Inclusive advisory services enable the women of Thirumalairayasamuthiram village in India to better manage their farms
Women play a significant and crucial role in agricultural production. An economic survey carried out it 2017-18, indicates that with growing rural to urban migration by men, there is a ‘feminization’ of the agriculture sector, with an increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers.
Globally, there is empirical evidence that women have a decisive role in ensuring food security and preserving local agro-biodiversity. Women farmers have substantial knowledge on cultivation and management learnt from years working in the fields. However, they are vulnerable to crop losses due to plant pests and diseases, which is compounded by limited access to management and control information and technology.
The Plantwise programme, which is jointly implemented by MSSRF and CABI in India, has adopted a number of strategies to improve women’s access to agricultural advisory services on plant health issues. Plant clinic locations are set in places that are easily and safely accessible to women farmers and held during times convenient for them to attend. Community plant health promoters are used to reach women farmers in plant health communication messages. Success stories of women who have used plant clinic services were shared to shift the norm that says ‘it’s not a woman’s role to seek agriculture extension advice’, and to encourage women farmers to visit plant clinics. When necessary, plant clinic sessions were also exclusively conducted for women farmers. These strategies yielded good results in Thirumalairayasamuthiram village.
During the all-women plant clinic in Thirumalairayasamuthiram, Pudukkottai District, about 38 women farmers received recommendations for 41 crop samples. Afterwards the women farmers said that they were happy and comfortable with the advice they received at the plant clinic.
Thirumalairayasamuthiram village, Pudukkottai District, in Tamil Nadu has a remarkable role in associating with Plantwise. This village deserves a special mention since the greater part of the male population of the village have migrated to district headquarters and metro Trichy. In the village, nearly 50% of the cultivable arable land depends on the monsoon. Groundnut is the most important crop in their red soil arable land. The women of the village have a much larger interest in farming and they are involved in the crop activities from seed to post-harvest and also the marketing. They formed a self-help group and help each other in field operations and also financial help during times of need.
The groundnut crop is usually sown during the months of July (known locally as Adi pattam 15th July to 15th August) and November (known locally as Karthigai pattam 20th November to 15th December) as it is dependent on the water storage and rainfall pattern. During the cropping season of Adi pattam in 2019, the crop experienced setbacks during the critical period of crop growth (i.e. pre-flowering to peg formation stage.) The groundnut farmers experienced a chronic fungal infection in their crop, and the disease was found to be ‘stem and root rot’. The management of this disease has to be preventive rather curative, because it shows yellowing and wilting symptoms only after completely damaging the vascular bundles of the root and stem portion of the crop.
The women farmers who regularly participated in the plant clinics sessions shared that the timely intervention of the plant clinic and the recommendations provided by the plant doctors helped them to save their crop from the pest attack, “We are relieved and glad that we can use this innovative approach of receiving timely advisories through mobile phone.”
In addition, Mr. Muthukrishnan, the input dealer in area said that women farmers have better knowledge about plant health problems and management methods; and are demanding the recommended chemicals, in the prescribed quantity as mentioned in the prescription, instead of accepting whatever he suggests.
The plant clinics brought significant changes among the women farmers; they have learnt the preventive strategies for the deadly stem and root rot and have trained in preventive strategies such as the sowing of certified seeds, seed treatment, soil application of bio-agents in the initial growth phases. Knowledge of plant health and ‘knowledge seeking behaviour’ among women farmers is increasing.
With the increasing ‘feminization’ of agriculture, the Plantwise experience tells us that the way we provide advisory services to farmers may need to change. Agriculture extension advisory services need to better acknowledge women’s role in agriculture and target them in advisory services, identifying more appropriate ways to reach them. The initiative also indicates that additional interventions are needed to shift social norms around gender roles in agriculture to help women farmers access and use agricultural advisory services.
Going forward MSSRF and CABI will continue their efforts to promote the replication of this best practice and an integrated approach that not only aims to reach women farmers, but also tries to shift gender-related social norms and build women’s involvement in agricultural decision-making.
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) established in 1988 is a not-for-profit trust. MSSRF was envisioned and founded by Professor M S Swaminathan, agriculture scientist with proceeds from the First World Food Prize that he received in 1987.