See the original article in Farming Matters here
Authors: BISWANATH SINHA & TUSHAR DASH
It is said that ‘rice is grown on women’s backs’. Globally, women provide between 50 and 90 percent of the labour in rice fields. They perform backbreaking tasks like seedling removal, transplanting and weeding in bent posture and under wet conditions for more than 1000-1500 hours per hectare. In addition, they are exposed to chemicals. Women working 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, and furthermore, it drains out their money on health care, sometimes making them indebted.
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Rampung Sorathaworn is a farmer from Surin province, Thailand. She tried out SRI for the first time two years ago, transplanting very young single seedlings in a widely spaced grid, following advice provided by the EU-funded, region-wide SRI-LMB programme. But she wasn’t sure that she had made the right decision when she began to hear her neighbours’ comments: “When they saw my field, the villagers asked how I thought I was going to grow any rice,” she says. “They kept saying: ‘Seedlings can’t grow like that – you need to plant 3 or 4 together. The Golden Apple snails will eat it all up!’ I wasn’t too sure it would grow either, but I told them I would wait and see”. Sure enough, within a couple of weeks, the villagers changed their tune and started asking “Why is it growing like this? How is it you have so many tillers!” And she says after that they began to pay a lot more attention, even helping her to count the tillers on her crop.
It’s transplanting season here in Pursat province, Cambodia and across south and southeast Asia. The air is thick with the mists rising from flooded paddy fields as the extreme heat evaporates yesterday’s rain. Conditions are stifling, yet across vast swathes of countryside, women are bent double, transplanting the rice seedlings that will produce over 700 million tons of the world’s most important food staple.
Kumari Bai and her family hail from Debgaon, a village in Chattisgarh. Two persistent problems that the villagers were facing were lack of sustained year-long food security and low income from agricultural produce.
Kumari Bai was exposed to the benefits of implementing a ‘System of Root Intensification’ (SRI) to all crops, which helped her generate better yields.
This method incorporated traditional methods known to the farmers with modern technologies for better and a more sustained approach.
“More income with less seeds? We’ve been farming for generations. Never have I heard anything so crazy,” her husband mocked. “I convinced him and planted the seeds in five gunthas. Unlike the 100 kg we used to get with the traditional method, I harvested 250 kg, that too at a much lower expense,” she told VillageSquare.in. “Now for anything related to agriculture, he seeks my advice,” she adds with a laugh.