WOMEN FARMERS - 5 INNOVATIVE PROGRAMS FOR EMPOWERMENT
Women produce more than half of the world's food but face unique challenges as farmers. Five innovative programs are helping them – and strengthening the world's food system.
A woman carries a bundle of cut sugarcane as she helps to harvest a field outside Gove village in Satara district, about 161 miles south of
Research has shown that women may play a key role in the fight against global hunger and poverty. Worldwide, roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food.
Although women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, they typically aren’t able to own land. Cultural barriers also limit women’s ability to obtain credit and insurance.
Strengthening women’s rights can help strengthen the global food system. According to the World Food Programme, allowing women farmers access to more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.
Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five innovations that are helping empower women farmers around the world:
1. Vertical Farming: Although most farming is mostly associated with rural areas, more than 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land.
Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to $4.33).
Vertical Farming in action: This innovation has already proven successful in
providing food for urban residents during a time of dire need. During the food
crisis that hit Kenya
in 2007-2008, there was a blockade of food supplies coming into the
FANRPAN’s Theater: Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of
The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers.
FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the program manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”
FANRPAN’s Theater in Action: After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.
3. Self Employed Women’s Association
(SEWA): In developing countries like India,
women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and
rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in
SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help
groups, and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in
SEWA in action: SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.
4. Women’s Collective: Also in
The Tamil Nadu Women’s
Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food
and water security. The collective reaches more than 1,500 villages spread
across 18 districts in
Women’s participation in local government is another initiative the WC has taken up. By empowering women, giving them a voice at the household and political level, and helping women strengthen local food systems and employ natural farming methods, the WC is actively addressing issues of food and water insecurity and improving rural livelihoods.
Women’s Collective in action: Beginning in 1998-1999, Women’s Collective members were educated about natural farming techniques. The concept of natural farming maximizes natural inputs, or inputs derived from the farm itself. Natural farming can increase soil's water retention, leading to better yields under rain-fed conditions.
Shanta, a single mother from the Vellanikkottam village, started practicing natural farming with help from the Women’s Collective. Since transitioning to natural farming, Shanta has benefited from increased crop yields.
5. GREEN Foundation: Studies have shown that women farmers typically have
lower crop yields than their male counterparts. A study conducted in Burkina Faso, for example, has found that women’s
yields were 20 percent lower for vegetables and 40 percent lower for
sorghum. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may
be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs.
Foundation has partnered with NGOs, including Seed Saver’s Network and
The Development Fund, to create community seed banks in
Women run these seed banks, thereby gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality, organic seeds that yield profitable crops. Landless women farmers are encouraged to grow indigenous vegetables in community gardens. The gardening project, which improves women small-scale farmers’ food security and economic status, involves training women in agricultural methods and encouraging them to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants for their families.
Part of the GREEN Foundation’s mission is to empower women and enhance women’s leadership skills. The foundation has successfully touched upon different dimensions of sustainable agriculture that have helped farmers secure seed, food, and better livelihoods.
GREEN Foundation in action: The foundation’s kitchen-gardening project is an important innovation that promotes agricultural biodiversity while empowering women.
Mahadevamma is one example of a rural Indian woman who has improved her food security and her family’s income by growing crops in a kitchen garden. She uses waste water from her house to irrigate the crops and employs vermicompost for manure and fermented plant extract for pest control. She has gotten good yields and she sells any excess vegetables and seeds to make a profit. Mahadevammma has earned 2,000 rupees ($44.61) just from her kitchen garden.