'Women farmers a priority for ensuring food security'

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 23, 2012 11:30 hrs

Colombo, Oct 23 (IANS) Empowering women to be confident farmers should be a priority of South Asian countries, an agricultural policy document released here Tuesday said.

"Empowered women farmers as can increase their income, develop a stable rural livelihood and contribute to ensuring food security," said the Global Development Network (GDN) policy brief.

It was one of five documents released at a two-day workshop that brought together policy makers, agricultural researchers, experts and private sector players from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

It noted that the SanghaKrishi experiment in Kerala in which 250,000 women farm 10 million acres of land "shows that if women are supported with land ownership schemes and index-based insurance to become independent food producers, then they can play a significant role in ensuring food security".

It quotes Pooja, a farmer who benefitted from the scheme, as saying: "Now that we work in a group, we earn at least 70,000 rupees each per harvest. We can help each other out because we know we will earn from our crops.

"We are able to get loans easily from a bank and a family can borrow from within the group to pay for children's education. That family can then repay the other members without interest."

More than 44,000 such groups now exist in Kerala.

"Agriculture remains an extremely vital sector for millions in South Asia, including small farmers who are critically dependent on it. Therefore, we need to delve deeper into agriculture policy issues by providing policy makers, the media and the wider public with research which is scientifically rigorous but at the same time, timely and easily accessible to them," said George Mavrotas, project director and chief economist at GDN.

The policy briefs are the outcome of 12 months of effort during which five country research teams from leading South Asian universities and organisations, along with the project steering committee and research assistants, reviewed extensive published and unpublished research on five vital agricultural development issues.

The policy briefs are part of GDN's global research project "Supporting Policy Research to Inform Agricultural Policy in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia" that is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"The aim is to help shape North-South and South-South debates on agricultural policies. It seeks to enrich the body of knowledge related to agricultural issues. In doing so, it draws from the existing knowledge base, especially cross-country research findings," Mavrotas explained.

The project output includes 10 agricultural policy briefs, 10 policy research papers and 10 project documentaries. These will now be presented before the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington next month and before the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome.

"We figured that the best way to take the project forward is to engage with all stakeholders through these two organisations," GDN lead strategist Tuhin Sen, who is based in New Delhi, told IANS.

The other policy briefs released Tuesday cover irrigation and water use efficiency, agricultural pricing and food procurement and managing agricultural commercialization for inclusive growth.

Founded in 1999 and headquartered in New Delhi, with offices in Cairo and Washington, GDN supports researchers in developing and transition countries to generate and share applied social science research to advance social and economic development.

It works in collaboration with 11 regional network partners as well as international donor groups and governments, research institutes, academic institutions, think tanks and 12,000 individual researchers worldwide.

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