Climate resilient sustainable agricultureHow learning about new, environmentally farming techniques can turn women's lives around
Few people will feel the adverse effects of climate change as much as smallholder women farmers. Crop yields – already too low to support many of these women’s needs – are likely to fall as the climate becomes more extreme. That’s why understanding about climate resilient sustainable agriculture techniques is so important. In this module we see how powerful this knowledge can be.
Completing this module will give you an understanding of:
- Why sustainable agriculture approaches are important, especially for people living in climate-vulnerable settings
- Some common approaches to sustainable agriculture
- How women farmers can be supported to implement sustainable agriculture techniques.
Mary Gatomita, a member of the Bidi Farmers Group, Kenya. Photo: Anika van den Bergh/ActionAid
What is sustainable agriculture?
The earth’s climate is changing. The effects of climate change are being felt all over the world, but they are felt the most strongly by people who are already vulnerable. For women living in poverty, increased vulnerability to flood, drought or extreme weather events only make life more challenging.
“Sustainable agriculture is a whole-systems approach to food, feed, and fibre production that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people.
“It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects.
“It combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved. Inherent in this definition is the idea that sustainability must be extended not only globally but indefinitely in time and to all living organisms including humans.”
[Definition adapted from the Ecological Definition of Sustainable Agriculture by Professor Stephen R. Gliessman and the definition of organic agriculture by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)].
“Getting fertilizers for my garden has been a big challenge. It required me to look for money to buy the manure at times, but now that I have my own cow, finding fertilizers is not a problem. My crops will now grow perfectly well” – Rosalie
ActionAid and partners have been promoting and developing sustainable agriculture practices, based on the design and implementation of locally-tailored adaptation strategies aimed at increasing productivity, reducing vulnerabilities and increasing the resilience of smallholder production systems. However the burden of unpaid care work for rural women farmers often means they have little time to learn about and to practice sustainable productivity; and so limits these women’s economic empowerment.
“The vegetables I grow have a high demand in the market. I do not use any chemicals, pesticides or chemical fertilisers.”
Papri didn’t begin life as an expert farmer. She has transformed the crops she grows, thanks to climate resilient sustainable agriculture, or sustainable agriculture for short.
Fenci lives in Bangladesh, in an area vulnerable to flooding. She used to struggle for food and her family often went hungry. After attending ActionAid training on climate resilient sustainable agriculture, that changed. Here’s how:
- Fenci started growing vegetables in sacks – this has changed her life. Now she can easily lift them to safety when flood waters encroach, and return them when the flood waters have receded. Previously, all her plants died in flooding.
- She learned about multi cropping (a technique for growing more than one crop on the same piece of land, which can improve yield, boost crop production, improve soil health, and reduce pest and disease threats).
- She collected seeds from the seed bank at her women’s collective.
- She prepares organic pesticides and learned to use mulch as an alternative to chemical pesticides.
Nayantara and her family have gone from hunger to happiness.
“Now we are very well. I produce vegetables which meet the needs of my family. People come to visit my house to see my farm and I often advise them how to [use the same sustainable agriculture practices as me]” Nayantara exclaimed with joy.
Nayantara is 34-years-old and lives in Ghughura Village in Bangladesh. Her husband is an agricultural day labourer. It was hard to maintain her family from the only income of her husband’s labour. Nayantara and her husband worked in the field of the local Chairman and sometimes her husband went to the nearby city and drove a rickshaw.
“We suffered for food and drinking water. We used to borrow water from neighbours, and we could not support our son to pass his school secondary exam.”
ActionAid Bangladesh started to work to improve children’s education and livelihood development of the families in Ghoraghat Union. Nayantara joined the POWER project’s Shapla Krishok group. She started to attend the group’s meetings and discussed the problems confronting the people in the area. While analysing the situation why people living in poverty, they learnt more about their rights and started taking action to access them.
To develop her own capacity and increase the income of the family she communicated with the Upazilla Department of Youth Development and received a training on livestock rearing for seven days. Beside this training Nayantara also received poultry and vegetable gardening training. She also contributed to the weekly savings in her group as per group decisions. Nayantara dreamt of making a family farmhouse after completing the trainings and the experience she gathered.
“The trainings opened my eyes. I believe I can earn more now which will bring happiness and eliminate scarcity of my family.”
She discussed her dream with others in the group meeting and received a 4000-taka loan from the group for raring goats and took a land in lease for cultivating crops on an area of 50 Shatak. She decided to cultivate vegetables at home and crops in the field. For organic cultivation she constructed a pit in her house by using the perishable waste, stool of goats and chicken and produced organic fertilizer.
She currently cultivates 17 types of vegetables and spices using sustainable agriculture techniques and has production of bottle gourd, tomato, aubergine, leafy vegetables, spinach, ginger, potato, pumpkin, carrots, ladies’ finger. She decided to use more organic fertilizer to the crops and started rearing more goats and chickens for raw materials. She started to use mulching the soil to decrease the water hydration and increased productivity increasing the nutrient levels in the soil. She also used organic fertilizer in the fields to control disease and pests, which made her feel more confident. She discussed her techniques with excitement in the group and started to motivate others to follow the techniques.
With the support and ideas of ActionAid Bangladesh, she started to cultivate fish in a ditch beside her house and vegetables in the front yard. She also built a two-storied farm for chickens where she started to rear both native and Sonali chicken. She’s also rearing eight Campbell ducks inside, and six of them are laying eggs daily, and she made a loft for pigeons in the yard. At present, her house has become a farm including a cow, duck, chicken, pigeon, rabbit, quails and 17 types of vegetables and spices. In the beginning of 2019, she sold her cow for 46,000 taka and leased 10 Shataks of land beside her house. This has created the space for her to fulfil her dreams
Uwimana Immaculee, 37, is a farmer who lives in Nyanza district, Rwanda. She is married with six children. Agriculture is the main source of food and income for Uwomana and her family. She had previously been using poor farming practices which did not provide enough food for them to eat.
In 2016 Uwimana joined a women’s group, Aboroshya, supported by ActionAid’s POWER project. Group members received trainings on different topics including sustainable agriculture practices. “We meet, discuss our lives and rights, discuss our crops and what to grow”.
Uwimana learned about the profitability of practicing sustainable agriculture and practical techniques such as producing compost.
Uwimana Imaccule with members of the women’s group, Aboroshya. Photo: Jane Lennon/ActionAid
This meant travelling around and teaching others how to practice sustainable agriculture. Uwimana was then selected to enter a competition and won! Her prize was a bicycle which she will be using to travel around doing more teaching as well as transporting her produce to the market.
“I was astonished when they selected me as the best woman farmer performer. Imagine someone who has been starving due to lack of food, and not even recognised by my village leader, but now I am known in the whole sector.”
Uwimana shared how people used to laugh at her when she started practicing the new methodologies but after her first harvest, they realised how wrong they were. She produces more and protects the soil.
The increase in production meant not only did she have enough food for her family but also a surplus to sell in the market. The extra income from this meant she could buy medical insurance for her family. Women’s empowerment members of the Aboroshya women’s group rent land together and grow carrots, cabbage and tomatoes. Following the new practices, their production increased. They wanted some more land to grow maize and so wrote to the local authorities to ask for this. These decision-makers saw the success of the group and agreed.
Uwimana and the women in her group have reduced the time they spend on unpaid care work, meaning more time for farming and other important activities: “Now I sleep more”, she says.
Findings from the POWER project showed that women in Rwanda perform over three times more unpaid care work than men: typically five hours per day compared to one and a half hours for men.
One way of reducing time spent on unpaid care work has been through the provision of a number of water tanks. Previously there was one water tank for the whole community and women commonly had to wait in line for up to one hour a day. From her extra income, Uwimana now also has solar energy in her home. This lets her write up her agricultural reports in the evening and means her children can do their homework. It also means she can more easily charge her mobile phone and stay in touch. Previously she travelled far, which took time, and meant spending part of her small income on charging her phone twice a week.
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