For women farmers, by women farmers: Facilitating timely access to quality inputs and services through women farmer service centers

 Ranjitha Puskur, Mohammad Sultan, Mukund Variar, and Devi Prasad Mahapatra   |  

The gender gap in access to inputs has affected productivity in agriculture for the longest time and has proven to be a formidable barrier for women farmers. Supporting them through such measures will go a long way in accelerating gender equality in agriculture and contribute to food and nutrition security.

Through women-led farmer-producer companies, women farmers can overcome traditional gender-based barriers that prevent them from acquiring agricultural inputs, information, and technologies. (Photo: IRRI India).

 

“We have been cultivating paddy for over ten years, but they [male farmers] rarely care about our preferences in farming, whether it is the variety of paddy or the marketing of our produce,” said Bhumisuta Pradhan, a paddy seed farmer and member of Loisingha Women Farmers Services Producer Company Limited (LWFSPCL).

This is a common trend across most developing countries and, even though agriculture is feminizing, gender gaps in access to inputs, information, technologies, and markets persist.

“Leaving our villages and getting seeds and other inputs from the government offices or markets was very difficult for us,” Mrs. Pradhan added. “We always have housework to do and no time to go and buy these materials.”

Moreover, she elaborated that they did not know anything about seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, and the tools and techniques that could improve their crop output until they joined the women farmer-producer company.

LWFSPCL is a women-led farmer-producer company incubated by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Access Livelihoods Foundation (ALF) with support from the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment (DAFE) of Odisha.

To cater to the needs of women farmers, LWFSPCL established a women farmer service center (W-FSC) in Pipili Village in Loisingha Block, Balangir District in Odisha. Within one and half years of its formation, LWFSPCL has more than 1,250 women farmers as shareholders with more than USD 64,100 in revenues generated from seed production in the last kharif season.

“One of our objectives when we started this W-FPC was to engage women farmers in seed production,” Anjali Nag, chairperson of the LWFSPCL Board of Directors.” In the past kharif season, 72 members engaged in seed production yielding 224 tons of paddy seed. Thirty-four women farmers will cultivate paddy seeds on 24 hectares in this rabi season, and we aim to produce more than 120 tons. In addition, we are also growing foundation seed in 0.4 hectares of land.”

The team from ALF and IRRI has been conducting periodic training for these members on quality seed production practices, and facilitating seed certification from the Odisha State Seed and Organic Products Certification Agency.

While engaging women in seed production, LWFSPCL needed to ensure the timely provision of necessary inputs to its members at reasonable prices and delivered directly to their doorstep. This service played a crucial role in encouraging more women farmers to join the W-FPC, as they received quality seeds and adequate support for paddy seed cultivation.

“Providing various services to our members through the producer company was not easy, as we had some challenges like storing the seeds and other materials in the absence of a warehouse and inconsistencies in record-keeping,” Mrs. Sunanda Besra said. “After experiencing these problems in the last three farming seasons, we decided to set up an FSC at the village level.”

The FSC at Pipili will be the hub where women farmers can access quality seeds, fertilizers, and biopesticides; custom recommendations based on crop, pest and disease management, and weather advisories; and a procurement and aggregation center for seed and grain.

“Having this FSC in our village certainly helps all the farmers like me to gain access to quality seeds and other inputs required for paddy seed cultivation,” said Mrs. Pradhan. “It will simplify our lives by reducing our need to travel, allowing us to visit the FSC at our convenience. This way, we can manage both our household work and also have the opportunity to learn new things and improve our farming skills.”

LWFSPCL plans to open at least one FSC in each local self-government where we have members, according to Mrs. Nag.

“In the coming years, we aim to move beyond just seed production and set up a processing unit so we enjoy higher margins by value addition,” she said.

The gender gap in access to inputs has affected productivity in agriculture for the longest time and has proven to be a formidable barrier for women farmers. Supporting them through such measures will go a long way in accelerating gender equality in agriculture and contribute to food and nutrition security.

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