns. As demonstration plots are usually close to the community, this is not always prevalent, but could manifest itself in a later stage, for example when the group is ready for marketing.
  • It is common that a woman has to ask permission from her husband to travel, even for short distances. If the husband is not supportive of his wife’s involvement in the food crop activities, or is of the opinion it takes too much of her time, he can refuse to give her permission to travel.

To gain insights in women’s mobility, a mobility mapping exercise shows how far, to which institutions, for what purposes and with whom the group members can travel as compared to the beginning of a project/program. It is conducted in an interactive focus group discussion setting and participants are asked to draw concentric circles on the floor with a chalk or with a pen on a chart paper. Each concentric circle depicts the distance from the participant’s village. The respondent(s) can indicate the distances they travel on the map. A more detailed description can be found in a toolkit on gender sensitive M&E (on page 37).

Crop selection

The most important consideration for crop selection, is to understand the main motivations of women to invest time and resources in food crops and to avoid assumptions. Is the main motivation:

a.    To earn some money?

b.    For household consumption?

c.     Or a mix?

If the main motivation is to earn some money, the next step is doing a market assessment. Such an assessment can be conducted by both the group members and the project implementers. In a market assessment, feasibility, profitability, marketability and land availability, are explored, while relying on contextual knowledge of the group members themselves. CARE has developed useful tools to assess for example the profitability of different food crops, which can be found here.

The selection of the food crop should be done through a general consensus (in case of group production). In case the women are interested to use (part of the) food for home consumption, education on nutrition is recommended. CARE has developed the following Nutrition tools that can support this.

There are some participatory exercises that help groups to select the crops they would like to focus on. The farming systems diagram (page 75) helps to highlight the entire farming system, including on-farm activities such as crop production and off-farm activities such as fuel collection, and non-farm activities such as marketing. The insights obtained through this exercise can be of particular help gaining understanding which crops have the greatest potential to contribute to the socioeconomic empowerment of women.

Selection of soy and groundnuts, an example from CARE, Ghana

When the Ghana team designed the local components of CARE’s Pathways program, an analysis was done to determine the focus on crops. First of all, CARE looked for crops that were already considered as women’s crops. The Ghana team did not want to introduce a new crop, but wanted to build upon the existing realities and experiences. However, some of the crops that women could grow and market, such as maize, sorghum and millet are consumed as staples within the households in times of scarcity. This would leave the women without their increased incomes. The same goes for crops that are used for cultural festivities and rituals: many cereals are used to make alcoholic beverages, and thus can affect a women’s income from selling these at moments that she is expected to contribute for the festivities and rituals (Source: case study Pathways to Empowerment, Northern Ghana, 2015).



Engaging in food crop production requires access to certain inputs, such as seedlings and fertilizer. CARE has developed a module (module 2.4) to encourage use of locally available materials to prepare organic fertilizer that is economically and environmentally sound. In the same tool you can find a germination test (module 2.5)  that helps group members to verify the quality of the available seed and determine its viability to improve chances of good crop establishment.

For groups to have access to quality inputs at the right time can be challenging. Particularly when the VSLA group pay-out schedule, which is normally scheduled at the end of the 12 months cycle, does not correspond with the moment when it is time to start preparing the farm. Agricultural materials, such as hoes, watering cans and wheelbarrows, as well as starter seeds for the chosen crop are needed as startup funds for the project’s activities.

Therefore, it is recommended to schedule pay-out according to the seasonal calendar. If the group have decided to collectively invest in the food crop related activities it can also be an option to use the generated interest from the loans to invest in the agricultural materials.

Overview resources in this step

CARE FFBS Selecting plots

CARE. 2015. Facilitation Tools. Farmer Field and Business School toolkit

CARE. 2015. Gender Tools. Farmer Field and Business School toolkit

CARE. 2015. Marketing Tools. Farmer Field and Business School toolkit

CARE. 2015. Nutrition Tools. Farmer Field and Business School toolkit

Murthy, RK. 2015. Toolkit on Gender-sensitive Participatory Evaluation Methods Technical report

SEAGA. 2001. Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis Programme Field level handbook

WFP and VAM. 2010. How to Conduct a Food Commodity Value Chain Analysis? Market Analysis Tool.