Marathwada’s sustained drought has resulted in crop-failure, groundwater level depletion, increased climate-risks, food-insecurity and uncertain cash-flow in absence of diversified-livelihoods. These made farming economically-unviable for small and marginal-farmers. Women farmers face worst repercussions of climate-change. They have no ownership over land which limits access-to resources like finance, market, water and government services. Double burden of risks due to climate-change resulting in food and income insecurity and limited decision-making capacities leads to negative impacts on women’s health. Addressing complex issues of climate-change, gender-roles and impact on health and nutrition, Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP, hereafter) redefined resilience for small and marginal farming-households.
In resonance with the transformative spirit of Agenda 2030, SSP’s overall objective is to transform the role of the marginalized woman and bring her invisible work to the mainstream. It does so by empowering poor rural women as leaders and entrepreneurs, by providing them with access to skills, finance, and markets, and increasing their economic resilience through sustainable agriculture and health-enhancing opportunities.
Two of the main challenges experienced were –
Climate change, extended drought, and economically unviable farming: The Marathwada region suffered from a five-year consecutive drought between 2012 and 2016. In order to extract more profit with diminishing resources, farmers chose to grow crops with more chemical inputs, resulting in loss of incomes and soil infertility. These impacts were compounded by the depletion of groundwater driven mainly by the sugarcane industry and lack of fodder and water for livestock resulting in distress sale of livestock.
Women not recognized as farmers and decision makers in agriculture: The drought completely devastated the agriculture sector by 2013. Men migrated to cities in search of livelihood opportunities. Women faced a double burden of risks due to climate change and the responsibility to provide food for the family. Although actively engaged in agriculture, women had no decision-making roles. Additionally, in India, women are considered as caretakers of the family, with the result being that their own health is often neglected. Traditionally women and girls are the last to eat in the family and usually eat what’s left after the males eat. Nearly 59% of Indian women are anaemic. This situation escalated with the high rate of male farmer suicides. In 2014 alone, the Marathwada region reported over 500 farmer suicides, the highest in the state of Maharashtra. The main reason behind this sad trend – which unfortunately continues to date – is their inability to bear crop losses and repay agricultural loans.
In the context of drought, SSP has developed a multi-pronged farming approach to food and income security that positions women as farmers and decision-makers. This approach builds women’s capacity to practice sustainable agriculture and water conservation with the aim of enhancing food and income security for marginal farming households. Evolving over the years (2014 onward), the “women-led climate resilient farming model” (WCRF) repositions women as farmers and bearers of the knowledge, enabling them to take informed decisions related to what to grow, what to consume and how much to sell. It aims to empower women as change makers in agriculture with a view to promote resilient livelihoods for small and marginal farming households. In the process, the model ensures farming becomes an economically viable venture for these small and marginal holders. This is through integrated farming techniques, increasing livestock and farm-allied businesses, increasing consumption and marketing of nutritious farm grown food crops.
• APPI: Sakhi Food Secure Agriculture project, building-capacities and providing marketing linkages to 10,000 marginal women-farmers.
• CCIL: Community Resilience Fund (CRF) to women-farmers to practice smart-agriculture.
• GES: Provides CRF to women farmers to practice smart-agriculture.
• Krishi Vigyan Kendras, ATMA, Agriculture department partnership for technical training, knowledge dissemination etc.
• Huairou Commission: CRF.
• MSRLM: Partner to train community resource persons who supports women-farmers to adopt best-practices, access-credit, and market-produce.
• Misereor: Support for improving socio-economic conditions of women to build leadership and entrepreneurship as farmers and innovators.
• VSTF: Partner for livelihoods initiatives to transform 1,000 villages.
• Implementation of the Project/Activity - How the project/activity has been applied and executed. May include the initiation, planning and execution of the project. What monitoring mechanisms, if any, are in place. (max 500 word.)
Detailed processes and interventions within WCRF model are:
Selection of Villages: Villages are selected using a cluster approach located within 20-25 km radius a of drought area. Also villages must have Self Help Groups through which entry point activities can be conducted.
Selection of CRPs: Next identifyng Community Resource Persons known as Samvad Sahayaks from SHGs. Women-farmers’ families with landholdings, good community rapport, 8th or 10th standard education, and willing to train and transfer knowledge to other women-farmers are selected. CRPs are paid monthly-honorarium. CRPs undergo classroom trainings on sustainable-agriculture and leadership-development, on-site demonstration, farmer field school, learning-exchange through exposure-visit, dialogue-workshop with government-departments for schemes and programs.
Selection of Women Farmers: CRPs identify poor women-farmers from village through SHG meetings and household-visit. Small and marginal farmers are identified through secondary-data source of village level government. List of marginal farmers with less than 5 acres land is collected. Social mapping and household-surveys are conducted for final selection of women-farmers.
Awareness Campaigns: Conduct campaigns and farmer-meeting to generate awareness about model in drought-affected villages, usually before each agricultural season.
Capacity-Building of Women Farmers: Federated farmers’ collectives of 20-25 members each are trained on key resilient-practices, economic and health benefits.
● Agriculture – bio fertilizers and pesticides, indigenous seed collection and preservation, germination-test, soil-test, crop-diversification, cultivation of cattle-feed supplementary and fodder like azolla and hydroponics
● Health and Nutrition – importance of nutrition rich food, vegetables, importance of homestead garden
● Water management – water conservation structures like farm ponds, bunds, recharge structures-wells, bore wells and management systems like drip, sprinkler, rain-water-pipe.
● Enterprise – agri-allied business such as dairy-farming, goatery, poultry, sale of vegetables, fertilizers, pesticides, fodder, and non-farm enterprises.
● Producer groups and market linkage – formation and importance of farmer-groups for input sharing, labour-sharing, procurement of inputs and sale of outputs, exposure visits to weekly market and district level market.
Knowledge exchange through model farms: On-site demonstrations of best-practices are conducted through model farm creation – local-seed production, fertilizer-production, crop-diversity techniques, and fodder- production. Model-farms serve as centres for learning and sharing.
Block level network meetings: Peer-learning meetings at cluster/block level for sharing experiences and best-practices collectively.
Community resilience fund: To provide fund support to women-farmers for innovations in agriculture and starting new-enterprises, SSP created community-resilience fund that completely managed and owned by women-groups which is a revolving-fund lend to women at a relatively low rate of interest.
Partnerships: SSP has been supported by Krishi-Vigyan-Kendra, Agriculture-University, Ground Water Survey and Development Agency, MGNREGS department and ATMA with whom SSP has partnership to transfer knowledge to women-farmers and trainers.
Dialogue workshops for advocacy and convergence of schemes: SSP organizes and facilitates networking and dialogue workshops at block/district levels with participation of women-leaders and government line-department officials to discuss their needs and challenges with respect to capacity-building and access-to various schemes. Women leaders’ present status of various applications submitted to government-departments and lobby-on behalf of women-farmers to help them receive schemes besides advocating for land-ownership by women with village-level Talati, officials and families of women-farmers.
Impacts of climate resilience, gender equality, and sustainable agriculture:
• SSP has empowered 41,000 women-farmers in climate-resilient agricultural practices as active decision-makers in agriculture and their households and communities.
• Adoption of model by women-farmers’ households has resulted in annual savings of US$497 per family due to consumption of food from their farms.
• Women-owned federation created by SSP has disbursed loans of over US$143,000 for water-conservation-structures and bio-farming.
• Improved 300 water-sources in 50 villages through water-efficient irrigation-techniques
• 25 percent increase in crop yield due to use of mixed-cropping methods and organic-inputs.
• Savings of 25 percent per-crop per-cycle due to use of bio-inputs.
• 30,000 acres of land are managed using organic-methods of farming and water and soil-conservation measures.
Contributions to Global Agenda
SSP’s contribution to women’s empowerment and sustainable agriculture has been recognized globally through several awards received by both organisation and its founder, Prema Gopalan. Gopalan’s vision has gained her recognition as Community Participation Advisor with Government, World Bank, UN agencies, and global networks to mainstream rural women’s perspectives and decision making in micro-finance, disaster risk reduction, healthcare services, water and sanitation, local governance, and poverty reduction strategies. SSP received Rural Community Leaders Combating Climate Change Award during 2016 COP of UNFCCC.In addition, SSP’s work directly supports several SDGs of 2030 Agenda.
National policy impacts
Due to tremendous impact of climate-change on agriculture, government programmes in India are increasingly supporting small farmers to shift to sustainable farming and protection of water and natural resources. SSP has raised awareness on connection between empowerment of women and both food and income security. This resulted in a larger behaviour-change of farming households towards using environmentally-friendly inputs in farming and making nutritional-dietary-choices. Women started practicing this model with 0.5 hectares of land convince their families to adopt this model on their farms.
As major step towards policy change, Government of Maharashtra has recognized SSP’s model and has adopted approach and selected SSP to implement Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana initiative to support over 29,000 women-farmers. Women are involved in core decisions around growing crops, increasing biodiversity, and conserving natural-resources. Witnessing effect of SSP’s work on women and communities, Government requested SSP to create a cadre of experienced women-farmers trained as community facilitators across 540 villages. This model has created awareness on linkages between climate change and natural resource management.
In design phase of national level Start-up Village Entrepreneurship Programme, government sought an innovative model to empower women and communities. SSP was selected in 2015 from among 50 organisations to lead this programme in Maharashtra.
SSP believes bringing government authorities and grassroots women together is critical to affecting sustainable-change. They promote two ways to make this connection and influence work at both national and grassroots-levels: (1) by bringing policymakers to villages where they can see initiatives in action and develop personal-ownership and connection; (2) by engaging grassroots women-leaders in dialogues and workshops in government-offices, where they can engage directly with policymakers and understand collective power of their work.
One major hurdle was addressing the scale of the problem before coming up with a viable model. This was particularly complicated due to its multi-dimensional aspects. The drought in Marathwada did not just demand a climate resilient approach but a detailed mapping of our knowledge of the grassroot in several parallel sectors such as agricultural techniques, social and cultural barriers and rural financial. Partnering with governments, experts, corporates and community stakeholders helped immensely in innovating a multi-pronged approach.
Knowledge of women farmers on farm practices was weak crops and family support for women to work outside the domestic domain scarce. SSP also facilitated getting the women’s family on board and supply agricultural training to the women through CRP’s
Loan to women for agriculture is not available from banks. SSP started with its community resilient fund as loan support to women-farmers for business, agriculture, livestock, water etc. We also engage in lobbying and advocacy through grassroots’ leaders and conduct dialogue with govt. authorities that have resulted in access of agriculture scheme and benefits by women-farmers .
As a key resource organisation in climate resilient farming, SSP functions on a revenue-based model by building capacities, knowledge, skills and expertise of different stakeholders including government and non-government organisations. This provides a self-sustaining funding for programmes on ground. At same time, organisation leverages funds from different government schemes and programmes, as well as banks. Notably, SSP also receives support through its MOU with Government of Maharashtra as well as through support and commitment of a rich network of important funding agencies, donors, and businesses – through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments.
WCRF model has scope to replicate across India and globally in similar climate-risk geographies with small and marginal farmers who comprise 80% of farming population India. SSP’s initiative for climate-resilient agriculture has been replicated in states of Bihar and Odisha starting in 2016. In Bihar, 12 local NGOs have supported women’s groups to implement this model. SSP has organised Peer-Learning-Exchanges and Dialogue-Fora at state and national levels to transfer knowledge of climate-change-adaptation practices to new communities. SSP leads a Community Practitioners Platform with grassroots-communities and policymakers teach other communities about benefit of climate-resilient farming.
SSP has created a cadre of 500 women-farmer leaders who can transfer learnings and strategies to other contexts. SSP also developed a mentoring scheme though which one mentor can assist other women-farmers to practice and replicate this model. SSP has in-house capacities of experienced team members, trained CRPs and leaders and partnership with Govt. departments to transfer learning to other organizations working in similar-geographies.
SSP has developed partnerships with different stakeholders in newer geographies for scaling and replication. Activity has been scaled up in Maharashtra to 810 villages across six drought-prone districts, reaching more than 60,000 women-farmers. SSP is now organising these women in farmer producer groups and collectives to introduce a market-based approach and help women obtain most competitive prices for their products.
Given proven benefits of their model, through their network of successful women-farmers, SSP will reach out to new localities in Marathwada region and to new states through government and key stakeholder partnerships to advocate for organic farming practices. Through this approach, organisation hopes to encourage other farmers who are still using chemical-inputs to shift towards climate-resilient-agriculture.
Through a MoU with State Governments in multiple states, SSP is positioned as a key resource organisation serving National Rural Livelihoods Mission and Government of Maharashtra. SSP teams from Maharashtra will continue to act as a knowledge hub, with resources, trainers and successful women entrepreneurs who will be crucial for scaling up this model through state and region.
Through these actions, SSP hopes to impact soil fertility and productivity of entire region. SSP provides an adaptive sustainable farming model that can be scaled up to include any climate-threatened geography in India due to fact that small-scale, marginal farmers represent a large contribution to agriculture throughout country. Through learning-exchanges and workshops, SSP team and grassroots-leaders will transfer strategies and lessons learned to like-minded organisations and groups in Asia and Africa.
The model has generated positive impact on the lives of small and marginal farming households. Use of organic/bio-farming practices and mixed cropping pattern has reduced their expenses related to food consumption and production and increased productivity per acre. Also the frequency of consuming home grown nutritious vegetables, cereals and pulses in a day has considerably improved addressing issues of food security in their families. Water management practices using drip irrigation and building farm bunds, farm ponds etc. in areas where the women faced shortage of water has helped in saving water and growing the crops in an efficient manner. These practices coupled with tree plantation on farm have together led to sustainable impact on soil, water and environment as a whole in the long-term.
Many of the women reported that the income earned by them from sale of surplus and agri-allied businesses has added to their individual and family income and they are able to use it for various purposes such as small household expenses, healthcare needs of family and education of children, etc. Social mobility has also increased to a considerable extent and women find themselves in decision making roles in agriculture and households (which were earlier a big constraint) thus, repositioning them as farmers and decision makers in agriculture.
The climate resilient farming model has been successful in bringing shifts in farming practices that can be termed as crucial to mitigate global climate change implications on agriculture and water resources. Besides, providing a sustainable farming and livelihood solution to small and marginal farming households, it has become an important tool in empowering women and recognising them as farmers and decision makers in agriculture.
Empowering women through a change in mindset
Encouraging women to improve cultivation on their own farm land resulted in positive social and development outcomes for households eg: food security (400 percent increase in yield), improved income (30 percent), water savings (50 percent women adopted micro-irrigation systems), etc.
Reducing dependence on cash crops
Shifting from water guzzling to water efficient crops such as ragi, millets, grams and vegetables assured income for women-led households and reduced their dependency on a single crop
Collective efforts reaped benefits
Having reaped the benefits of the one-acre model, women in the villages came together to form women-run Farmer Producer Company where they marketed and sold their additional produce, which generated over 30 percent income increase.
Radical shift required in policy making and programs to recognize women’s strategic role in climate smart sustainable agriculture practices
Recognition of women as important stakeholders in agriculture policy planning and decision making is crucial to agriculture development
PRESS RELEASE – Joint publication by 2030 WRG and UNDP unveils innovative and sustainable partnership and financing models towards Gender and Water in agriculture and allied sectors in Maharashtra:
The Indian case study “Empowering women farmers' for promoting resilient farming systems: Sustainable pathways for better food systems in India” was done by Misereor with Lorenz Bachmann, André Luiz Gonçalves and Phanipriya Nandul in 2016. https://www.misereor.de/fileadmin/publikationen/agroecology_as_a_pathway_towards_sustainable_food_systems.pdf
Leading Ladies | The Social Warriors, India Today, December 23, 2018:
Defying vagaries of nature to create entrepreneurs, The Hindu, NOVEMBER 08, 2018:
When women become the agents of change in India - Based in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, Swayam Shikshan Prayog has repositioned rural women as farmers, GULF News India, October 24, 2018:
Women transform drought-prone Marathwada with new agriculture practice New Indian Express, 26th August 2018:
From Marathawada to United Nations - farmer-turned-entrepreneur Godavari Dange’s inspiring story
YourStory, 16th Jul 2018
MH-WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS, India Today, July 15, 2018
In Maharashtra’s drought-hit region, these 5 women entrepreneurs are reaping the rich harvest of success, Your Story, 11th Jun 2018
Investing in Rural Women’s Leadership, July 9, 2018
CLIMATE CHANGE: A crop revolution, June 08, 2018:
Swayam Sikhshan Prayog launches fellowship for 20 rural women leaders, Your Story, 29th May 2018
Digital technology is empowering women like never before: Dr R Mashelkar, News WebIndia123, May 26, 2018
Unnati Global Forum for Women on May 25, Sakal Times, May 6, 2018
Huairou Commission, Accessing Technology and Information: Changing the Way of Agriculture Practices, SwayamShikshanPrayog, n.d. Available online here.
Prevention Web, SwayamShikshanPrayog (SSP), n.d. Available online here.
SSP Website, History, 2018.Available online here.
SSP, Celebrating 20 years of SSP [video], 2018.Available online here.
SSP, Women farmers adopt SSP's model of climate-resilient agriculture [video], 2018. Available online here.
SSP, Facebook page, n.d. Available online here.
Village Social Transformation Foundation, Village Social Transformation Foundation, n.d. Available online here.
The World Bank, Community-Led Partnerships for Resilience, 2015. Available online here.