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Women rice farmers: Agents of change in eastern India

posted Aug 30, 2016, 10:43 PM by Rowena Baltazar ‎(IRRI)‎

by Swati Nayak and Manzoor H. Dar



The project Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) has rolled out initiatives to ensure farm productivity and food security and lessen climatic vulnerability in eastern India through women farmers. STRASA has established significant new strategic partnerships and convergence in the region. Its planning and convergence activities include giving women farmers access to stress-tolerant rice varieties (STRVs)—the most important input in the agricultural production chain.


These initiatives not only target women’s inclusion. They also provide systemic development, capacity building, and livelihood enhancement with the vision of establishing women as recognized farmers, seed growers, disseminators, and agents of change within their own communities and beyond.

Eastern India is dubbed a critical zone because climatic aberrations and abiotic stresses, such as floods and droughts, repeatedly occur in the region. Women farmers are ranked high in vulnerability mapping. In this context, the mass introduction, use, and seed multiplication of STRVs through women’s groups can be a potential game-changer in the socioeconomic and food production dynamics in the region.

An underlying framework of involving women-led institutions has been proven as one of the most effective means of socioeconomic and political empowerment of women. As an entry point for seed and technology-related interventions for women farmers, STRASA has identified, planned, and converged with many umbrella agencies involved in promoting grass-roots and women’s self-help groups (SHGs), federations, producer groups, etc. Each of the agencies has the expertise for developing and enhancing the lives of millions of women farmers in the region.

STRASA has ensured that seed interventions made are not isolated and random initiatives, but rather active catalysts that can contribute to the overall livelihood of the women and their households in stress-prone areas. The project has achieved this goal by converging seed initiatives strategically with many successful integrated livelihood projects such as farm activity, nonfarm activity, nontimber forest products, forest livelihood, renewable solar energy, efficient irrigation models, as well as cereals-, millet-, and pulses-based integrated farming.

The goal is to make a tangible impact on women’s livelihood by giving women farmers access to knowledge, technology, information, inputs for several value chain processes, and relevant institutions. These strategic initiatives have created research opportunities for comparing, learning, and sharing different models of interventions along with various agencies. (For full story, click in Rice Today Online.)


Does training women separate from men better than training them together?

posted May 12, 2016, 12:51 AM by Rowena Baltazar ‎(IRRI)‎   [ updated May 12, 2016, 8:16 PM by Gerardo Tomasito Laviña ‎(IRRI)‎ ]

A blog by Sujata Ganguly, Gender Specialist, IRRI-India/STRASA

Training is a key part of the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. A gender component has been developed to systematically reach women across all of STRASA’s activities through training.

There is a dearth of literature available, however, on whether female farmers should be trained in mixed groups (with male farmers) or if they should be trained separately, in female-only groups. It is not clear whether participation and understanding are higher when women are trained in a mixed group or in a female-only group.

To evaluate a training program, the following must be considered:

  • partner NGOs or farmer participants should not be pre-informed about the planned interviews,
  • the same trainer(s) should handle all the groups, using the same approach,
  • the same topics of discussion and the same amount of information should be shared across groups,
  • there should be equal numbers of participants across groups,
  • participants should be interviewed separately, and
  • the duration of training sessions conducted should be the same for all groups.

However, there are certain limitations of training, such as:

  • the dropout rates of the participants,
  • participants opting out of training sessions on some days, or for a few minutes within sessions, and
  • the timing of the interview after the training and the risk of participants being pre-informed before their turn to get interviewed.

I found that when participants underwent training in a combined group of men and women, there was a tendency for the males to sit in front while the females sat at the back, but there was little difference in the level of responses (from the interviews) by gender. However, during the training, the women were less participative than the men. Repeating the content on the second day in separate groups of male- and female-only farmers revealed that the participants, especially the women, did better than on the previous day. Not only did their participation during the training improved, but the number of correct responses from them increased during the interview. Was it repetitive information that increased retention among the participants, or was it having separate male and female groups that promoted greater participation, retention, and confidence?

The research was designed in such a way that new female participants joined Day 1 female participants on Day 2, when Day 1 participants were given new information in addition to a recap of Day 1. For the new participants that came on Day 2, however, the recap of Day 1 and the added information were both new for them and they had to grasp much more information than Day 1 participants. It was assumed that Day 1 participants would perform better on Day 2 compared with the new participants of Day 2.

There was little difference observed in the responses among Day 1 and new (Day 2) participants. Female participants, however, were more confident and vocal on Day 2, when trained in a female-only group. This could be a result of either familiarity with the training environment due to repeated exposure, or familiarity and thus ease with other females.

The training sessions were found more effective done in separate groups for men and women, rather than in a mixed one, resulting in greater participation from the women and thus enhancing the effectivity of the training program.

Economic Brief 7 - PVS and Gender

posted May 11, 2016, 8:36 PM by Rowena Baltazar ‎(IRRI)‎

Latest STRASA Economic Brief number 7 highlights work on participatory varietal selection, with focus on women farmers' participation. Click on photo to download.


Creating an oasis in rice: the women farmers of Nagwa Village, Uttar Pradesh

posted May 11, 2016, 7:48 PM by Rowena Baltazar ‎(IRRI)‎   [ updated May 11, 2016, 8:18 PM ]

Starting in 2015, STRASA highlighted success stories on its seed dissemination and multiplication, benefiting farmers, especially in remote and marginalized areas, particularly women. For its launching story, we featured an article by Ms. Lanie Reyes, editor of Rice Today magazine produced by IRRI, on benefits of Sahbhagi Dhan, a drought-tolerant rice variety disseminated to the women farmers of Nagwa Village in Uttar Pradesh, India. Ms. Reyes’ article is included in the Deep Roots publication of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in partnership with Tudor Rose. The book was published in celebration of the International Year of Family Farming in 2014. Excerpts of the article follow.

A car can usually travel down the narrow concrete road in Nagwa Village of Maharanjganj district in eastern Uttar Pradesh. However, during this second week of November – harvest time in the fields surrounding the village – piles of rice straw clogged the way, making passage virtually impossible. Most of the women, including Prabhawati Devi, were busy cutting the straw and piling it neatly on jute sacks that were cut open to serve as mats for the straw. As she was gathering the edges of the stalks, Mrs Devi said with a smile, “These are Sahbhagi.”

Sahbhagi is what the farmers and villagers call Sahbhagi dhan, a drought-tolerant rice variety released in India in 2009. The straw of Sahbhagi dhan is popular among the women in Nagwa, who feed it to their cattle. Brick and mud houses, scattered along the road of Nagwa, are not big enough to shield from view the residents inside as they go about their daily chores. One woman was cooking just inside her front door, squinting under the almost midday sun and shielding her eyes with her hands from the smoke of the burning fuelwood. Outside her house, another woman was threshing rice manually – raising her arms as high as she could as she smashed a bunch of rice stalks on a surface covered with fine mesh net. She gathered the separated grains with her hands, placing the grains at the centre of the net and putting the empty stalks neatly to her side. She rose once in a while to straighten her back from her squatting position. Yet another woman had just returned from harvesting rice bundles in the field. Women often harvest rice in staggered shifts because they want to give the fresh rice stalks to their cattle. (Full story in Deep Roots, pages 168-170)

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