SRI cultivates well-being for women

Written by Sabarmatee Tiki , LIM Liang Chun , Oeurm Savann — last modified Mar 03, 2016 12:36 PM

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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

Modern agricultural modes of production do not encourage farmers to be inquisitive and exacerbate the power imbalances in our food systems. On the contrary, agroecological practices like SRI promote farmers’ creativity as it encourages them to move away from linear thinking and start viewing their farms as ecosystems that require thoughtful management. A paddy field is no longer a factory that produces rice, but an ecosystem that houses microbes, insects, birds, flowers, trees, and farmers. In most cases of SRI, farmers experiment with the general principles of SRI and make their own judgments and adaptations, rather than just follow instructions. With agroecology, being creative is as much a means as it is an outcome, and most farmers feel compelled to constantly invent and reinvent. SRI is a practice that allows farmers to use their creativity and be resourceful.

 

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 (sabarmatee@gmail.com) 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 (liangchun.lim@sciencespo.fr) 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 (soeurm@OxfamAmerica.org) 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

– See more at: http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/magazines/global/women-agroecology/sri-cultivates-well-being-for-women#sthash.QeBd2C9I.dpuf

Prasanna – India

Sowing the Seed of Hope

(From The Hindu Times)

Winner of the State Award in Agriculture, 32 years old P. Prasanna is a role model for women aspiring to become farmers

From an unknown entity, P. Prasanna has now become a household name in the tiny Tiruppalai Village after she rose to fame bagging Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Special Award this year for her achievement in agriculture. She recorded high yield of paddy through ‘semmai nel sagupadi’ (System of Rice Intensification).

She reaped 3,223 kilos of TRY 3 variety of paddy with just two kilos of the seed planted in 50 cents in 130 days. It was the highest yield adopting SRI method in the State for 2014-15. The award carried Rs.5 lakhs cash and a medal.

Women involved in farming activities is nothing new but there are only handful of them who are farmers. Though 75 percent of the agriculture work from sowing seeds to planting saplings, removing weeds and harvesting paddy are done by women, not many go on to become a farmer. “They find it difficult to balance between household duties and field work,” says Prasanna, “but what they miss here is just little knowledge about technical inputs in agriculture and expertise in man management. I focussed on these points and that stood me in good stead,” says Prasanna.

Hailing from Kancharampettai Village on the periphery of Madurai, Prasanna’s interest in agriculture is deep rooted as her father is also a farmer. “My father used to take me to the farms when I was young and involve me in every activity from performing rituals to sowing the seeds and harvesting the crop. It motivated me and I made it a habit to visit the fields. It continues even now,” says Prasanna, who is also working as science teacher in a private school.

Married to a peasant M. Padmanaban of Tiruppalai Village, she was able to protect her interests in agriculture. The Chief Minister’s Award for farmers inspired her and knowing her interest the agriculture department encouraged her to enrol for it.

“I visited the agriculture research centre in Thanjavur and got the TRY 3 variety. I sowed the seeds in around 50 cents of land in Chinnapatti near Chathirapatti Village. I used natural fertilisers in strict compliance with the Government guidelines. At every stage, adjudicators from the department visited my farm to record the growth. Even the colours of the leaves were noted down by the officers and they sounded positive. The success behind the high yield was the space I left between two saplings. The 22.5 cm space on all sides ensured sufficient sunlight. Water requirement is also less in this method. Finally, I harvested in February 2015. On that day itself the officials sealed all the grains and took them to the godown. Only a week before this Republic Day I got the information from the department that I have won the award. My four-year long dream came true,” she beams.

Prasanna has made it into a practice to visit the field every morning and evening and full day during weekends. She regularly updates herself and tries to implement innovative methods. She also evinces keen interest in terrace gardening. “Now, I am planning to use drip irrigation in sugarcane cultivation. Not many in my area have attempted this method. Hope I get the desired results,” she says.

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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