(From Sci-Dev.net – See original)
- Women farmers provide up to half or more of the labour input in rice production
- Women’s contributions to agriculture and household income are often unrecorded
- Technology support needs to keep pace as urbanisation expands women’s rural role
Women hold up half the sky, so goes the Chinese saying.
Yet in the developing countries of Asia, they do not get half the credit for it. In the field of agriculture, women have been especially invisible to scientists.
“The work women do, no matter where it is, doesn’t count. If the work goes unpaid, it is ‘housework’, and if it is paid, it is simply ‘farm labour’. Neither term recognises the true value of the contributions women make to the food-producing capacity of Asia,” say social scientists Michael Collinson and Hilary Sims Feldstein, who produced a gender study on rice farming systems for the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR). [1,2]
Yet, both stress: “Women are major participants in the rice growing regions of Asia. In Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines, women provide up to half the labour input in rice production.” In India and Bangladesh, women do as much as 80 per cent of the work.
Invisible women’s role in farms
Other scientists have also pointed out that women are often the most important decision makers in the household. They manage the household budget, decide the amount of rice to be kept for consumption and for sale, and buy farm inputs like pesticides when they go to the town market. 
The role of women in Asian rural life is growing with urbanisation. As men are drawn to the cities to find jobs, the women are left behind to manage families and make decisions on the farms.
But Asian agricultural scientists were slow to recognise this, and in the isolation of their labs, continued to develop technologies for men on Asian farms. [1,2]
These scientists could not see that technology is not necessarily gender neutral, Thelma Paris, a gender specialist at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), tells SciDev.Net. Consequently, “women farmers are excluded in technology design, testing and dissemination, and agricultural extension services. This has left untapped the potential capabilities of women as farmers and as leaders in agricultural development.”
Paris adds that she had a hard time convincing engineers at IRRI to develop machinery that would help ease the work of women as this was not considered a research priority.
But after years of persuasion, IRRI engineers finally designed an ultra-light transplanter in pink colour to help women with the backbreaking task of transplanting rice seedlings, Paris recalls.
The same narrow focus characterises agricultural extension workers. Typically, their advisory services on improved crop establishment techniques involve only men, although in most rice communities, women take care of seed nurseries as well as uprooting/pulling seedlings.
Even social scientists have fallen into this trap. When doing surveys on rural poverty, they interview only the men as heads of household. The wife’s occupation is automatically recorded as housewife although she provides unpaid labour in almost all agriculture-related activities (crop production, postharvest and livestock management activities). Women’s contributions to household income, although small, are also often unrecorded.
Broadening gender perspectives
Thankfully this narrow-mindedness on the part of agricultural science research is changing. Since the mid-1980s, Paris notes, “social scientists led by IRRI have started making Asian women in farms visible in agricultural statistics by quantifying their labour inputs in rice production per hectare and by disaggregating unpaid family and paid hired labour of male and female workers.”
These data, she says, have provided evidence that although women’s contributions vary across countries, their contributions total to about half in Cambodia and Indonesia, up to half in Thailand, and more than half in Vietnam and Laos. In the Philippines, women participation in rice production is about a quarter but their participation in farm management decisions about inputs and hiring of labour is higher than the women in other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 
Programmes like Women in Rice Farming Systems (WIRFS) have worked to address gender issues in agriculture, enhance gender analysis in research for technology development, recruit and train more women scientists and professionals, and develop and disseminate teaching and communication materials to promote understanding of gender analysis in research.
WIRFS launched a model project in a Philippine village in 1986 to demonstrate how a gender-sensitive approach to science and development could work.
Among the outcomes of that project was the design of a micro rice mill powered by a small motor — the first technology intentionally designed for women. The micro rice mill meant the women did not have to pound the unhusked rice to process the rice for cooking, reducing the drudgery of women’s work on the farm. [1,2]
In Thailand, the WIRFS project on integrated pest management primarily involved women. IRRI entomologist Kong Luen Heong narrated how they were surprised when visiting farming villages to find only women farmers since the men had all gone to the cities to work. 
But they found out in a survey that the women did not know how to properly use agro-chemicals on their rice crops. Only the men had attended government training programmes on pest management.
Heong, however, noted that women farmers tend to be more receptive to new ideas while men tend to be more dogmatic. Women are more sensitive to the health effects of spraying. This realisation led to the inclusion of women in pest management training programmes and projects.
The pioneering work of the WIRFS programme since its inception 30 years ago should be a model for others. It has raised awareness about the role of women in rural Asia and made people realise that Asian women, hitherto invisible, may even be holding up more than their half of the sky.
Crispin Maslog is a Manila-based consultant for the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. A former journalist, professor and environmental activist, he worked for the Press Foundation of Asia and the International Rice Research Institute.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.
 Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research From Field to Lab and Back: Women in Rice Farming Systems (CGIAR Gender Analysis Program, 1995)
 Hilary Sim Feldstein Gender analysis: Making women visible and improving social analysis In: Michael Collinson (ed.) A History of Farming Systems Research (FAO and CABI Publishing, 2000)
 Thelma Paris Bringing women from the margin to the mainstream of rice research and technology development: Strategies and lessons learned (Unpublished Ph.D thesis, November 2000)
 L. Meenakanit, M. M. Escalada, K. L. Heong Changing Role of Women in Rice Pest Management in Central Thailand In: K. L. Heong, M. M. Escalada Pest Management of Rice Farmers in Asia (IRRI, 1997)
Also from SciDev.net:
(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.
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.
– See more here
Bodies matter – India
Women from small and marginal farming families doing SRI have been making the news in India for their adoption of a new approach that challenges the age-old beliefs and practices of rice farming. However, rarely one comes across mention of the impact of SRI on their wellbeing and their bodies.
While doing research in Odisha, India during 2011- 2012 women from 20 villages narrated their positive experiences with SRI. They reported a reduction in drudgery and pain, fewer infections in their hands and legs, and having more time to cook and eat properly, rest or to do other work. Major reasons for these changes were a reduction in hours and amount of work, change in their working environment, more upright posture due to use of a weeder, and men’s participation in tasks like weeding. More specific information was gathered in three villages namely Rajnapalli of Ganjam district, Gunjigaon of Kandhamal district and Kokariguda of Koraput district. Women shared the drudgery and pain experiences explicitly during the participatory exercises of a Rapid Comparative Pain Assessment (RaCoPA) entailing group discussions, interviews and informal interactions.Groups of women ricefield workers discussed the tasks they perform under different rice-growing methods. They talked about which task hurts how much and showed this on a large drawing of a woman. At the end, a comparative picture was generated to see differences in physical experiences of drudgery and pain. Interestingly, they all mentioned that these aspects never emerged in earlier discussions.
RaCoPA exercises revealed that with SRI practices, there is significant reduction in drudgery and pain in back, legs and hands. With SRI practices women spend less time in stressful postures carrying out repetitive movements and they handle lighter materials compared to standard cultivation practices (see box).
SRI fundamentally changes the conditions under which women have to work. Conventionally, women working in bent or sitting postures in flooded fields for long hours, come into contact with various disease causing vectors exposing them to multiple health risks like intestinal to skin diseases and female urinary and genital ailments. This affects their ability to work and earn money, and furthermore drains out their money on health care, sometimes making them indebted, as found in research by Vent and others in 2015. With SRI practices, rice fields are no longer kept continuously flooded, thus reducing women’s prolonged exposure to these water-borne disease vectors. Furthermore where organic SRI is being practiced, women do not face problems from chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
As women are the producers of our food, we cannot afford to ignore their wellbeing. When they thrive, our agriculture thrives and vice versa. The eco-logic of SRI has a body and gender-logic too which needs to be paid attention to and invested in if we are seriously concerned about our toiling women.
Creativity and solidarity – Malaysia
Salwati Mohd. Ariffin, a Kelantanese paddy farmer, left her desk job five years ago to take up farming as a profession. As a mother to five daughters, she is determined to rid the land of unnecessary chemicals because she wants to leave her children with a cleaner and safer environment to grow up in. She also wishes to free smallholders like herself from having to purchase and use expensive inputs as they are “polluting and degrading the rural landscape that has such beauty and bounty when managed with respect for nature”.Once Salwati gained knowledge of SRI, she began producing organic rice on her own. She prepared the land and set up her nursery, then developed an outdoor composting workshop right next to her plots. Eight cropping seasons later, she is making impressive gains, and her yields are now estimated at 10 metric tons per hectare by researchers from UPM (Universiti Putra Malaysia). The increase in yield isn’t the most important outcome for her; it’s the long-term investment in sustainable rice production that she is committed to. She realises this is a paradigm shift and is working to instill confidence and pride in paddy farmers around her by helping them to understand the principles of SRI and to apply them in accordance to their social, cultural and environmental circumstances.
In 2014, Salwati, in cooperation with SRI-Mas, the Malaysian Agroecology Society for Sustainable Resource Intensification, facilitated the establishment of Kumpulan Organik Kelantan (Organic Group of Kelantan ). Maintaining a horizontal structure, K.O.K members stay in touch with eachother through WhatsApp by sharing best practices and exchanging questions and answers. This revives a sense of solidarity among farmers.
To overcome the occasional shortage of human power, farmers can also ask for help by using WhatsApp, reinforcing the local tradition of gotong-royong. For example, at harvest time, Salwati and her network of farmers gather to help each other, and they study the yield components together, to see where further improvements could be made. With the help of academics, farmers who practice SRI gain better insight into their farming practices and outcomes, which in turn allows them to sell their products with more confidence.
Changing gender roles – Cambodia
Under the hot midday sun in the middle of a rice paddy, 57-year old farmer Tea Sarim was enlightening ten other women farmers from her village of Deim Pour in Champey community, in Kampot province. Holding a bunch of rice seedlings in one hand and lifting a single seedling with the other, Sarim began a question-and-answer session on the issues and concerns in the agricultural sector that these farmers currently face. The smiles on the women farmers’ faces expressed their interest in learning SRI techniques, having heard about how these can raise yields while also lightening their workloads.
Sarim was selected to participate in the Center Farmer for Participatory Action Research (CFPR) as part of a regional project covering four countries in the Lower Mekong River region. She became a farmer trainer, locally called a Krou Kasekor, to share knowledge of SRI with other farmers with her community.
With the conventional farming practices, Sarim could only produce enough to feed herself, her four children, and her parents for ten months of the year. There was nothing left to sell. Within three years of practicing SRI, she has been able to produce enough to feed her family all year around and still have some extra rice to sell. Sarim estimates that SRI helps her to reduce her workload by about 20% during the farming season: “With conventional farming, we have to spend a lot of time and energy, but with SRI farming, we use our brain.”
Sarim has become a popular SRI trainer in her village. She helps women farmers in neighbouring villages move from poverty to prosperity. She enjoys sharing the new knowledge and skills that she has gained from her three-year experience with SRI. Most of the women whom she has coached on SRI farming techniques face many problems, such as domestic violence. Sarim observes, “Women are easily blamed by their husbands for the problems of the family.” But with SRI, women’s positions are improving, Sarim has noted. They are not treated the same as before because now they are being recognised as ‘smart’ and have become leaders.
The key for this change is that women are quick learners. They absorb the SRI ideas faster than men because they pay careful attention and easily grasp the concepts, Sarim finds. Men do not always want to learn because they prefer continue farming the same way that their parents taught them; “they think that they already know how to farm.” But, even though men sometimes find it hard to come and listen to women’s stories, “a woman has the power to lead her husband into practicing SRI” says Sarim, laughing.
In the past, there was a saying, ‘Women cannot turn the kitchen around.’ Sarim, however, tells the women farmers: “I am different because I have made myself different. I can turn the kitchen around, and I want other women to succeed too.”
Sabarmatee Tiki , LIM Liang Chun and Oeurm Savann
Sabarmatee Tiki () works with Sambhav, a grassroots-level NGO focusing on environmental and gender issues in Odisha, India, and is pursuing her PhD at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.
LIM Liang Chun () works with the Malaysian Agroecology Society for Sustainable Resource Intensification (SRI-Mas) and is currently a Masters student of International Development at Sciences Po Paris.
Oeurm Savann () is the Regional communication officer for Oxfam United States in Cambodia.
Sabarmatee would like to thank Olivia Vent and Dr. Norman Uphoff for their encouragement and feedback on this article, and Wageningen University and NWO-WOTRO, Netherlands for supporting her research
Women and Rice Farming: Feeding the World
Women benefit from using SRI practices in many ways, including: