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Empowering women in agriculture

  • Published at 01:08 am April 13th, 2019
Empowering women in agriculture
Photo: Mahumud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The government is rolling out the ‘ANGeL’ program nationwide to train women farmers in order to develop dietary diversity, nutrition and financial gains, and cut medical costs

Women constitute over 50% of the farm labour force in Bangladesh, much higher a participation comparing to 30% in India and Pakistan. But as they belong to small and marginal farm households, they are often left out from getting benefits of government’s agricultural extension service. 

Things must change from here. And government has just found out a wonderful way to empower women in agriculture. 

A government commissioned 17-month pilot – Agriculture, Nutrition, and Gender Linkages (ANGeL) –gives it a proof of evidence that both the agricultural and dietary diversity enhances and more financial gains are ensured if women along with their male counterparts are provided with a combo training of farm production, nutrition and gender sensitization. 

The ANGeL study run by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) in cooperation with Washington-based food policy think-tank International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) among 4,000 farm households in 16 upazilas in equal number of districts, found out that a combination of agriculture, nutrition, and gender sensitization trainings produced great improvements in empowerment of women in agriculture.

IFPRI Head in Bangladesh Dr Akhter Ahmed, who designed and spearheaded the study for MoA, told Dhaka Tribune that it is observed that when women along with their male counterparts are given trainings on agriculture production, nutritional behaviour change and gender sensitization – it help increase farm productivity, rise in growth of non-rice crops resulting in agricultural diversity.

Their knowledge gained through such trainings also helps them provide the children with nutritious and diversified diets thereby, cutting cost on medical expenses, he explained.       

Such interventions in 16 upazilas under the pilot helped empowering women in agriculture sector take income decisions and asset utilization.

Encouraged by the outcome of the study, the MoA has recently decided to roll out the ANGeL across the nation. 

The government will soon go for expanding ANGeL to 120 upazilas setting stage for taking it nationwide, said Masuma Yunus, immediate past deputy research director of Agricultural Policy Support Unit (APSU) of the Ministry of Agriculture that coordinated the IFPRI-designed ANGeL implemented by the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE).

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, women in Bangladesh constitute more than 50% of farm labour force. As they mostly belong to smallholding farms, their access to formal farm credit and agricultural extension service is limited.

Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey (BIHS) carried out by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) earlier found that the country's farm sector is dominated by smallholders but the small and marginal farmers have half the access to the state-provided farm credit and agricultural extension services compared to their peers in the large and medium farm-hold category. 

In spite of the obstacles, the per unit output from the small and marginal farmers is much higher than the per unit yield from the richer farmers, the survey found.

Over 76% of the country's farmers are small and marginal. They either toil in their own small farms (up to 1.49 acres of land) or in others' lands, says the survey.

On the other hand, less than a quarter of the farming community belongs to the category of medium and big farmers who own at least above 1.5 acres of land each.

Over a third of the farmers (36%) are pure tenant, who do not own any arable land.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women make essential contributions to agriculture in developing countries, but their roles differ significantly by region and are changing rapidly in some areas. 

It says, women comprise, on average, 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to 50% in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. 

Women in agriculture and rural areas have one thing in common across regions: they have less access than men to productive resources and opportunities. The gender gap is found for many assets, inputs and services – land, livestock, labour, education, extension and financial services, and technology – and it imposes costs on the agriculture sector, the broader economy and society as well as on women themselves. 

If women had the same access to productive resources as men, FAO says, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30%. This could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4%, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12–17%.