Mrs Lonah Akumu’s story

Mrs. Lonah Akumu: One Woman’s Story of Resilience Championing SRI in western Kenya

By: Bancy M. Mati[1] and Kennedy Ouma[2]

The soft-spoken Mrs. Lonah Anyango Okumu is an uncelebrated heroine in her own right. This mother of seven children is a widow who has overcome many odds to bring up and educate her family single-handedly as well as become a leading champion of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), in western Kenya. Born in 1961 in Karachuonyo, Homa Bay County, Lonah later married Mr. Akumu of Ahero Irrigation Scheme in Kisumu rural in 1981. This introduced the young Lonah to paddy rice farming, a rather new experience to her. She and her husband were happily married and were blessed with seven children. The couple cultivated paddy rice under conventional flooded check-basin irrigation, as a source of food and income. Unfortunately, in 2003, her husband passed on, and Lonah was left a widow. She struggled farming paddy rice, raising her family and educating her children all alone. Life was tough as farm inputs were expensive, rice cultivation had high labour demands, while yields were low and thus poor income from rice farming left Lonah with many problems. To augment family income, she sometimes used to work as a casual worker in other farms, while also cultivating her 4 acres of paddy. Moreover, the continuous flooded paddies meant that poor Lonah spent every day of the crop season in stagnant water, exposing her to water-borne diseases.

In 2010, Lonah was among the first batch of farmers from western Kenya who were trained on SRI by Prof. Bancy Mati of JKUAT. She quickly identified with the need to use less seeds, reduced labour for weeding and the promise of higher yields and better incomes from SRI. Thus, Lonah was one of the first SRI adopters in Ahero Irigation Scheme. She was trained as a ToT (Training of Trainers) in 2011 through Prof. Mati’s initiatives in promoting SRI at the time, further improving her skills.

lorna-shows-her-paddy-field
Lonah shows her SRI paddy during an interview at Ahero Irrigation Scheme, October 5th, 2016

Lonah says that at first, she thought SRI is complicated. Before SRI came, when she cultivated rice in conventional paddies, she would plant 25 kg of seed per acre and transplant the seedlings when they were 28 days old. She was not sure the new method would work. So in her first year, she tried SRI on one acre, using just 5 kg of seeds and transplanting 12 day-old seedlings. The crop did very well and she counted 105 tillers on her SRI plot. At harvesting, the one acre yielded 35 bags of paddy compared to the 20 bags obtained from conventional paddies. From that time on, she converted to growing all her rice by SRI method and has never looked back since.

As a woman, Lonah has faced several challenges, especially as a widow. Sometimes there is shortage of water, in which case, men can go out to irrigate at night when water is sometimes flowing, but as a woman, she can’t. She requires capital to buy fertilizers and pesticides, and due to family demands, at times she can’t afford. But even with these struggles, she has remained steadfast as an SRI farmer. As a ToT, Lorna has trained many other farmers on SRI and has been a motivational speaker for the system. Currently in 2016, all her 4 acres of paddy are under SRI. She urges other farmers, especially women, to adopt SRI. It is for this reason that we consider Mrs. Lonah Anyango Okumu a champion of SRI in Kenya.

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[1] Professor at JKUAT and SRI Project Coordinator in Kenya

[2] Officer in Charge, West Kano Irrigation scheme, Kenya

Women Strong – Lotus Foods

(See the original from Lotus Foods)

The world’s global rice supply is literally produced on women’s backs. Women growing rice is the largest single livelihood activity in the world.

Women are thus central not just to sustaining global food security and nutrition, but also for the environmental management of a large portion of the world’s cultivable land.

Women generally do the arduous, back-breaking repetitive work of uprooting and transplanting seedlings, weeding and harvesting.

Rice is mostly grown under flooded conditions and mainly in the wet or summer season, requiring women to work long hours under the hot sun or in rain, in standing water, under unhygienic conditions, and exposed to numerous chemicals, parasites and various disease vectors.

In a cropping season, women can spend 400-500 or more hours bent or sitting in standing water per acre of rice grown to uproot seedlings from flooded nurseries, transport them to main fields, transplant them and weed the fields. Check out this photo of women uprooting rice seedlings in Mali! They sit this way for days and days. Photo by Erika Styger.

Malian_women_pulling_seedlings_1000px

The work and exposure to diseases and chemicals in the flooded fields leads to chronic and acute illness, which undermines the health and welfare of women around the world, and thus also agricultural productivity and food security.

They also have to tend other crops or livestock, collect wood and water, cook, care for family, and sometimes do wage labor or market small products.

Women are taking on ever more responsibility in managing rice production as more men seek work off-farm to generate needed household income, a process characterized as the ‘feminization of agriculture’.

Current private and public sector strategies to raise agricultural productivity promote more new seeds and agrochemicals, which means women’s exposure to toxic chemicals in increasing, with implications not only for their health but for that of their unborn children.

So how does MCPD/SRI disrupt this anti-women bias?

MCDP dramatically reduces the pain, drudgery and time required by women to grow rice.

Work in flooded fields is minimized or eliminated. There is a reduction in labor time (about half) and lightening of work due to fewer and younger seedlings to manage, and also a reduction in repetitive motions and time spent in bent postures. Weeding is done in an upright position with a weeder, and men are more likely to assist with weeding when there is a mechanical tool.

Women can use freed time for other domestic or farm activities, producing more profitable cash crops on land they can take out of paddy. Many women start their own small business or become farmer-leaders training others on SRI. Women using SRI/MCPD methods note an improvement in their health and diets, with more time to eat and rest. Higher incomes improve family quality of life.

Phaly – Cambodia

A daughter in Cambodia doubles rice harvest, and surprises her parents

June 14, 2016 By Chris Hufstader, Oxfam America (See original)

How new ways of cultivating rice using fewer seeds can produce more food, and bring a family together.

When Chuk Meun told his 22-year-old daughter Phaly that she could plant some rice on a small section of his land, it was the beginning of a growing season he will never forget, and a period of conflict he never expected. But it led to a harvest that would change the prospects of his entire family.

Phaly had been training with an organization supported by Oxfam called Srer Khmer in how to use the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is a way of growing rice that uses less seed. Farmers transplant younger seedlings individually and in rows, each seedling farther apart to allow the plants more space and light and nutrients. It seems incredible, but if done well with enough rain, it can double a normal harvest.

But to Meun, now 64, it all looked bad. He had none of Phaly’s SRI training, and only knew conventional rice-growing methods. “If you do this you will have problems with me,” he says he told her on the day he saw her transplanting in rows. He was convinced she would produce less rice than transplanting a fist full of five or six older seedlings, grouped close together to maximize the number of plants in the field.

“After she transplanted I looked at the field, I thought it was hopeless and it made me angry, that it was a waste of time and land,” he says. “I did not talk with her for three months.”

Phaly’s mother, Soi Houn, on the other hand, didn’t hold back. “I criticized her all the time,” she now says. “I was very critical about the space between the plants.”

It was a rough few months for Phaly, but she laughs about it now, the entire family does actually. “They were so angry,” she giggles, glancing at her mother on one side, and her father on the other, outside her parent’s home in Pursat province.

Looking better

Meun says a month later, “after Phaly added compost, the plants were growing straight and tall and I could see the grains growing, and I started to have hope,” he says. Apparently he did not mention this to his daughter, who interjects,“He was still not talking to me,” prompting more laughter.

But Phaly was not surprised. Oxfam’s partner Srer Khmer brings farmers like her together in groups to learn and share ideas, so she knew after her father saw the results, he would understand.  Her training was part of Oxfam’s program to help farmers adapt to a changing climate, and produce more food. Srer Khmer is working with more than 3,000 SRI farmers in two provinces, training farmers and helping the more proficient ones to become trainers. The organization has been working with Oxfam for seven years and has trained nearly 8,000 in the System of Rice Intensification.

Phaly - Cambodia (OXFAM)

“Super happy”

Things changed between Phaly and her parents around harvest time. “They were super happy,” Phaly says. “They asked why there was so much more rice.” Her father, she says, helped her with the harvest and “started talking with me again when he saw the results, which was seven sacks, double the normal harvest in this field of about three.” Meun slowly gave up his skepticism of SRI, and Phaly says that starting in 2011 he “completely changed his mind, he now only plants using SRI.”

“SRI is a powerful tool,” Meun says, noting that on a hectare of land (about 2.45 acres), “I used to grow one or two tons, now I can get four.” In a year with enough rain, Meun says that can mean 16 tons of rice from his four hectares, “so much I don’t have enough space to store it.”

Phaly says the increased rice yield has translated into a better standard of living for the extended family (she’s now 26, married, with a little son). “Before we had almost nothing,” she says. “After switching to SRI we are saving money, we bought a tractor three years ago, and we just got a new motorbike.”

As a former village chief, Meun is using his status to get more farmers to try SRI. “I always talk about SRI because it can help people increase their income and get out of poverty,” he says.

Meun says he thinks about Phaly differently now. “I really appreciate Phaly’s agricultural skills,” he says. “I hope she can gain the trust of others to teach them SRI. I think she’s able to be a village chief in the future.”

Phaly says she has already trained 15 other families in SRI practices. She seems to like her father’s suggestion: “If I could get the chance to be village chief, I’d try to do it so I can lead other farmers to try SRI.”

From Oxfam America

You can support training programs that help farmers like Phaly get the training they need to feed their families.

Donate to Oxfam America: Here!

Abeline – Madagascar

Abeline is a Malagasy widow, mother and grandmother. She has a tiny plot of land that, since adopting SRI, has yielded enough rice for her to live on and make a living. She has independence now, which means she no longer feels a ‘burden’ to her young family.

See a full video introduction to SRI featuring Abeline and her story

SRI and its Impact on Women

Women and Rice Farming: Feeding the World

(From SRI-Rice. See the original: SRI and its Impact on Women)
More women are involved in rice cultivation than in any other livelihood activity, an estimated 500 million women worldwide. Their knowledge, labor and skill produce not only food and income for their families, but contribute to global food stocks. Growing rice is a labor-intensive undertaking, requiring physically-demanding work throughout the cropping season, performed usually in unsanitary conditions. Research and development strategies to raise rice production that focus mostly on new seeds and agrochemical inputs do not take into account the impacts that rice-growing has on women’s bodies, their time, their health, and their lives.

 

Throughout the world, the declining profitability of farming and particularly of rice farming has resulted in out-migration of men for jobs in cities and towns, leaving women with primary responsibility for farming. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is gaining popularity around the world in large part due to its appeal to women.

 

Women benefit from using SRI practices in many ways, including:

I. Increased Food Security and Improved Nutrition
With SRI, productivity is higher. Yields are increased on average 20 to 50% and often doubled and tripled. Families can go from food-deficit to self-sufficiency and even surplus in several seasons. As most families produce rice primarily for home consumption, when they have enough for their own needs they can remove some land from paddy production and grow fruits and vegetables or raise poultry to supplement their diets and income.

 

II. Increased Incomes and More Livelihood Options
Income improvements are achieved by lower input costs, higher productivity, more livelihood options, and in many cases fewer medical expenses. A study of the gender effects of SRI adoption in Cambodia, commissioned by Oxfam America, found female adopters reporting that savings from purchasing fewer seeds and using less fertilizer was a chief advantage [1]. The analysis found that by lightening the burdens of farming, SRI was making it possible for family members to seek employment beyond agriculture and for families to construct a more diverse portfolio of activities to improve their standard of living. Lighter workloads for women give them more time to do other things, such as backyard livestock-raising, fish-farming, and vegetable-growing. Cash crops like vegetables can generate more market income than rice [2].

 

III. Less Unsanitary Working Conditions, Less Exposure to Chemicals
With fields no longer constantly flooded, women do not have to stand or squat in muddy water for hours, pulling up and transplanting seedlings or weeding. This reduces their skin irritations, gynecological ailments, and other illnesses that occur from prolonged exposure to water on body parts and to water-borne disease vectors (e.g. mosquitos, snails). Exposure to herbicides, pesticides and insecticides applied to paddies is also reduced. In Mali, below left, women spend days sitting in mu spared this, transplanting into aerobic soils fewer and younger seedlings that recover more quickly from transplanting shock.

 

IV. Less Work, Less Pain and Drudgery
Conventional rice cultivation requires about 250-300 8-hour days of labor to cultivate 1 hectare of rice. With SRI, the numbers of seeds and plants involved is reduced dramatically, as spacing between plants is widened and plant populations are only 10-20% as much as traditionally (next page, top right). This means women also have much smaller nurseries to manage. A study of the gender impacts of SRI for women in Odisha state of India found that transplanting operations go much faster in SRI rice production, with less painful labor for women [3].

 

Also, weeding, traditionally done by women by hand, is facilitated with SRI because a mechanical hand weeder is used (next page, top left). This greatly reduces the time required and permits upright rather than bent posture.

 

A study in Andhra Pradesh, India found that mechanical weeders reduced women’s labor time for weeding by up to 76%, also reducing physical discomfort from this work [4]. In some parts of India, men take over the task of SRI weeding because cultural norms expect them to do ‘mechanical’ work. A study in Tamil Nadu, India found that men’s labor in rice cultivation was increased for this reason by 60%, while women’s workload in rice production was reduced by 25%. Both genders gained from a 115% increase in net income per hectare [5].

 

V. Enhanced Status within the Family and Community
Although not a direct result of adopting SRI practices, many NGOs that promote SRI as a strategy to reduce rural poverty specifically engage women. They create village self-help groups and develop training programs tailored to women. In Vietnam, it was found that women attend classes more regularly and share information and skills more broadly with family and friends than men do, thus accelerating impact [6]. Women are trained as farmer-leaders, gaining confidence and enhanced status in the family and community.
One of the effects of rural poverty is that women and girls are more vulnerable to exploitation. In both India and Cambodia, NGOs have used SRI to raise farm income and food security to reduce the incidence of human trafficking [7]. Much of the grassroots leadership for the dissemination of SRI has come from women who, on their own, have spread the word about SRI, and who have actively promoted SRI village-to-village [8].

 

One woman SRI farmer/trainer/ activist in Bihar state of India, coming from one of the lowest and poorest social groups in her society, has been elected as a member of that state’s Legislative Assembly [9]. In West Bengal, women are starting to exert their influence in political arenas for policies that support sustainable farming [10].

 

REFERENCES

[1] B.P. Resurreccion, E.E. Sajor and H. Sophea (2008). Gender Dimensions of the Adoption of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Cambodia. Report for Oxfam America, Phnom Penh, December.

 

[2] C. Hufstader (2014). Growing more, but working less. Oxfam America blog, January 22.

 

[3] S. Sabarmatee (2013). Understanding dynamics of labour in System of Rice Intensification (SRI): Insights from grassroots experiences in Odisha, India. Presentation of PhD thesis research, Wageningen University, Netherlands.

 

[4] A. Mrunalini and M. Ganesh (2008). Work load on women using cono weeder in SRI method of paddy cultivation, Oryza, 45: 58-61.

 

[5] T.M. Thiyagarajan (2004). On-farm evaluation of SRI in Tamiraparani Command Area, Tamil Nadu, India. Presentation to World Rice Research Congress, Tsukuba, Japan, November 4-7.

 

[6] Nguyen Xuan Nguyen et al. (January 2010). Study on adoption of the System of Rice Intensification in Northern provinces of Vietnam. A report by commissioned by Oxfam America. Presented at the 28th International Rice Research Conference, 8-12 November 2010, Hanoi, Vietnam.

 

[7] T. Rehman, Young girls face trafficking as lack of rains drives worsening rural poverty, May 5, 2010. AlertNet, Thomson-Reuters Foundation.

 

[8] Increasing options: Duddeda Suganavva, in Farmers Leading the Way from Crisis to Resilience: Global Farmer Perspectives on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) (2010). Africare/Oxfam America/WWF.
http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu/publications/articles/ Global_Farmer_Perspectives%20_OxfamWWFAfricareSOrig.pdf

 

[9] (2012). Beyond the rat race. Times of India, Dec. 29. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/ city/patna/Beyond-the-rat-race/articleshow/7182371.cms

 

[10] A. Menon (2014). India: In Bengal, women agriculturists take charge. The Citizen, Oct. 13.

 

[11] P. Philipose (2012). Rural champions of change. The Hindu, Feb. 28. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rural-champions-of-change/article2941702.ece?css=print

 

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