Empowering Women Farmers through STIBs: Insights from Multi-stakeholder Dialogues in Makaltala and Balarampur Learning Labs, West Bengal, India

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Climate change is exacerbating the uncertainty and risks for farmers and other food systems actors in unprecedented ways. Farmers are dealing with the harsh realities of increasing intensity and frequency of shocks like flooding and extended drought, and higher weather variability. This requires greater resilience to protect and improve their livelihoods. The vulnerabilities are particularly high for women farmers and farmers from marginalized communities as they usually face additional barriers due to constraining social and gender norms. Adoption of adaptive technologies and innovations is critical to building greater resilience in the face of higher variability and uncertainty. However, technology adoption is complex, given the diversity of farmers and their preferences.

On February 8th and 12th, the CGIAR Initiative on Gender Equality, HER+ Work Package EMPOWER, led by IRRI, organized two inception dialogues in Makaltala and Balarampur villages of the North and South 24 Parganas districts of West Bengal, respectively. These villages are the pilot learning lab sites for the implementation of Socio-Technical Innovation Bundles (STIBs), co-designed with local stakeholders and  women farmers. The dialogues provided an opportunity to the participating women farmers to get acquainted with the partners implementing different social and technical innovations. These dialogues were designed with two objectives: to familiarize the farmers with the planned interventions and of what to anticipate in the coming months, and to have the women farmers articulate their perceived role in this process as well as the challenges they face or might face moving forward.

The meetings in each of the villages were conducted in the local language with Dr. Prama Mukhopadhyay, Associate Scientist from IRRI, providing an overview of the project. Further she highlighted how the socio-technical innovations are used, the purpose of the project and the diverse stakeholders involved in it. Subsequently, each stakeholder outlined their specific roles and responsibilities. Dr. A. K. Das, Principal Scientist from Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI), highlighted that they would be providing technological and technical support for improving the poultry (in Balarampur) and goat (in Makaltala) rearing in these villages.

Representatives from Society for Equitable and Voluntary Action (SEVA) in Makaltala and Change Initiatives in Balarampur, emphasized their commitment of providing social innovations and required support to the women farmers throughout the process. These grassroot organizations are mobilizing women farmers, providing gender sensitization training, conducting capacity building activities, and assisting in establishing market connections. Mr. Sourangshu Banerjee, from Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), underscored their role in providing necessary support to these two NGOs for executing planned activities effectively. Dr. Sanchayeeta Misra, Assistant professor, Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Educational and Research Institute (RKMVERI), explained their role in facilitating the identification of key leaders/farmers by using Social Network Analysis.

Inception meeting at Balarampur, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal

This structured process not only enhanced the women farmers’ understanding of the project but also assisted them in establishing clear expectations for themselves, each other, and the implementing partners. Following these dialogues with stakeholders, the women farmers were organised into groups to discuss their roles within the project and reflect upon any anticipated challenges and fears they may have. Interactive exercises and games were organized preparing them for active engagement in the project and teamwork that would be required. The women farmers actively voiced their concerns and expressed their willingness to document their reflections as they progress. This activity fostered a sense of ownership among the stakeholders over the project and is hoped it will pave the way for successful implementation of the project.

CGIAR Gender Equality Initiative, HER+ aims to achieve climate resilience by strengthening gender equality and social inclusion across food systems in the Global South. Together with partners, the ‘Empower’ Work Package of the initiative is facilitating the creation of multi-stakeholder learning labs where context-specific bundles of social and technological innovations are being developed and tested. These bundles have been designed in a participatory manner through a series of stakeholder consultation workshops with development partners, including farmers, researchers and grassroots organizations, and are now ready to be rolled out. These learning labs are envisaged to be a space where women’s empowerment and resilience are deliberately targeted for a sustainable and equitable agri-food system.

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