Gender-friendly seed production trainings help Bangladeshi women own their future

 Muhammad Ashraful Habib, Swati Nayak, Subhasmita Mohapatra, and Saidul Islam   |  

Gender disparity manifests in various ways, one of those being giving women limited access to knowledge and skills development. This is one of the reasons for their marginal social status. One way of addressing the issue is by training women in relevant subjects that positively impact their livelihood and pave the path for enhancing their socio-economic status.

A workshop participant holds the flipchart on quality seed production. Given the low literacy rate among women in rural areas, the flipchart helps them understand and recall technical information on quality seed production and seed management. (Photo: IRRI Bangladesh)

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Gender disparity manifests in various ways, one of those being giving women limited access to knowledge and skills development. This is one of the reasons for their marginal social status. One way of addressing the issue is by training women in relevant subjects that positively impact their livelihood and pave the path for enhancing their socio-economic status.

Gender-breaking approaches
The agriculture sector in Bangladesh is highly dependent on women farmers, yet their contribution is unacknowledged. The women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index for Bangladesh is 0.66 and the Genuine Progress Indicator is 61%. It reflects the poor state of gender parity in the country and the agriculture sector in particular.

While numerous training programs have been organized for women farmers, the outcomes and usefulness of these activities have not been evaluated.

Given the low literacy rate among women in rural areas, the impact of their participation in training activities is a big question. In such a scenario, well-planned training programs using appropriate training aids are critical. To spur gender equality and women empowerment in the agriculture sector, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) continuously provides groundbreaking approaches.

Rice is one of the predominant crops in Bangladesh. Making improved seed quality available to farmers has been a proven strategy for enhancing agricultural productivity because 30% to 60% percent of farmers use low-quality seeds obtained from informal sources. This compromises the quantity and quality of their harvest.

Training women farmers to develop informal seed systems is a two-pronged strategy. An innovative initiative by IRRI in this direction is the Quality Seed Production (QSP) training under the Accelerated Genetic Gain in Rice (AGGRi) Alliance.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AGGRi Alliance aims to unify and modernize existing rice breeding efforts in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The USD 30 million five-year research program will sustainably provide new and improved rice varieties to farmers. In particular, it will focus on the needs of women in the rice value chain.

To effectively engage the audience, the training includes a flip chart manual that provides technical information on quality seed production and seed management through visuals. The pictorials are simple and clear and help overcome literacy barriers.

The approach not only helps the women understand the concept but also helps them retain the knowledge they gain.

Apart from the training manual, other components that contributed to the success of the program were the appropriate selection of trainees, skilled trainers, relevant topics, practical sessions, and devising plans for the farmer-to-farmer diffusion of the QSP practices learned.

Bangladeshi women farmers attending a gender-friendly training on quality seed production. (Photo: IRRI Bangladesh)

 

Listening to unheard voices
To ensure the effectiveness of its approach, IRRI evaluated 30 training programs conducted by the AGGRi Alliance Team in Bangladesh in 19 districts in Barisal, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, Rangpur, and Sylhet between December 2019 and March 2020.

A total of 900 women farmers participated in the day-long training events. The women trainees were organized and grouped by the networking partners of IRRI in Bangladesh. The criteria for grouping included i) farm size, the scale of operation, cropping pattern, and socio-economic condition; ii) experience in rice seed production, processing, storage, and marketing; and iii) women with the ability to network and grow as agro-preneurs.

IRRI conducted face-to-face interviews and focus group discussions so that the participating women, whose opinions and voices have been largely ignored, could speak up and be heard.

The women were quite vocal about the need to use simple and clear language for better comprehension which helps them understand proper seedbed preparation, seed cleaning, and treatment, germination tests, and resource management, among others. Although they were already aware or familiar with some of the best practices, the training helped them appreciate their importance and become confident in using them.

“Previous training programs didn’t result in the application of the new practices,” said Rita Bromma, a leader of a women’s group in Babuganj, Barisal. “We were mere participants and didn’t even remember what we had learned. Now, we were able to apply what we learned and benefitted from them as well. We also need regular training in quality seed production techniques.”

Some trainees from Northeast and Southwest regions suggested that the workshop venues should be away from their homesteads. This will help them concentrate and focus on the training instead of attending to household chores in between, according to them. Others also emphasized the need for more detailed sessions on rice seed production such as pest management.

“This kind of training is a first-hand experience for us (women farmers),” said Alema Begum, leader of a women’s group in Alamnagar, Rangpur. “The subject matter is very relevant for us and we get to learn many effective methods of seed management. Flipcharts are very helpful for us as we tend to forget what we learn. These will help us recall the lessons in the future.”

Overall, the women were enthusiastic about the opportunities that came their way, and are assertive about the improvements in their knowledge and skills.

Such optimistic outcomes hint at the potential of women farmers to transform their lives through enablement. In the process of empowering themselves, they can bring about much-awaited changes in the usage of quality seeds and seed management in paddy cultivation.

With these positive findings, IRRI plans further innovations and improvements in training programs such as need-based or customized training arrangements and two-way communication between trainees and extension officers.

About the authors:
M.A. Habib and S. Islam is Seed System & Product Management lead specialist and senior specialist, respectively, at IRRI Bangladesh. S. Nayak is a scientist and Seed Systems & Product Management South Asia lead at IRRI Global.  S. Mohapatra is a consultant at IRRI India.

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