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2014 GAP Report® – Expanding the Roles, Options and Incomes of Women in Agriculture
Achieving better access to information, updated technologies, financing and marketing options is a challenge for many small-scale producers. In India, it is particularly challenging for women farmers due to social norms that limit women’s mobility, access to skills-training and financing, or control over their incomes and household investment decisions. This section features two programs that have helped women overcome these barriers.
FARMERS’ GROUPS AND EXTENSION SERVICES EMPOWER AND INCREASE INCOMES OF WOMEN FARMERS
Agribusiness Systems International’s (ASI, an affiliate of ACDI/VOCA) Sunhara (“Prosperous”) Project in Uttar Pradesh demonstrated several successful approaches for empowering women farmers. From 2009 to 2013, Sunhara increased economic opportunities for 25,000 smallholder farmers engaged in fruit and vegetable production by introducing improved production and post- harvest technologies and practices and by linking famers to buyers, local retailers and exporters. ASI conducted the project in partnership with several Indian NGOs and six private sector partners, including PepsiCo and Bharti Walmart. Participating farmers increased their incomes by 87 percent and established hundreds of groups — 277 of which are women-only — that facilitate cooperative action, economies of scale and ongoing access to financing, inputs and high-value marketing options.109
From the beginning, the project set a goal of ensuring women comprised at least 25 percent of participants. According to a gender-impact assessment of Sunhara conducted in March 2013, women participants had notable increases in mobility, decision-making in the household and control over their incomes.110
Training extension agents in gender awareness and equality was a critical factor in the project’s ability to increase the stature, productivity and incomes of women. Agents were innovative and enthusiastic, going beyond the scope of their duties to respond to requests for advice and training from men and women alike.
Women farmers’ groups also played a key role in their empowerment. In areas where these groups were established, there was greater management and control by women over production and marketing decisions.
WOMEN OVERCOME BARRIERS TO INTRODUCE IMPROVED AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES
The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is supporting the Tejaswini Rural Women’s Empowerment Program (TRWEP) to facilitate social and economic empowerment in the six poorest districts in the State of Madhya Pradesh, where there is little resource or technology utilization and limited livelihood options or access to markets and credit. The state government, banks and beneficiaries are co-funding the project and the Department of Women and Children’s Development is the implementing agency. Since the Tejaswini Program’s start in 2007, more than 12,000 Self- Help Groups (SHG) have been formed, which provide the platform for social/gender equity discussions, savings groups and livelihoods, skills and leadership training.111
The program targets 166,000 of the poorest households by supporting 12,442 SHGs. The key achievements as of September 2013 were:
- 82 percent of the households now have cash income and need not rely solely on bartering, compared to 47 percent with cash income in control villages;
- 86 percent of participating households have improved food security and reduction in occasional food shortages; and
- in participating villages, 1,809 SHG members were elected to Panchayati Raj Institutions (village assemblies that develop economic and social plans) and 62 percent of the members of the assemblies were women, exceeding the 50 percent reserved for women by law.
The Tejaswini Program introduced the System for Rice Intensification (SRI), using high-yielding certified seeds that are first tested for germination and then sown in a nursery with the right amount of water to ensure quality seedlings. Within eight days, the seedlings are transplanted to the fields with uniform spacing. An NGO, PRADAN, demonstrated how the system worked and trained 124 village-level agents to provide field training and support to women farmers at each critical stage — nursery raising, transplantation and weeding. The Madhya Pradesh Department of Agriculture provided the certified seeds and inputs — including weeders, sprays, pesticides, manure and rope for lining up the rows.
At first, many women had difficulty convincing their families to allow them to try the new technologies.
As one participant, Mrs. Kulasti, explained, “Neither my husband nor my father-in-law believed that I could learn something that would be useful for the entire family.”112 Mrs. Kulasti’s family acquiesced to allow her to use half a hectare of their land to demonstrate the technique, but if her production was lower than their side (with the traditional method), then she would have to leave the house or work extra hours as a laborer to earn the deficit.
Mrs. Kulasti produced twice as much rice as her family on the same amount of land using substantially less seed. Her experience was similar to many other women and the high levels of productivity convinced other families to adopt the technology as well.
The success of SRI changed attitudes in the village — people were open to new ideas. Villagers started growing maize as a second crop and are also growing tomatoes, eggplant, coriander, spinach, spices and chilies in their backyards or on upper land. The village started making collective decisions about agricultural production — something they had never been done before.
Now, the Gadhar village has surplus food, extra income and almost no cases of child malnutrition. Men help with farming since they are willing to use the mechanical weeders, while hand weeding was considered women’s work. Women have more confidence and leadership roles, and they do not have to work as laborers in order to earn additional wages.
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Expanding the Roles, Options and Incomes of Women in Agriculture