The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Strengthen The Hands That Work The Land

By Usha Barwale Zehr
Executive Director and Chairman, Grow Indigo

My mother personified the role women play in addressing hunger and food security. During the 1960s, a time of severe food shortage in India, she prepared roti and dal for a few visitors each day who would come to our home for lunch; it was the only meal they would eat that day.  She managed a household with limited resources in rural India while ensuring a nutritional balance to keep my sisters and me in school and open up opportunities for our future.

Women are everywhere in Agriculture  - the majority depend on it for their livelihoods, they represent 40 percent of all self-employed farmers, and there are more women in the agricultural labor force than men. Despite their importance, they work in less skilled jobs, wield limited decision making power, have less mobility, and hold limited land ownership.  A lack of access to information and relevant knowledge directly limits the larger role women should be playing.  As digitization transforms agriculture, the opportunity it presents to empower women is unprecedented.  Regardless of one’s education, the solutions offered by “Digital Ag” can boost awareness and adoption of regenerative agricultural practices, provide better information on markets and increase the visibility of products and prices, opening a plethora of possibilities.  Access to smartphones with these new tools can ensure that women benefit broadly from the Digital Ag revolution. 

A transformation is already underway – recent years have seen an explosion of women-led and all-women Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) that will play a critical role in opening up opportunities for women in regenerative agriculture. More such groups are needed which provide collective bargaining power in all activities of agriculture.  Time and again, studies have found that putting more financial control in the hands of women ensures better education, health and safety for the family. 

Regenerative Ag, with its promise of year-round, sustainable incomes, holds the key to the larger role that women can play to mitigate climate change. New Carbon farming incentives, the use of bio-fertilizers, and adoption of smart tillage practices are just a few examples of opportunities that provide new income streams for women while helping to reduce on-farm emissions. Focused and unified communication to women-led farmer groups is needed for faster adoption of these practices.

Steadfast women like my mother may have been denied many forms of opportunity, but they have always transcended these to achieve an outsized impact on their own families and communities. I am grateful each day for the opportunities I have received to study, work, and contribute in ways that my mother could not. With the digital transformation in agriculture upon us, we have been gifted an opportunity to bridge the gap which the rural women face even today and finally give women in agriculture the platform they deserve. We must not let the caring hands that work the field be left behind, but rather seize the opportunity to give them transformative tools to play an even larger role in Agriculture.

03/18/2021 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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