Tillers of earth

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I spotted the difference long back, but it took me years to realise the real reason behind the difference. I am talking about the terms of access to and control over productive resources at the household level—more precisely, in an average middle-class Nepali farmer’s home.

Growing up seeing grandfather calling rice traders home for his seasonal paddy transactions and keeping revenues secretly was an exhilarating feeling for me as a child. Because, on the other hand, I also saw my grandmother literally separating and collecting rice granules from the long grain rice and later selling them to the Baniya—an occupational local caste of dealers of grains—in the haat, the weekly village market.

I would eagerly wait for grandma’s return from the haat hoping to get my favourite handmade dolls. She often disappointed me. The explanation afterwards would always be not having enough money. I would then wonder, why wouldn’t she sell the stocked paddy to the trader like grandpa did for enough money? Years later as I grew, I understood why. Grandma would not sell the stored paddy for two main reasons: first, she thoughtfully kept them for consumption during the lean period. I can readily relate this with one of the indigenous coping strategies rural women farmers have been practising for years—something similar to what contemporary NGOs attempt to preach with buzz words under their Disaster Risk Reduction interventions. The second reason is that she would receive objection by her own husband if she starts ‘encroaching’ on his supposed role.

Intra-household gender power relations are often overlooked by development interventions, presuming the household as a rather unitary model, where incomes are pooled and resources are allocated, as if all members have a single set of preferences. However, evidence-based research suggests that different members of the same households have different sets of preferences and varying access to and control over resources. The consequence is that addressing gender equality issues remains at bay if the unitary household model is considered while conceptualising programmes and projects.

Among the donor funded projects I evaluated as a team member in 2006 was a so-called women-focused livelihood project run in far-western Nepal. The project had started in 2004 and dairy animals as livelihood assets were distributed to households in a rush without clarifying that the ownership had to remain with the eldest female member of a productive age, of the households. And, unsurprisingly, the evaluation showed that the given animals, with an objective of improving the income of women, were sold by the male members of the households and the revenues generated were not equally shared with women—the intended direct project beneficiaries. Many of these women, who provided most of their labour in caring and feeding the cattle for years, were left high and dry as they did not get any share of the revenue. After digging deeper, I came to know that the project was in search of additional funds to proceed with its the second phase (2006-2009) of implementation and a new donor was

willing come on-board with its own preconditions concerning gender representation. The project happily agreed and with some miniscule fine-tuning here and there in the project document, they jumped into implementing the second phase.

This is how the two donors’ interests matched: the old one needed extra bucks and the new one needed to dole out funds already earmarked for a gender-friendly intervention. Thus, they joined hands without paying due attention to programmatic areas this ‘merger’ will have affected and the impact it would have on intended beneficiaries. Given Social Welfare Council’s recent efforts towards tightening the screws on I/NGOs, it might be very useful to scrutinise such funding collaborations.

Although more than 75 per cent of women are reportedly engaged in agriculture in all least development countries (LDCs), they are not duly recognised for their contribution nor accorded an enabling environment, as evidenced by gender-blind policy interventions. For instance, they seldom have legal land ownership and have limited access to extension services, technology, information, credit and other support systems.

Lack of women’s legal control over resources has serious repercussions on their and future generation’s wellbeing. A sensible example would be of malnutrition: poor nutrition has a negative impact on a woman’s pregnancy and on her children. Women farmers face the additional burden of juggling multiple responsibilities amid systematic prejudices, especially in patriarchal communities. For instance, various socio-cultural prejudices and biological factors like menstruation, childbirth and lactation make them more vulnerable to malnutrition.

According to a recent World Bank estimate, recent food price escalation has pushed an additional 44 million people worldwide into poverty. Likewise, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s latest data indicates that globally, 925 million people are hungry and undernourished. Frequent price hikes on foodstuff together with food inadequacy, has pushed agriculture back on the national agenda of many developing countries. If a country like Nepal takes agriculture seriously, it is crucial that women farmers are targeted as equal partners.

Household food security and economic benefits can only be ensured when there is surplus yield for the market. If smallholder farmers have nothing to sell, how are they to buy the required inputs for the following year? When this continues for two subsequent farming seasons, they get trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. Before long, they have to start relying on emergency support packages. This is why livelihood protection should always be at the back of policy interventions, especially for smallholder, marginalised and women farmers.

Unlike many LDCs, Nepal has an opportunity; Last month, the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme declared that Nepal would be the recipient of $46 million to enhance household food security in food deficit regions. We have once again proven that we are good at documentation and paperwork by being one of four winner countries of this fund. Now, the time has come to fulfil the expectations of the programme by improving overall food and nutrition security.


Writer:-Bhawana Upadhyay

Mailing Adress:- upadhyay_b@yahoo.com

Website:- http://www.ekantipur.com/2011/07/31/oped/tillers-of-earth/338293.html



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