Women’s Farmer Collectives Enhance Food Security

Crises as Usual
Consultations with poor women in rural India revealed that they were impacted most by the lack of access to adequate food. The food crisis –rising food prices, reduced agriculture production, lack of water and fodder for animals affected everyday survival.

Women rightly argued that they need control over land. They need to be at the helm of deciding what food is grown and ho w it can reach their families if they had to tackle hunger and poverty in suicide ridden, water scarce and climate affected rural districts in Maharashtra. Currently, women were not viewed as farmers. As farm labour, their knowledge on planting, harvesting and food processing, not recognized.

To address the many crises, including growing food insecurity at the household and community level women hit upon forming collectives to ensure access to vegetables and cereals/pulses in the villages. Currently, all food production is geared to satisfy
urban markets, leaving rural communities–hungry. With the goal of furthering community resilience, it was decided to amplify women’s informal efforts to increase food security by scaling up small farmer led agriculture to create a sustainable and replicable path for food security for communities.

In less than a year, over 1000+ rural women collectives have gained control over small farmland. They are growing vegetables and most important have nominated women to market vegetables in their villages ensuring better nutrition at affordable prices. A range of collective initiatives have emerged – women lease land and invest jointly by working together. Through training & exposure on technology, women have saved time spent on the farm. They have a new identity as farmers, until now only possessed by male farmers.

Allied enterprise opportunities have opened up for production and marketing of seeds, bio fertilizers, pesticides etc. Group leaders are responsible for scaling up. They transfer know-how to other women for vegetable cultivation and create new markets. The network of groups builds vital information on innovations in farming which the women have previously been denied.

Impact and Outcomes
Vegetable produce is now available for households whereas earlier families stopped consuming vegetables as they had to travel far. Women increased their market access and income to meet food consumption needs in families. Vegetable producer groups meet many goals for women and their families including reduction in vulnerabilities through diversification of livelihoods, increase in technical knowledge around agriculture and skills, ability to conduct business in local markets. Capacity of women increased to undertake  community mapping, vocalize needs and actively advocate issues/problems. Long term improvement in soil condition and yield  quantity and quality in cases where organic techniques are used, which illustrates an increase in environmental protection through the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

Benefit to the community/environment

  • The central impact is sustainable food security due to large scale cultivation and hence access to nutritious organic pesticide-free vegetables for over 6000 rural people.
  • Sustained incomes (rise by 30 %) for 1000+ women & families.
  • Women- women knowledge exchange on seasonal cropping (from summer and winter vegetables) to ensure food security all year around.
  • Allied enterprises to produce vermi compost and organic pesticides (made from neem plants)
  • Creation of new rural markets for organic vegetables for rural people.
  • Alternating crop method and vermi compost ensures that soil is enriched with natural nutrients year round.

Sustainable model for scaling up of food security
SSP plans to seek support of partners to scale up to 10,000 women entrepreneurs in the next two years through an
approach that designates women as teachers and innovative farmers as leaders of the farmer field schools. Tapping into community expertise, SSP will set up rural collection centres and urban distribution centres that will allow women’s collectives to control the supply chain. By creating Knowledge Centres expertise and skills is open source mode allowing for innovation in low input vegetable cultivation, production and marketing initiatives that promote environmentally appropriate community and livelihood development.

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