Pathways to transformation for smallholder women
"For one to be productive, you need to have access to resources and to markets," says Henry Swira. "And it's easier for men to have access to resources, because that's how traditionally it's been constructed, when actually it is women who do 70 per cent of the work in the field." As Program Director for the NGO CARE in Malawi, Swira champions an initiative which he believes is pushing the boundaries, when it comes to transforming productivity among women farmers. The Pathways programme, which is also being rolled out in Bangladesh, Ghana, India, Mali and Tanzania, aims to boost the productivity and profitability of 150,000 women smallholders, bringing improved food security and greater livelihood resilience to them and their families.
Kadia Koné, a 36 year old smallholder from eastern Mali, is very familiar with the barriers to food production faced by millions of women across the developing world. Her small millet field, she explains, could produce more if she had the right equipment like a plough, an asset which is typically controlled by men. "The main difficulty I encountered in my work is the lack of equipment," she says. "To overcome these difficulties, I have used the service from a provider who had a plough. To convince him, it was not easy because plough owners, who are all men, hardly leave their fields to plough for another person, even if they pay money."
To support smallholder famers like Koné, the Pathways programme works with existing groups of women, including producer groups, self-help groups and village savings and loans associations, and aims to introduce best practices around agriculture, market engagement, gender equity and finance in new ways that are more integrated and efficient and can have greater impact. The Farmer Field and Business School approach, for example, provides farmers with hands-on opportunities to experiment and learn about effective production practices, but also to learn the fundamentals of successful business management. Following the agricultural cycle, participants receive just-in-time training, achieving higher retention rates and greater behavioural change.
In 2012, having joined a local women's collective and through it, the CARE programme, Koné planted her typical one hectare of millet. Through her involvement with Pathways, she was able to get credit to buy fertiliser and insecticide and access the equipment she needed. These inputs, along with improved agricultural practices, led to a dramatic increase in her yields.
"Thanks to good rainfall, the millet germinated well," she says. "I then used the technique of micro-dosing (2g of fertiliser per planting station), and a few days after, I did mounding with a plough. In November, it was time to harvest. I had a total of ten bags of millet. The first part, I have reserved for the use of my family. The second part, I will keep in my attic until the lean season, for sale. In this period, the price of millet will increase dramatically and this will allow me to have more money." Equipment, agricultural inputs and hired labour cost Koné 2500 CFA (US$5). After expenses she was able to make a profit of 34,500 CFA (US$68), which was enough to meet the needs of her family and prepare for next season.
Five levers to bring change
While farmers in each Pathways country face unique challenges, at a broad level, the programme operates through five common and closely related areas. These so called 'change levers' cover women's capacity, including both knowledge and power to act; access to inputs, resources and markets; productivity through sustainable agriculture and value addition; influence on household decision making; and support from an enabling cultural and legal environment. Policy and community education campaigns engage with men, boys and traditional power holders, and through participatory methods such as CARE's Community Scorecard, communities take part in joint visioning and planning, identifying problems, generating solutions and working together to improve services.
In India, for example, while women throughout the country face gender-based inequalities, those belonging to the historically poor and socially excluded communities are particularly marginalised. In response, the programme has supported positive trends, especially the growing presence of women's collectives in these communities, which are building the profile and influence of marginalised women farmers. Meanwhile in Mali, where men own and control access to the majority of land, the programme has facilitated community dialogue on land rights issues.
Drawing on nearly two years of in-depth, multi-country research and analysis, the programme is based on the conviction that women farmers possess enormous potential to contribute to long-term food security for their families and substantially improve nutritional outcomes in sustainable ways. Liberating them and enabling them to maximise their potential will, therefore, be fundamental to overcoming poverty and hunger.
Date published: March 2013
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Have your say
This is really a practical approach that work for the small ... (posted by: Ekanath Khatiwada)
Pathways is making an interesting argument as to how you can... (posted by: Tracy Gerstle, Co-Chair Farming First & Global Policy Direct)
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