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Regional Consultation Workshop on Promoting Gender Sensitive Value Chain and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Food System in South Asia

Regional Consultation Workshop on Promoting Gender Sensitive Value Chain and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Food System in South Asia

Regional Consultation Workshop on Promoting Gender Sensitive Value Chain and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Food System in South Asia A Regional Consultation Workshop on promoting Gender Sensitive Value Chain and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Food System in South Asia 12-14 June 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal. […]

Regional Expert Consultation Meeting on “Youth and Women in Agriculture: For Economic Development and Key to Food Security in Future”

Regional Expert Consultation Meeting on “Youth and Women in Agriculture: For Economic Development and Key to Food Security in Future”

Women farmers and youth farmers from SAARC countries, Nepali government officials, academics and experts and development partners convened for a three day consultation meeting on youth and women in agriculture in South Asia. The consultation meeting was themed “Youth and Women in Agriculture: For Economic […]

SRI LANKA: From living in isolation to becoming a woman farmer leader

SRI LANKA: From living in isolation to becoming a woman farmer leader

Once a woman farmer in an isolated village in Sri Lanka

Living in isolation

My name is Indika. I live in Matale district, Sri Lanka with my husband and two children. My husband is a farmer just like many other people in our district. Although Matale is believed to be the “center” of the country, the reality is we were isolated. Our area is quite a distance from the town centers. The only mode of public transportation is not available in the evening. Some use small motorbikes for transportation, but it is risky because once the sun sets, wild elephants take over the roads.

Rays of hope

Four years ago, some people came to our village and introduced themselves as MONLAR (Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform), an organization based in Colombo. They indicated that they want to meet with the farmers. The farmers, including my husband and I, in our village had an initial meeting with them and eventually ended up forming a group as a Farmer Organization (FO). We were introduced to the District Farmer Organization and became a member of it. Next, we became part of the National Farmer Organization—the Lanka Farmers’ Forum (LFF). LFF comprises about 500 FOs in nine districts in Sri Lanka and has 20,000 members. The whole thing was an initiative of the Medium Term Cooperation Program (MTCP), which has become a household name among the lead farmers.

Dreaming?

During the last four years, a lot of things happened. Sometimes when we look back, we still wonder if those were merely dreams. It was so hard for us to believe the good things happening to us after joining the LFF.

Getting organized

The FOs in Matale District formed the District Farmer Forum and I was elected as the president. Later on, at the National Lanka Farmers Forum, I was elected as the secretary.

Earlier, the farmers were engaged in farming individually. They grow and sell their harvest in bulk to the traders from the city coming in a lorry. The prices are generally very low, compared to the retail prices in town, but we had no alternative to make money for our hard labor. We were weak because we were acting individually. There was no collective strength.

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Strengthening farmers and Farmer Organizations

The MTCP initiative is focused on “strengthening the farmers organizations”. We now only realized the value of it as we were earlier isolated in our own plot of lands. The only person we dealt with was the trader who was also the money lender. We bought all the chemical inputs from the nearby shop nearby. Our whole world was limited to these interactions.

Women participate in the awareness campaigns of LFF

After becoming a member of the LFF, even at village level, we were able to interact closely with our fellow farmers and share our problems. It was also a huge step forward when we participated in several training and awareness programs. We were able to interact with the members of the other FOs in other districts. Apart from establishing relationships with them, we gained knowledge on farming methods, post-harvest techniques, value adding, usage of small scale machineries, packaging, and marketing. The experience and the exposure we had were very helpful.

Breaking the silence

We never thought that we could influence the government and policy makers. The reason was that we were alone and spent most of the time in our plot of land struggling to make an income.

We were amazed to participate in the discussions where we discussed the decisions made by the government with regard to our agriculture, our livelihood. We participated in many protest campaigns even in the capital Colombo.

Making a decent living

Farming was a kind of vocation traditionally, comes on to the rural women. We were not on the top of it.

Training session on value adding

Women do most of the hard work, but the transactions were done by the men. Until MTCP and LFF suggested the idea of adding values to our primary products, we were always at the back seat. We put what we learned from the trainings to practice and processed our primary products. We then decided collectively to open up a ‘sales outlet’ of our own where we are going to sell our value added products. We named our products “PINK PRODUCTS” to give a feminine touch to them because this is an initiative of the women.

PINK PRODUCTS sales outlet where value added products are sold

We are also operating in Naula and found out that the sales outlet is very busy in the morning. We offer ‘poison-free food’ or organic food to the consumers and our shop was getting the attention of many people in town.

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Now that we are all working together, we feel the strength and the beauty of togetherness. We made lots of friends in LFF. We feel that we have broken our isolation.

Happier and stronger together

A women farmer from Matale in SAARC!

I was particularly happy that I, the Secretary of LFF and a woman farmer from Matale district, presented our story in a conference in Nepal where the Secretary General of SAARC was also in attendance.

Indika present her story during the South South Cooperation Forum in Kathmandu, Nepal in December 2017

This was just a dream that I never thought will come true, but it became a reality thanks to MTCP interventions. Before, we did not even have the slightest hope or even a dream to come out of isolation and interact in regional forums in our lifetime.

Indika with MTCP2 staff

Being a woman farmer in an isolated village, I am so proud to be who I am today. A woman farmer, an entrepreneur, a National Leader of the LFF, a policy campaigner and a farmer representative of Sri Lanka at regional conferences. The most important thing to note is that there are a number of farmers—men and women—who have marched through the same path and underwent through the same processes and became leaders of the farmer community. All of these happened because of the moral, material, financial, and mentoring support extended by the MTCP Program and its dedicated, grounded and friendly staff members. ###

About MTCP2

The Medium Term Cooperation Program Phase 2 (MTCP2), a five-year capacity building program supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), and the European Union (EU), has been implemented in 19 countries across three sub-regions—Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific—engaging 1,544 sub-national farmers organizations (FOs) with total membership of around 22 million farmers. The funding support (total budget of $ million for the whole duration of the project across 19 countries) serves as a catalytic fund that will allow FOs to enhance their capacity to be effective channels of economic services to farmers. So far, the program has contributed to the formation of strong national platform of FOs with improved capacity to engage in policy processes and mobilize resources from mainstream agricultural development programs like extension services, credit, and pre and post harvest facilities. The program also helped in transforming farmers associations into commodity-based cooperatives to strengthen the role of small-scale farmers within an inclusive and sustainable value-chain. The program is being implemented by the consortium Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) and La Via Campesina (LVC).

 

[SRI LANKA] Food production by vegetable dehydration

[SRI LANKA] Food production by vegetable dehydration

In the village of Rahathungoda in Nuwaraeliya District, Sri Lanka during the harvest season, many farmers are ‘ensnared’ by intermediary sellers that purchase their vegetables on despoiling low rates. Because of this, farmers fall into a helpless and desolated situation. Sometimes, they could not even […]

Impact of Lao Farmer Network on Youth Development

Impact of Lao Farmer Network on Youth Development

Watch this video to learn about the initiatives of the Lao Farmer Network for youth farmers in Lao PDR. Lao Farmer Network (LFN) is a member of AFA in Lao PDR.


The Nepal Agriculture Food Security Project

The Nepal Agriculture Food Security Project

Farmers make up more than three quarters of Nepal’s population. Yet the agricultural sector accounts for only a third of the country’s GDP, and many rural communities are experiencing extreme poverty. Among them are women, indigenous people (Janajatis), and members of the lowest Hindu caste (Dalits).

Facing multiple forms of discrimination, many indigenous and Dalit women in rural areas not only struggle to make a living but also must take on additional unpaid work within their homes, such as cooking and caring for their children. Though women account for 65% of Nepal’s agriculture workforce, significant gaps remain between women and men when it comes to healthcare, nutrition, education, and decision-making.

To address the multilayered challenges surrounding food insecurity in rural Nepal, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) in 2013 funded a five-year initiative called the Nepal Agriculture Food Security Project (AFSP), together with the Government of Nepal. The project aimed to improve food security and nutrition in rural areas by increasing food production, promoting nutritious diets and supporting communities to cope with the impacts of climate change. It focused on 19 districts in the Mid-Western and Far-Western regions, two remote, mountainous areas with high levels of hunger and poverty.

Undertaking this project was no small feat. The farmers that participated in the AFSP live in remote villages high in the mountains, where the winter season lasts for half the year and the terrain makes it difficult to grow a variety of foods year-round. In some cases, mobilizing Dalit people to participate in the farming activities proved challenging due to caste-based exclusion from land ownership and agricultural resources.

Key Findings on the Implementation of the AFSP

ActionAid and the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development, both members of the GAFSP Steering Committee, commissioned a study to review the successes and lessons learned from the AFSP. The study revealed that the AFSP succeeded in reaching households that lacked access to seeds and fertilizers, and in focusing on women. The project brought about improvements in agricultural and livestock development, nutrition, and livelihoods.

 

Women in Tatopani received training to grow new food crops and include them in their diets. [Lok Chandra Thapa/ActionAid]
At the same time the expertise of local farmers could have been better utilized. Local farmer organizations participated in project monitoring, but their views were left out of important decisions about seed varieties and livestock. The longevity of the AFSP will depend on whether local farmers’ groups remain active and whether farmers can keep using the new technologies and livestock breeds that are costlier.

Increasing Agricultural Production Improved Food Security and Incomes

One of the most important parts of the project was the construction of polytunnels, which are plastic greenhouses. Before, the farmers could only produce enough nutritious food for three months of the year. For the rest of the year, they planted crops that did well in cold conditions like potatoes and wheat. With the construction of the polytunnels, the farmers can now grow a variety of vegetables off-season, including tomatoes, radishes, spinach and cucumbers. Farmers also received support to increase the production of chickens, eggs and goats.

“We can handle growing vegetables even when we get snow. The winter cannot stop us from eating greens anymore. While we grow vegetables, women also raise chickens for eggs and meat. This is a complete form of food security of us.”

– Khimlall, Chairperson of Lagansheel Krishak Pathshala (Laganshlel FFS) ward 7, Fui Mahadev, Kalikot

Both the increased diversity of crops and the increased productivity of livestock meant healthier families and higher incomes. By adding more vegetables and meat to their diets, people in the communities received more nutrients throughout the year. Nursing mothers were also encouraged to breastfeed, and some villages have reported fewer child deaths.

With these polytunnels farmers in Tatopani can now grow a wide range of nutritious greens even during the winter. [Lok Chandra Thapa/ActionAid]
Farmers also brought in higher incomes from selling a variety of vegetables as well as chicks and baby goats. For many, it was the first time they earned cash from vegetables besides potatoes. Some even doubled their incomes selling cross-bred chickens provided by the project, rather than traditional native chickens.

“I couldn’t spend any money on my kids before. I barely had enough for household expenses and for saving. But now both my husband and I save every month. We pay for our children’s education, health expenses, and the rest is saved.”

– Kaushila Thapa, Treasurer of the Samriddhi Agriculture Cooperative, Namaskar

Women’s Workloads Decreased

The AFSP was very popular among women farmers, who made up 70% of its participants. In addition to improving nutrition, health education and income, the project allowed women to save their earnings and encouraged some to open bank accounts in their own names. Through the project women farmers who were married learned to negotiate their share of household chores with their husbands.

“Our men now help us in household work, because we go to meetings and agriculture production trainings. Our men help us in the kitchen when we are out in meetings. We women were very shy before but now we can speak in public.”

– Women members of Tatopani Village Model Farm group, Jumla District

Improving Farmers’ Consultation and Ownership Over the Project Needs Improvement

The AFSP intended to engage small-scale producers throughout the entire process, but implementation looked different on the ground. During the AFSP’s design phases, the famers were represented mainly by national and regional level farmer representatives, rather than community members. This meant that farmers working directly with the AFSP were often excluded from decisions that would affect them most. Distance was also a barrier and meant that fewer farmers from remote locations were consulted than their counterparts in the main town.

Recommendations

Overall the AFSP effectively integrated the issues of public health, nutrition, food security, and agricultural development. To sustain the project’s impact and the farmers’ resilience, our study makes the following recommendations.

  • The project must consider how to further support and strengthen civil society organizations and producer organizations so they can better organize farmer groups and support affected communities to influence government policy.
  • The project should adopt a consensus building approach to decision-making.
  • The project needs to systematize gender analysis and impact assessments.
  • The project must go beyond social and environment assessments of planned activities and consider integrating a community-based approach to climate change.
  • The project needs to turn to local and indigenous knowledge when implementing the project, by looking for ways to promote traditional food crops and involving communities in defining the needs and actions of agricultural research.

The report can be downloaded in English and in French.

(Source: ActionAid)


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