Helping Indian women farmers withstand climate change - GulfToday

Helping Indian women farmers withstand climate change

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Farm labourers plant rice saplings in a field on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.  File/Reuters

The WFP will work closely with Assam’s state Government to equip smallholder farmers.

The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) in India and the Norwegian Government have joined forces for a project aimed at supporting women smallholder farmers in the country’s northeastern state of Assam, according to an UN-India press release. The initiative was signed on 15 November. The partnership will work with multiple government agencies to mobilise women's self-help groups and federations, to enhance farmers’ resilience.

Under the project, the WFP will work closely with Assam’s state Government to equip smallholder farmers with adaptive farming practices, diversification, and livelihood expansion strategies to withstand the adverse effects of climate change in the long run. The initiative aims to pilot innovative strategies for climate-resilient agricultural practices. The goal is to create a scalable model that can be customised and implemented internationally, fostering South-South learning.

“Supporting communities, especially women, to safeguard their livelihoods and food security against the mounting impact of climate change is a priority for the Government of Norway. The partnership with WFP in India will also create a model for wider scale-up and expand learning in climate change adaptation,” said Ms. Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister of International Development for Norway, on the occasion.

In her article on The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website, Ms Ndaya Beltchika, Lead Technical Specialist, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has said, “Rural women farmers might be the world’s most extraordinary unsung agents of change when it comes to climate resilience. These women make up nearly half the world’s agricultural workforce and produce between 60% and 80% of the food in low- and middle-income countries. The farms they run provide food, nutrition, income, and decent jobs. In fact, smallholder farming represents a critical path out of poverty for billions of people worldwide. And when women prosper, as countless studies show, they are more likely than men to invest in their households and communities. Unfortunately, the very same women farmers who offer so much promise for their families and communities bear the brunt of the transforming climate. When a climate disaster strikes, four out of five people forced to leave their homes are women. And yet, less than a third of the countries that have created National Adaptation Plans to address climate change explicitly include gender considerations.”

Assam faces significant challenges due to its climate vulnerabilities. The state relies heavily on agriculture and has a sizable rural population. However, it struggles with a climate that oscillates between excessive rainfall and drought-like conditions. With an annual rainfall of almost 2300 millimetres, well above the national average, Assam faces the dual threats of floods and minimal rainfall. Assam’s Government has made commendable efforts to support rural livelihoods through various schemes. However, there are still obstacles that hinder adaptation to climate change. These include a lack of measures that are tailored to address the specific impacts of climate change, limited financial capacity to adapt, and the inadequate provision of clear climate information to farmers.

The vulnerability also extends to societal dynamics, particularly the disadvantaged position of women. The erosion of the matrilineal system and the prevalent patriarchy contribute to the marginalization of women, leading to lower literacy rates (77% compared to 84%) and a higher prevalence of anaemia (66% among women aged 15-49), further exacerbating the issue. The significance of climate-resilient agriculture in women's empowerment cannot be overstated. With women comprising 29% of the workforce in 2019 and a growing feminization of agriculture due to male outmigration, women farmers find themselves disproportionately exposed to climate risks. Despite their pivotal role in crop cultivation and livestock caregiving, women face challenges accessing resources and recognition.

The partnership will involve various government departments in Assam and local organisations as well for community mobilisation. The WFP will also work with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research to access their expertise on climate-neutral and resilient farming systems relevant to the project worldwide.

“The partnership with the Government of Norway is strategic and builds on the substantial technical expertise that WFP has in working with the national and state government and other stakeholders. The project will support vulnerable communities through nature-based solutions and a gender-transformative approach,” said Ms. Elisabeth Faure, WFP's Representative and Country Director in India.


Related articles