Social Impact

Empowering female farmers around the globe

Female farmer kneeling in a field Female farmer kneeling in a field
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PepsiCo has pledged $18.2 million to support approximately 5 million female farmers and their families. Meet two of the PepsiCo employees who worked directly with the farmers to bring their stories to light.

In 2019, Erin Thomas traveled to Guatemala to visit a women’s farm collective sponsored by the global humanitarian organization CARE. There, she met Sandra Xiquin, a former day laborer who now runs the collective.

“She invited us into her home and told us her story,” says Thomas, senior director of the PepsiCo Foundation. “Her two young boys needed special uniforms for a school holiday celebration. She couldn’t afford them. It was so painful to her, so shameful, that she decided she had to do something.” So Xiquin joined the collective she now leads, and it provided capital and training that helped her farm a plot of land, lift her family out of poverty and build a house.

Group of farmers standing in a field in Guatemala

Erin Thomas (third from left) meeting Sandra Xiquin (fourth from left) in Guatemala with CARE team.

Photo: Courtesy of CARE

It made Thomas see why many female farmers around the world needed similar help. “Data shows if female farmers had the same access to resources that men did, it could significantly increase food security and potentially reduce the number of hungry people in the world by up to 150 million,” she says.

And so, in 2019, the PepsiCo Foundation announced that it would donate $18.2 million to She Feeds the World, a global program created by CARE to empower women like Xiquin around the world.

But Thomas didn’t want to stop at financial support. She wanted to help these women tell their stories and to increase awareness of the gender inequality challenges that make it so hard for women to work as farmers.

So PepsiCo launched Closing the Crop Gap, a campaign that spotlights women around the world and addresses one of the main causes of food insecurity — gender inequality.

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Female farmer standing in a field

“We wanted to make the campaign global, and we wanted to make sure different voices were represented,” says Madison Dowswell, senior manager of global digital marketing. She and her team spent months collaborating with CARE to identify five female farmers who were part of She Feeds the World and felt comfortable telling their stories. “A lot of women were afraid to speak out about some of the issues that they’re facing, whether it’s fear of backlash or because it’s not a cultural norm for them to do that.”

I took steps to build my own seat at the table.

Sam Schwoeppe

female owner of Schwoeppe Dairy LLC

The farmers talked about the cultural barriers, land use laws or ingrained bias that they have to overcome to be successful. Eman Zahrawy Hassan, an Egyptian widow with four children, bucked local custom and farmed fields herself. “Let people talk,” she said. “I don’t care.” A dairy farmer named Sam Schwoeppe in Indiana got tired of being asked, Is your dad or husband around? “I took steps to build my own seat at the table,” she said. And when Sunita Bai tried to attend farming workshops set up by CARE in her rural village in India, her mother-in-law said there was no point because Sunita was illiterate. She went anyway. Now Sunita is trying to change the laws so that women can own farms.

Eventually, approximately 5 million female farmers and their families are projected to get the training, materials and support to grow their farming businesses through the PepsiCo Foundation’s support. She Feeds the World aims to help female farmers close their crop gap by achieving sustained access to markets and a steady source of income.

“She Feeds the World lifts women up. It helps them feed and provide for their families and supports the prosperity of other members of the community,” Thomas says. “And this is just one of our partnerships that’s making a real difference in communities around the world where PepsiCo works — we have dozens of active programs like this. Our Foundation’s decades of investing in social impact and helping feed the potential of neighbors where we work and live is another example of what makes PepsiCo great.”