Nepali Women Improve Inclusive Access to Inputs: Insights from the Field
This post is written by Sara Hendery, communications coordinator for the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab.
In the rural municipality of Kailari in Kailali district, Nepal, Samjhana Chaudhary is proud of her work as a community business facilitator.
Trained through USAID’s Feed the Future Nepal Integrated Pest Management (FTFNIPM) activity, facilitators are small-scale farmer entrepreneurs who deliver agricultural advice and inputs to other rural farmers.
"It provides me motivation to continue my job, when minimum investment leads to optimum crop production through my technical advice and plant health services," said Chaudhary.
Facilitators operate on a commission basis for input suppliers, acting as a part of the last-mile supply chain that links rural farmers to markets and information. As a component of USAID’s FTFNIPM, facilitators are also trained on integrated pest management (IPM) practices and technologies. Considered trusted individuals in their communities, community business facilitators often serve as rural farmers’ key access points to chemical pesticide alternatives, such as pheromone traps and biopesticides.
Facilitators serve as the first line of defense against crop pests and diseases in Nepal, and at least half of the program is led by women.
"Engaging women as community business facilitators not only helps increase their own economic independence and decision-making abilities in that role," said Corey O’Hara, country director of International Development Enterprises (iDE) Nepal, the organization that implements USAID’s FTFNIPM, "it is also an important component of engaging and capturing the needs and voices of women farmers and marginalized groups throughout the country."
Since 2011, USAID has supported iDE to train more than 580 community business facilitators to provide IPM services, including more than 250 women, through FTFNIPM and the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab. O’Hara remarked that working with women carries unique advantages: Women are often more likely to continue in the facilitator role over time than their male counterparts. Moreover, 70% of farmers in Nepal are women, and International Development Research Centre (IDRC)-supported research has shown that when they receive technical services from women rather than men, female farmers are often more willing to adopt new technologies and techniques and, consequently, earn more income.
Sabita Shahi, from Bhairabi Rural Municipality in the Dailekh district, says that her work as a community business facilitator involves more than just reaching farmers. It means reaching as many different kinds of farmers as possible — including the impoverished, women and marginalized community members — with the most valuable crop information and inputs as possible. Effectively transferring IPM technologies and practices to these groups is one of the core components of the FTFNIPM activity.
"I have to find out why women farmers who are engaged in agricultural activities may not be attending the training sessions and plant clinics," Shahi said, while discussing how she regularly evaluates what factors help or hinder promotion of technologies, such as time constraints.
Not only is reaching women and marginalized groups with agricultural inputs a priority of the FTFNIPM activity, but so is ensuring that women benefit from improved agricultural inputs.
Kalpana Dhital is an iDE field coordinator for the FTFNIPM project responsible for organizing community business facilitators as well as the engagement of other USAID Feed the Future activities, such as the Knowledge-Based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture in Nepal (KISAN) II and Nepal Seed and Fertilizer (NSAF) projects. Dihtal helps promote FTFNIPM’s integrated pest management packages for crops — combinations of IPM-based strategies for certain crops that farmers can choose from based on their needs and abilities.
"Those [IPM packages] really supported farmers for minimizing production costs and growing healthy crops," said Dhital. "Women, especially, are empowered to make decisions around crop production, have leadership roles in the community, earn money through growing high value crops, use different technologies for crop production and increase access to agricultural assets."
Enhanced knowledge and engagement with IPM has the power to strengthen the livelihoods of both community business facilitators and farmers. The same goes for plant doctors — community members trained to provide plant health advisory services to farmers — another role in which many facilitators have also been trained. For those who embody both the facilitator and the plant doctor roles, like Kali Bhattarai (Parsuram Municipality) and Chaudhary, advanced knowledge of pest diagnoses does more than increase their personal incomes; it increases their capacity to be leaders.
"This new set of skills has provided me confidence to identify insect pests and diseases," Bhattarai said. "I feel proud to use my acquired knowledge to give back to my community in the form of plant health service."
As more female farmers receive technical assistance and access to improved technologies related to IPM from facilitators and plant doctors such as Bhattarai and Chaudhary, USAID expects productivity and profitability to increase. Increasing women’s agricultural incomes is key to reducing inequality and fostering more inclusive agriculture-led economic growth.
The Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, which manages FTFNIPM, is housed at the Center for International Research, Education and Development at Virginia Tech and is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.