Resilient rural women of the drylands

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Long before COVID constraints crept in, ‘resilience’ was and is the operative word for agri-food systems research in the semi-arid tropics. And when the pandemic happened, all we did was factor it into existing operations. Working towards hunger-free drylands is ICRISAT’s priority and recognizing the vital role that rural women play in achieving food and nutrition security pivots all initiatives.

Some of the pointers that experts have cited to build the resilience of rural women in the wake of COVID-19 have been an integral part of ICRISAT’s work since inception. Be it direct access to improved seed and inputs, harnessing the power of mobile technology, financing women through self-help groups and revolving funds and handholding women farmers in adopting best farming practices, cultivation of cash crops, and creating off-farm businesses – all of these come with real-life examples.

Facilitating direct access to improved seed and inputs

Dr Rebbie Harawa (L) with farmer Betty Bondo during a field visit to the USAID-funded AVCD project in Makueni, Kenya. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Rebbie Harawa (L) with farmer Betty Bondo during a field visit to the USAID-funded AVCD project in Makueni, Kenya. Photo: ICRISAT

If you give an opportunity to a woman, you can change things,” says Dr Rebbie Harawa, Research Program Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, sharing her personal experience. “For me, access to technologies from research and resilience in the rural spaces is something I have grown up with and it impacted my life positively.  I witnessed my mother access seeds of pigeonpea improved varieties, a new kind of seed ICRISAT was promoting, and convert it to an opportunity for us as a family.  She planted, processed and sold the pigeonpeas to raise an income for our education.  These were varieties that are resistant to wilt (which was a big challenge in my region), and we were able to grow them in the shortest period with higher yield.  I have witnessed many farmers in my country, who were given a similar opportunity to access improved varieties that ICRISAT had released and were able to send their children to school.”

In the hands of women farmers, high quality seeds convert into an opportunity for enhanced production leading to better incomes and better nutrition. ICRISAT’s crops have good nutrition qualities especially for weaning children and women of reproductive age.  They are the seeds of recovery and a critical building block in enhancing resilience for women in the wake of COVID-19.

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