By Naty Barak, Chief Sustainability Officer at Netafim
In developing countries, women bear the brunt of every load. Literally. They birth and raise their children, are responsible for the home, its cleanliness and provisions, and head out to the fields to earn their families’ daily wages. Yet, although women make up nearly half of the agricultural labor force in these countries, they tend to have lower rates of land ownership than men, as well as less access to lines of credit, markets and technology, leading them to generate 20% to 30% lower yields than their male counterparts.
It’s hard to imagine significant change in the female farmer’s life, when her days are filled with schlepping brimming buckets of water from the river to the fields. UC Davis researchers estimate that they haul upwards of 1,300 pounds of water per day — even more during very dry seasons — to grow 100 square meters of vegetables when watering crops by hand. And that’s assuming luck is their lady and there’s any water to carry at all.
In areas like Nepal, India and Sub Saharan Africa, the rain used to make or break a woman and her ability to work and provide by watering crops. Without rain, money spent on seeds, fertilizer and labor returned no yields, pushing the farmers further off the road toward economic empowerment.
But the introduction of simple-to-implement technologies can change this reality, drastically. And guess what? It’s already being done in many places around the world.
Over the years, new and innovative agricultural technologies have allowed for greater agricultural yields to be more easily and efficiently obtained, generating a new meaning to the term, “girl power.” For women farmers, the most significant technological innovation is drip irrigation, as their yields no longer need to be dictated by how much water they can carry. By adapting drip irrigation technology, women around the world are moving farther up the farming food chain and lightening their loads – literally. While they still need to carry water to the tanks from a source, drip irrigation enables less water to be more accurately utilized, minimizing waste and driving maximum yields.
Drip technology allows for the steady automatic release of water from tubing laid at a plant’s roots. Drums provide a way to store water ahead of droughts and dry seasons. The process minimizes water evaporation, maximizing a farmer’s ability to make the most of this resource and its low implementation costs make it accessible even to farmers of limited means.
In countries like Nepal and India, adoption of drip irrigation systems can be particularly beneficial to women. One study found that women in Nepal dominate drip-irrigated vegetable production, comprising 88% of the total labor for drip-irrigated farms in some areas.
Imagine female farmers being able to perform less physical work while the water is automatically routed to their crops. Picture these women being able to engage in more and more diverse agricultural activities during the same workday, opening the doors to new and greater sources of income, to be used to provide for their families like never before; send their children to school, move to more favorable accommodations and ensure adequate nutrition for themselves and their loved ones. Mass adoption of this technology also frees up time for women to become better educated, take control over their family planning, decision-making and more. With training and knowledge sharing comes the capacity to grow, succeed and thrive.
In Niger, drip irrigation technology’s impact on female farmers is particularly astounding. Netafim is working with the International Financial Corp. (IFC), to bring microcredit and drip irrigation systems and training programs to 1,200 farmers, nearly half of them women. Farmers benefitting from this program report water savings of 30%-55%, amplifying women’s power to increase their economic contributions in regions where they have historically been undervalued.
It is evident that women farmers in some parts of the developing world are observing significant change. However, the strength and prevalence of traditional gender roles in these regions continue to inhibit said changes taking full effect. While the world and these women await greater penetration of new technologies in their fields, success stories from around the globe provide hope for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable women.