Rice is the staple food for more than half the world’s population. Much of that rice is grown on small plots of land by rural smallholder farmers. As many as a billion people are engaged in rice production across the world and between 27-84% of those people are women. Women rice growers, then, are ‘the largest single livelihood group in the world’.(1)
Sabarmatee from Odisha, India was alarmed at the scale of physical suffering that women rice farmers were enduring in her community. Because of the nature of the tasks that women rice growers typically perform, they endure muscular and skeletal problems, often leading to deformation, and prolonged standing and sitting in often contaminated water in flooded paddy fields leads to skin infection and disease as well as gynaecological and urinary tract problems. The impacts of these problems on women go beyond physical harm and can cause socio-economic problems for those who then have to spend large portions of their income on medical fees and who are less able to produce food.
Research about the impacts of rice growing on women is relatively new and Sabarmatee could find little published about the problem. She has set about researching both the problem and the ways in which it can be resolved. The System of Rice Intensification forms a part of the solution.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) helps to reduce many of the harmful effects suffered by women rice farmers, in part due to smarter water use, they no longer have to squat in flooded fields for days while working. And with the reduction of seed usage and the number of seedlings that are transplanted, the burdens involved in transplanting – typically done by women – are also reduced. With the introduction of mechanical weeders in many areas, women no longer weed their crops manually, which requires them to be bent double for many hours at a time. Indeed, with the introduction of mechanical weeders in many areas, men have taken over that particular duty.
With higher yields, SRI also contributes to improved family life. Higher yields provide hope for the future with more household food availability. Higher incomes from extra produce helps to cover medical and school fees. With improved family life comes the opportunity to engage in other income generating activities, thus helping to develop the community.
The System of Crop Intensification (SCI) and Conservation Agriculture (CA) bring similar benefits to women and to communities generally.
It is the mission of SRI4Women to highlight these benefits to governments and policy makers around the world and to inform researchers, engineers engaged in developing equipment suitable for women and also extension personnel who are engaged in the promotion of the wellbeing of women in agriculture.
SRI4Women brings together experts in SRI from Cornell University’s SRI-Rice Center and leading practitioners in communications, agriculture, health and international development.
(1) The system of rice intensification and its impacts on women – Reducing pain, discomfort, and labor in rice farming while enhancing households’ food security, Olivia Vent, Sabarmatee and Norman Uphoff