Nepal’s female farmers need research and technology aimed at them
IRIN: Most of Nepal’s agriculture is undertaken by women, but research tailored to their needs is lacking. “We need new technologies that can reduce the drudgery for them,” said Devendra Gauchan, agricultural economist and chief of the socioeconomics and agri-research policy division at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (Narc).
Agriculture supports the livelihood of more than 60% of the rural population in Nepal, but most farmers, regardless of gender, stick to the manual practices that have been common for centuries, and seldom use mechanical equipment.
Women have traditionally been involved in agriculture, but the scale and range of their responsibilities has increased. “Feminisation has been rapidly enhanced in recent years due to the massive migration … from rural areas, mostly of men,” said Gauchan.
Around nine in every 10 people who have left the country – whether permanently or temporarily – are men, according to the most recent census in 2011 (pdf).
A survey by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2010 revealed that around 3% of households headed by women used mechanical equipment, compared with 8% of those headed by men.
“The demands of women and men are different and we need to consider that in agriculture research,” said Shreeram Neopane, executive director of local initiatives at Biodiversity, Research and Development, an NGO based in Pokhara, about 200km (124 miles) west of the capital, Kathmandu.
The Institute for Integrated Development Studies (pdf), a thinktank in Kathmandu, recently noted that agricultural research and training could cut poverty, “if it generates and disseminates technologies, which are specifically targeted at the problems of poor farmers, including women farmers, who, because of the gender division of labour, have different technology needs from men”.
Such research should focus on inventing small equipment and machines that would mechanise farming, from sowing to harvesting and post-harvest processing, suggested Dhruva Joshy, former executive director of Narc.
For example, the traditional way of husking finger millet, a small staple grain, with a pestle and mortar is labour-intensive and time-consuming, and a dehusking machine could significantly save time and energy, said Bhag Mal, a consultant to the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions in Bangkok, Thailand.
Researchers need to keep in mind the different aspects of agricultural production that are of particular concern to women, said Neopane. In choosing rice varieties, for example, men care more about increasing yield and production, while women also consider taste, smell and the ease of threshing and cooking. Recognising the needs of women could result in a “higher rate of uptake of a technology, and more benefit from the technology for the family”.
Although women would benefit most from a boost in agriculture research, Gauchan pointed out that few researchers in Nepal are women – in 2009 only 10% of public agriculture researchers were women, up just 1% from 2003, according to the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (pdf) and Narc in 2011.
The FAO (pdf) found that 98% of the total female labour force were engaged in agriculture in 2010, while the UN Environment Programme noted that women performed six times as much agriculture work as men.
Despite contributing 35% to the national gross domestic product, investment in agriculture (pdf) accounted for just 2% of the government’s 2009 budget, with less than 0.2% going to research.
Rural women in Nepal are less educated than men, with only about one year of formal schooling each on average, according to an analysis by the FAO in 2010 (pdf). The success of any new invention therefore depends on the empowerment of women, and on their training and access to information, said Gauchan.
“Even if new technologies arrive, they do not reach many places. Only the smarter women have access, but women living in rural corners do not,” said Radha Nepal, a farmer and chairwoman of the community maize seed production committee in a village in Palpa district, in the southern Terai region bordering India.
“If women’s knowledge was enhanced – if manure, seed and pesticide were made available, with the necessary tools – then women could do all the agriculture work themselves.”