The importance of women
Women play a major role in agriculture in developing countries. For example, in South Asia, women contribute 60–80% of agricultural labour. However, women often have less access to resources or credit and often have lower status than men.
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that agricultural yields could increase by 20–30% if women had similar access to resources as men. This would raise the total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4% and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12–17%.
More than half of the farms in the Gangetic Plain region are run by women, because many men migrate or travel for paid work.
Gender strategies in the project
The Sustainable and Resilient Farming Systems Intensification (SRFSI) project therefore particularly aims to empower and benefit women. It aims to improve gender awareness among project team members and participants, and to ensure that the project addresses both men’s and women’s needs.
Gender is being considered at every level and stage of the project.
Project gender strategies include the following:
• Better understanding the role, capabilities and experience of women: The project has collected separate data for men and women in each of the 40 field sites on their activities; access to resources, information and technology; coping strategies; decision-making; barriers and challenges; and goals and priorities. These data have supported project planning.
• Participation in focus groups: All focus group discussions during the field site diagnoses included women, and some focus group discussions have been divided into separate female, male and mixed groups in a particular effort to gather women’s views.
• Participation in activities: Both men and women farmers have been included in on-farm testing, participatory evaluation and dissemination of results. The project has successfully targeted the leaders of women’s self-help groups to plan and implement field site activities. For example, in the Baluwa node in Nepal, Mrs Sanju Chaudhary leads a self-help group of around 40 women and has been chosen as a project field technician. Women are already benefiting from participation. For example, in West Bengal, India, some women who participated in the zero-till wheat trials found that less water was needed and fewer weeds grew.
• Gender sensitisation training: Participants in the training included Australian and local researchers, local agriculture extension staff, local field technicians, and local non-government organisations.
Some project activities, especially those involving training in machinery, have had lower involvement of women. This could be because these tasks are typically done by male household members, but could also be due to social or cultural reasons. These reasons need to be better understood so that the project can take action to encourage more involvement.