By SUGANDHA MUNSHI | Specialist on Gender Issues | IRRI
Women-focused intervention plays a pivotal role in IRRI’s work with farmers. With the climate changing, innovation that results in better management practices for farmers is essential. This becomes more crucial, though, when it comes to smallholder marginal women farmers in rice production.
Under the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) project, a focused intervention has been taking place in Bihar, India, under four themes: identity, knowledge bank, leadership, and economic benefits.
At Muzzafarpur District in Bihar, Kisan Sakhi’, or a group of women farmers, is the identity with which hundreds of women farmers associate themselves.
At the grassroots level, in the districts of the Muzzafarpur block, we found the women in agriculture to be smallholder and marginal farmers. Working with a women’s self-help group as well as with individual farmers, we observed a shift in their perception, attitude, and behavior, in varying degrees.
Majorly at the grassroots of India, a woman is generally recognized as the wife of a certain farmer rather than as a farmer herself. In a society deeply entrenched in social and structural barriers that decide the role of a woman in defined often ‘watertight’ compartments, women like Sumitra Devi, Guddi Devi, and other members of the farmer self-help group we worked with have planted the seeds of a paradigm shift in grassroots agriculture in India.
A community nursery set up by Sumitra and Guddi with other women farmers from the villages in Bandra created an environment where smallholder women farmers are slowly but continually moving ahead toward becoming progressive farmers. The opportunity to sell seedlings to fellow farmers in the village also upsets in a positive way a domain traditionally run by males.
“Having learned techniques for developing a good-quality nursery, I have been able to contribute to the income of my household. Being a woman able to do that makes me feel good, “said Sumitra. “In 2015, after learning and applying community nursery management practices, I made a profit of Rs 4,000 from selling healthy seedlings. It was a new initiative for me at a small scale and, in 2016, I plan to do this again in a more organized way.”
She added that she has reached this level from a point where her knowledge and awareness about community nursery farming was nil. She acknowledged CSISA for the training and knowledge that helped her become an informed farmer.
Sumitra’s case is an example of the benefits that participatory extension and research impart for women farmers, providing them opportunities for exposure to improved practices, thus increasing their confidence and opening up for them, in Sumitra’s words, “a new world to explore.”
It is important to note that it is not easy for women like Sumitra to become part of such initiatives in which she has to learn, make decisions on, and practice new technology. But with her increased knowledge on better-bet agricultural practices came development of her self-esteem and confidence—something foreign to her experience, until now.
Development of the community nursery and practices learned in nursery management reduced drudgery in her work, and improved nursery management increased opportunities for her to generate income.
Teaching a woman nursery management increases the chances of learned better practices getting passed on to the next generation. The skills they learn not only add value to their ‘knowledge bank’ in agriculture but also increase the scope for income generation, as in the case of Sumitra.
Guddi, for her part, describes how her own situation went for better: “When our group developed the community nursery in the village, my plot became the most talked about in the area. Hundreds of fellow villagers came and saw it, and many of them were surprised to see how it had shaped up! I received many praises, which made me feel happy and confident.”
For a smallholder woman farmer like Guddi, the task seemed more challenging, as she had to fight for a chance for exposure to such capacity building programs. Being part of the self-help group and of the Jyoti Mahila Samkhya federation helped her greatly in making decisions.
Woman exploring the opportunity for income generation through nursery management and quality nursery had been unheard of in the area.
Development of the nursery by the women farmers also had the effect of spreading awareness among farmers on the importance of having such a nursery, and managing it properly, said Pankaj Kumar, CSISA scientist.
Sunita Devi, a member of the federation, acknowledged how the community nursery has enabled women farmers to start new enterprises at the village level. “Women-focused intervention in agriculture is increasing their ‘knowledge bank’ and capacity, with on-field training. It is a new beginning for women farmers, learning new techniques and being able to explore an added source of income through the community nursery.”
With the experiences of these women farmers, in the kharif season of 2016, other members of the self-help group in the area are now ready to take the lead to develop the community nursery further and generate income through its sale of seedlings.
Women farmers are on the lookout for opportunities as well as better-quality seeds and training on better management practices. They are keen on exploring new opportunities for generating income, such as through community nursery as described above, and perhaps even become entrepreneurs someday. It is a difficult task, but it has begun, and in the grassroots of Bihar, India, CSISA plays catalyst in this noble goal with partner organizations and farmer groups.
The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) promotes durable change at scale in South Asia’s cereal-based cropping systems. Operating in rural ‘innovation hubs’ in Bangladesh, India, and Nepal, CSISA works to increase the adoption of various resource-conserving and climate-resilient technologies, and improve farmers’ access to market information and enterprise development. CSISA supports women farmers by improving their access and exposure to modern and improved technological innovations, knowledge, and entrepreneurial skills. By continuing to work in synergy with regional and national efforts, collaborating with myriad public, civil society, and private-sector partners, CSISA aims to benefit more than 8 million farmers by the end of 2020.
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