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

Making Space for Women Farmers’ Voices

Women play a pivotal role in agriculture, but their contribution is not given due recognition. Women’s role as a farmer is hardly recognised as a result of which they have limited access to productive resources, decision-making and markets relating to agriculture. Owing to this ground reality, special efforts are being undertaken by civil society organisations under agriculture and livelihood programmes to respond to gender and equity concerns.

Women extension worker to promote SRI

Ms. Kala Bista (wearing black jacket with camera and bag) is working for a micro-finance institute (Jiwan Bikash Samaj) of Nepal. Last year she took a 5 days intensive SRI training and one day field visit. It encouraged her to introduce SRI method in her working village. She start to disseminate SRI information and its benefits among intended farmers. At initial stage, some male farmers took interest but face obstacle and negative responses from most of the female farmers. In spite of strong negative reaction she started SRI method in that village. When SRI fields became attractive, slowly female farmers turned positive towards Kala Bista and SRI. At the end, when SRI rice crops mature and gave double yield with similar fertilizer and production cost most of the farmers thankful towards the dedicated agriculture extension worker. This year, SRI areas become double and all male and female farmers involve equally.

Asia’s invisible women farmers

(From Sci-Dev.net – See original)

Speed read

  • 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. [3]

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). [3]

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. [4]

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.

References

[1] Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research From Field to Lab and Back: Women in Rice Farming Systems (CGIAR Gender Analysis Program, 1995)
[2] 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)
[3] 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)
[4] 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)

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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.