From the fieldsWomen can add value to climate change-friendly farming practices and technologies
Low food production in the marginal uplands has propelled seasonal migration in this Himalayan country. Whenever the harvest is bad, Nepali men flock to India for labour jobs, leaving the women in the villages to work on the farms. Nepal ranks fourth among 170 countries in terms of vulnerability to climate change. A 2016 survey by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) shows that 99.33 percent of Nepali households noted more droughts in the last 25 years. Likewise, increased incidences of pests and diseases are significantly affecting food production and productivity.
In 2014, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), women accounted for 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in the developing countries and produced more than 50-60 percent of the food. In Nepal, more than 80 percent of the women are involved in food production. Labour migration and climate change have further increased women’s role in food production. However, various constraints are undermining their potential.
Agriculture feminisation is considered to be the major obstacle to agriculture development in Nepal. However, if we take it as an opportunity and invest in women’s productive and adaptive capacity, this will change. In order to improve farm production and cope with climate change, it is essential to empower women with knowledge and skills and enhance their access to agriculture services and resources.
Women farmers receive only 5 percent of agriculture extension services worldwide due to their restricted mobility and other social norms. They have limited knowledge about climate change, its causes and how to deal with it. Monsoon patterns and rainfall duration and intensity have changed in recent years. Hence, they are facing difficulties in terms of taking decisions on crop choices and agriculture operations such as when to start planting, apply fertiliser and harvest the crops. The government and development organisations have made efforts to develop a climate information service in Nepal. However, it is not well developed and available to rural farmers.
Likewise, farmers have limited access to climate resilient technologies, infrastructures and practices which are suitable to their local farming system. Women farmers have even less access as most of the technologies are not often women-friendly. Insurance and other risk financing instruments are at a primitive stage in Nepal’s agriculture sector. Private actors are mostly concentrated in urban areas. Women farmers, who often don’t have any property in their own names, cannot afford to adopt new technology and practices without access to finance and risk buy-in mechanisms. Nepal has made good progress in empowering women in many aspects. Yet, agriculture, the sector which is fundamental to life and livelihood, has remained ignored. Most of Nepal’s farm policies and programmes do not favour women. Agriculture subsidies, credit and other programmes do not reach poor farmers.
Agency enhancement of rural women farmers, use of climate resilient varieties, technologies and practices, and an enabling policy framework can greatly contribute to making women farmers resilient to climate change. Agency enhancement of rural women farmers is very important. Farmers require a platform where they can collectively understand, analyse, learn and share practices and information to make informed decisions. Women farmers are keen to learn, practice, adopt and sustain new things. They feel more comfortable with and learn faster from women extension workers. Thus, more and more women extension workers need to be developed to benefit women farmers. If women are empowered, they will create a ripple effect in their families, communities and society at large.
Enabling agricultural transformation
Three women farmers, Kaladevi Kunwar, Jaldhara Devi Kunwar and Kaushila Devi Kunwar, of Climate Field School (CFS) group of Nawathana, Achham in far western Nepal said that they learnt about climate resilient practices after joining the school. They said, “Achham district has been hit by drought in recent years. We were very worried that we wouldn’t be able to grow food. But CFS gave us hope. We have learnt many new things in CFS like drought-resistant varieties, planting methods and irrigation technology. Learning to use weather instruments like thermometers and hygrometers was exciting for us. We have realised that we need to take into account things like when to plant, when to harvest, where to sell, when to apply water and fertiliser and how to control pests and diseases. And this will yield a good harvest.”
CFS is a learning platform being implemented by Practical Action in Nepal’s mid- and far west regions where farmers can analyse the impact of climate change on their local farming system and learn and share knowledge about climate resilient varieties, technologies and practices. Rajesh Kumar KC, senior agriculture development officer of Bajhang, said, “Women are more affected by climate change in their daily activities. CFS is a great approach to help women learn and act on climate change impacts. Women are faster than men in learning, adopting and communicating. Thus, women empowerment is a must to help them tackle climate change.”
Considering the role of women in agriculture and natural resource management, women-friendly machines and technologies need to be developed and promoted which save time and labour and enhance their adaptive capacity. Moreover, a deeper analysis of the constraints and challenges that may prevent women from adopting and benefitting from the machines and technologies is required. In many cases, new technologies and interventions can unintentionally create new burdens for women. Thus, new technologies need to be co-created with women farmers based on their indigenous knowledge, resources and local context.
An in-depth analysis of climate change impacts from the gender perspective needs to be carried out. This will provide policymakers evidence on gender budgeting to address the impact of climate change. The Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) recognises the increasing role of women in agriculture and natural resource management in the context of climate change and outmigration, but it doesn’t say anything about the need to enhance women’s productive and adaptive capacity. This requires the attention of policymakers if agriculture transformation is to be achieved.
Similarly, an enabling environment is necessary for the private sector to invest in climate resilient technologies and other innovations which will help women farmers increase their productive and adaptive capacity. Developments in information and communication technology such as increasing the access of women farmers to weather advisory services is key to closing the digital gender divide and empowering women to show their transformational potential in agriculture. Development organisations should embrace the gender lens in every aspect of intervention to identify the needs of men and women and harness their capabilities to contribute to resilience building.
- Dhungel is a programme coordinator at the Agriculture, Markets and Food security Programme at Practical Action South Asia Regional Office