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Chapter 15: SRI BENEFITS FOR WOMEN FARMERS AND FROM THEM

Most people who have worked with SRI think of it as a work in progress, as something not yet finished. This perspective has helped to keep the ideas and practices that constitute SRI open to new insights and new avenues for application. In the two preceding chapters it was discussed how SRI ideas and methods were adapted first for the cultivation of rice under unirrigated rainfed conditions, and then how these ideas and methods were extrapolated to other crops. In this chapter and the rest of Part I, we review how SRI thinking and its application have been evolving, making SRI an ever more diverse and impactful phenomenon.

Fr. Henri Laulanié had a broad vision and ambitious hopes for SRI. Improving Malagasy households’ production of rice was only an immediate objective. In the process of making improvements in agriculture, he aspired to promote greater fulfillment of human potential and the uplifting of the human condition generally.[1] While there are material bases for the improvements that SRI can make for producing food, it was expected that in the process there would be psychological, mental, cultural and spiritual enrichment as well.[2]

Because Laulanié’s work with rice was intended for the broadest possible benefit, it is appropriate that SRI has remain a non-proprietary innovation, not owned by anybody. No patents, licenses or royalties have been attached to SRI ideas. No claims of intellectual property rights have been staked, which puts SRI out of step with the current march of agricultural technology and development toward the ownership of technology. SRI has evolved as an open-access innovation. This means that it could take, and indeed has been taken in, various unanticipated directions.[3]

As seen in Chapter 12, for example, SRI practices have been proving to be able to buffer rice crops against many of the adverse effects of climate change while also helping to mitigate the forces that are accelerating global warming. Surely Fr. Laulanié would have been very happy to see such extension of his life’s work.

In this chapter and the next, we review two particular focuses of SRI use and impact. These are two different but overlapping groups of persons, the first very large, even huge, for which SRI has turned out to have substantial and unexpected but very welcome benefits. This first group is women rice farmers, one of the largest subsets of women in the world, as many as 500 million. Their lives can be substantially improved by the spread of SRI ideas and methods.

The second group, reviewed in the next chapter, is rural populations that must feed themselves and others under the adverse conditions of armed conflict or in post-conflict or post-disaster situations.

Efforts to sustain, let alone improve, food production are greatly disrupted or constrained by military activity or by the impacts of violent conflict or of disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis on the infrastructure and marketing systems that are needed for anything more than the most rudimentary agriculture. Fr. Laulanié would have been very pleased to know that his work could be of particular value to women rice farmers and to distressed households in disrupted and straitened situations.[4]

In Chapters 17 through 20 that follow, we consider other ways in which SRI has developed or evolved beyond its original focuses and performance. We report on how integrating SRI ideas and methods within coherent economic value chains from the producer to the consumer can benefit both. We consider then how these ideas and benefits can also benefit the natural environment with particular concern for the conservation of biodiversity.

We then review how SRI ideas and methods are evolving through the introduction of mechanization for some operations so as to reduce the burdens of physical labor, and further, how SRI has been modified and extended from use in simple rice cropping systems to more complex diversified farming systems. Among these syntheses is a merger of SRI with what is known as Conservation Agriculture, which has both economic and environmental benefits.

These latter chapters in Part I map out ways in which SRI has become more multi-faceted than originally understood. They underscore how SRI remains a still-evolving phenomenon. These chapters will give an appreciation of what the phenomenon of SRI has become and continues to become.

The earlier chapters in Part I dealt with the original understandings of SRI and with how its beneficial effects can be explained. These latter chapters focus on how the initial understandings have diversified, and how the original ideas are being adapted and consolidated in wider efforts to improve agriculture, to make it more beneficial for people of all kinds and for their natural environments.

 

ADVANCING GENDER EQUITY FOR WOMEN

When developed in Madagascar, SRI was focused on reducing the hunger and poverty that afflict both men and women in that country. But as in most other countries, these hardships usually fall more heavily on women than on the men. While rice-growing practices in Madagascar are not as gender-stereotyped as they are in some other cultures, women mutely and laboriously have to ensure that rice seedlings get planted, that weeds get pulled up, and that grain is harvested and threshed to meet their households’ needs. In Laulanié’s writings, there were not specific discussions of gender differences or impacts as he was focusing on the alleviation of hunger and poverty which are gender-neutral scourges that worsen the lives of both women and men.[5]

That SRI methods turned out to be of particular benefit to women has been one of the most gratifying effects of this innovation. This is particularly relevant these days because of a trend in many countries that is described as ‘the feminization of agriculture.’[6] Responsibilities for the labor and management of smallholder agriculture are increasingly delegated, or simply transferred by default, to women as their husbands, brothers and sons leave rural areas to seek more remunerative employment, finding non-agricultural jobs in towns and cities. That taking up SRI can reduce the burdens, stresses and debilitations of rice cultivation particularly for women is very welcome.[7]

Sri Lanka

My first encounter with the gender dimension of SRI was in 2001 when I visited the home and farm of W.M. Premarathne, the first farmer in his country to use SRI methods. Just from reading about SRI in a magazine and then trying out its methods for himself,[8] Prema got yields of 10 and 15 tonnes per hectare from the two plots where he used SRI practices for the first time. His results were unusually good perhaps because of the fertility of the soils on his organically-managed farm. These yields, much higher than the national average, made him a strong and effective proponent of SRI.

When we arrived at his paddy field about 8 o’clock in the morning, the first persons whom we met were three women transplanting tiny SRI seedlings, widely and regularly spaced, and very quickly. Being used to hearing complaints about the difficulty of doing SRI transplanting and knowing the extra time and effort that was reported by women in Madagascar, I asked these women how much more difficult they found SRI transplanting methods compared to their usual practice.

They looked at me uncomprehendingly. So, I asked Prema to repeat and restate the question, thinking that maybe his translation had not been clear enough. The women responded almost incredulously: “But SRI work is easier and quicker.” I had noticed that they were transplanting the seedlings very quickly, indeed so quickly that I was concerned they would not be placing the young seedlings’ roots gently and deftly into the soil.

The women explained to me that with SRI, first there are many fewer seedlings to manage (the number was cut by 90%), and second, the seedlings are light and easy to handle because they are very small.

This positive assessment differed from what I had previously been hearing about SRI in Madagascar, so it was my turn to look incredulous. Then, with a gesture that will stay in my memory forever, the tallest of the three women stood upright and reached her left arm around her torso to touch and press the lower part of her back, saying, “And with SRI, there is no back pain.” The other women nodded in agreement.

I have watched women transplanting rice in many countries, bent over in the field, carrying heavy trays or bunches of large seedlings that they have had to uproot from nurseries and carry to the field. They thrust clumps of seedlings into the flooded soil, working hours on end with hands and feet submerged in muddy water. As I had never done this myself, I can only appreciate vicariously the advantage of planting many fewer seedlings, 80 to 90% fewer, and seedlings that weigh only a few grams. Studies have quantified in detail the impact that SRI methods have on lightening women’s workload and reducing the time required to manage their rice crops.[9]

These women in Sri Lanka certainly thought that their situation had been improved by taking up SRI. They also said that weeding rice paddies with a mechanical weeder was a great improvement over hand weeding. This has also been studied and verified, as discussed below. A detailed study done in India has documented how mechanical push-weeders not only reduce the time that women must spend on weeding, but also how using the weeders reduces the physical stresses and strains on women’s bodies.[10]

As Prema and I left his field a few hours later, he pointed out to me that the seedlings planted by the women on the previous day, with two leaves, now had a third leaf already emerging. The tiny plants had not experienced the ‘transplant shock’ that usually sets back seedlings’ growth by a week or two. The women’s rapid transplanting of the small seedlings had obviously been deft and not traumatic.

Philippines

 

Another benefit for women was pointed out to me during a visit here the next year. After I made a presentation on SRI at a national NGO workshop held in Quezon City, a nun in a white habit came up to me with a broad smile on her face. Her first words were: “It works!” I had no idea what she was referring to. It was not surprising that SRI methods would be successful, but how they were benefiting women was unexpected.

I did not remember having met the nun at a similar workshop the preceding year when we had talked about SRI, but she refreshed my memory. She told me that she was working in the northern province of Isabela with a local NGO named Womanhealth Philippines. She said that she had been pleased to hear about SRI the previous year because of SRI’s recommendation that rice be grown in unflooded paddies.

Women rice farmers and hired laborers in Isabela province work in standing water, often 15 to 30 cm deep, she said, because farmers think that this is good for their crop. However, when women spend long hours wading and squatting down in paddy mud and water while transplanting and weeding, they are susceptible to urinary tract and vaginal infections. They seldom tell the men about this, of course, but hers NGO was dedicated to improving women’s health and knew all about this health hazard for women, and wanted to eliminate it.

The nun reported that Womanhealth had found that with SRI crop management, ‘women’s infections’ were much less. We were never able to get any data that would have verified and calibrated this effect, but this was an effect that should not need much numerical confirmation. If women report that they have fewer such infections, this is something quite unambiguous, and such improvements in women’s health are something positive. We would like to have had epidemiological studies done on these impacts, if any, of SRI management for women’s health, including reductions in schistosomiasis which is a particular hazard for women cultivating rice in Africa. But there has not been any systematic research on this.[11]

India

The rice-growing operations of uprooting older, heavier seedlings and then transplanting them, plus weeding and finally harvesting the plants all require repetitive motions and exertions that place much strain on women’s bones and muscles. Men’s work of ploughing and preparing fields is demanding and involves much physical exertion, but it does not have the same torturous postural requirements as does women’s labor for rice growing, and it does not go on for hours and hours on end. This places demands on women’s bodies that often leave themvin their older age deformed and crippled from years of working in rice fields.[12]

This problem was studied by our colleague Sabarmatee in Odisha state. In the course of conducting fieldwork for a PhD thesis on SRI and labor for Wageningen University in the Netherlands, she repeatedly heard women report positive health impacts with SRI. Her research pinpointed and documented the reductions in body stress that result from using SRI cultivation methods compared to usual rice-growing practices.[13]

This problem was studied by Sabarmatee in Odisha state. In the course of conducting fieldwork on labor and other impacts of SRI for a PhD thesis for Wageningen University in the Netherlands, she repeatedly was told by women report about health impacts with SRI. Her research pinpointed and documented the reductions in body stress that result from using SRI cultivation methods compared to usual rice-growing practices.

Below is an example of the charts that village women drew to pinpoint the particular kinds and frequency of pain that they associated with particular rice-growing operations like transplanting or weeding. Sabarmatee’s methodology of Rapid Comparative Pain Assessment (RaCoPA) gathered groups of women to discuss, draw charts, and reach consensus about the kinds and amount of discomfort, trauma, and disability that resulted with SRI work compared to their usual rice-cultivation practices.[14]

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Weeding is a particularly onerous operation in conventional flooded-rice cultivation that is assigned to women in most countries by cultural belief, historical precedent, or patrimonial privilege. This is particularly true in India where SRI cultivation reduces this burden in two different ways.

  • Using a soil-aerating mechanical push-weeder, instead of removing weeds from the field by hand, is often awkward for women when they first use this implement. But instead of stooping over to pull up weeds, the weeder is pushed down and across the rows of precisely-planted SRI rice in an upright position. Once women become accustomed to this new operation, they find that it saves them both time and exertion. This has been quantified by an ergonometric analysis done at the agricultural university for Andhra Pradesh state in India. ANGRAU researchers calculated that changing over to mechanical weeding reduced by 76% the amount of time that women needed to invest in weeding while it had also other benefits, like higher yield (Chapter 11).                                                                                                      The article’s abstract reported that SRI’s mechanical weeding “optimized human effort through improved posture and reduced the muscular fatigue as compared with the hand weeding process,” with measurably less incidence of body pains.[15] This analysis highlighted the importance of designing implements appropriate for women’s size and strength rather than require them to use equipment that was intended for use by men.

  • In parts of India where farming operations are strictly defined by cultural norms, the introduction of mechanical weeding of paddy fields has had the unexpected effect of reassigning gender responsibilities. Manual work like hand weeding is considered to be ‘women’s work,’ while mechanical labor is classified culturally as ‘men’s work.’ Thus, in states such as Tamil Nadu and Odisha, men took over the task of weeding rice paddies after SRI was introduced because mechanical weeding should be done by men, not by women. This transfer of tasks has been reported also from in Africa, in Kenya and Mali.                      In Chapter 7, it was reported that in a large-scale, on-farm evaluation by researchers from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, the total amount of labor required per hectare for SRI cultivation was reduced by 8% compared with conventional methods. This was a surprising finding since SRI has been thought to increase total labor requirements.                                                                                                              What this average masked was a big shift in the gender allocation of labor for growing rice. Transferring the responsibility for weeding from women to men meant that men’s labor input per hectare for rice cultivation went up by 60%, while women’s labor requirements went down by 25% per hectare.[16] This shift in the gender division of labor was documented by Sabarmatee also in Odisha state. Whether SRI methods make the task of weeding easier or reassign this operation to men, this is a boon for most women engaged in rice-growing, although not for all because it raises the following consideration.

  • In some regions of India, shifting weeding duties from women to men has had a serious cost for women in landless households for whom weeding rice paddies as well as transplanting and harvesting rice is an important source of wage income. A study in Andhra Pradesh state by Oxford and NIRD researchers found that when smallholder households took up SRI cultivation, this reduced their wage-labor costs by 50%. This was a great benefit for these households, to be sure, but it represented a significant loss of income for poorer households that depend for their sustenance on the earnings of their women members from wage labor in rice production.                                                                                                                               The women in households with middle-sized or small landholdings who work in their own rice paddies derive considerable benefit from SRI’s time-saving as well as from its reductions in physical stress and disability when weed control is switched from hand weeding to mechanical weeding. These women benefit even more when men take over this operation to conform to cultural norms that regard machine-use as ‘men’s work.’                                                                                                                                     But for landless women laborers, this displacement is not a boon, although it should be considered that they are spared the physical burdens and sacrifices of their bodies when doing rice cultivation. As with most innovations, there are both gainers and losers. In this instance, there are many more gains and gainers, but the losses and losers should not be ignored. Compensatory measures should and could be instituted. The Andhra Pradesh study calculated that the cost of compensating landless laborers for their loss of employment opportunities could easily be covered by the increased net income that SRI methods generated if there were laws or mechanisms for such compensation.

 

There are also various other ways in which women benefit from the adoption of SRI methods. Women are usually assigned responsibility within the household for making sure that its food needs are met, so having a larger and assured supply of the staple food makes women’s lives easier and less stressful.

Sabarmatee’s research showed that women can make good use of the time freed up by SRI’s reducing the labor that they have had to expend for rice cultivation. SRI gives women more opportunity to take care of other tasks within the household, or to undertake additional income-earning activities outside the household, and even to have some leisure time, which is scarce in most rural women’s lives. SRI was not developed to improve women’s quality of life, but this is a frequently reported outcome from introducing its alternative methods of rice production.[17]

 

WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP IN SRI DISSEMINATION

These paragraphs above show how women can benefit and have benefited benefit from taking up SRI practices. But it should also be said that the relationship has been reciprocal because SRI has benefited from the efforts of many women, from researchers to civil society activists to farmers. Their contributions are woven into discussions in Parts II and III as women’s actions have been important parts of the story.

Probably the most practical evidence that women regard SRI as an innovation that improves their lives is the number of stories we have of women who, on their own once acquainted with SRI methods, have taken it upon themselves to try to spread the knowledge and use of SRI to other women in their communities and localities. This has enhanced women’s status and in some instances their authority within households and communities, even states.

Vietnam: Below is a picture taken by Elske van de Fliert, who in 2005 was working with FAO’s IPM program in this country. It shows four women in the village of Dông Trù, about an hour’s drive north of Hanoi, whom she had met through her work with the IPM program’s farmer field schools. Elske was so impressed by what she learned about their efforts to spread the use of SRI in their district that she took and sent this picture to Cornell.

The extension methodology of these self-appointed promoters of SRI was as simple as can be imagined. They carried a contrasting pair of rice plants, seen in the picture, into neighboring villages and called together all of the women there (also any interested men) to tell them about their experience with SRI’s new methods. The woman standing second from the right was seen in Chapter 12, holding two rice plants of the same variety, one grown with SRI methods and the other conventionally-managed, in front of the fields in which they had been grown. She was showing how her SRI field had withstood the force of wind and rain from a tropical rainstorm that had passed over the village shortly before Elske’s visit.

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I was fortunately able to visit Dông Trù village in 2006. These four women and others in their group reported in much detail on their SRI experience as written down in my trip report.[18] In brief, their data, which they had learned to gather and analyze through their farmer field school experience, showed that with SRI methods, their average yield was increased by 21% with 24% lower average costs per hectare. This resulted in 65% greater net income from their rice production. They wanted to share these SRI opportunities with women and men in other villages in their district.

India: One of the most dramatic accounts of SRI’s impact on women is the story of Duddeda Suganavva’s life in Katkur village in Andhra Pradesh state. In 2010, Oxfam America and WWF brought her to the World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, as a representative of the ways in which SRI methods can improve the lives of people, particularly of women.

When she visited the US, Duddeda was a 38-year-old woman farmer with three daughters and a husband whose menial occupation was considered suitable for a family of their Dalit (untouchable) caste status. The Oxfam brochure that introduced Duddeda, along with farmers from Mali and Vietnam who also attended the symposium, did not include this tragic piece of information. While in his late teens, Duddeda’s only son had committed suicide because of the desperation that he felt about his family’s extreme and apparently inescapable poverty.[19]

Duddeda was indomitable despite the personal tragedy, however. One day she happened to hear about SRI while walking through the local marketplace where an NGO supported by the WWF-ICRISAT project described in Chapter 8 was making a presentation on SRI. She decided to try the new methods, using them on a tiny part (0.04 ha) of the small area (0.8 ha) that her landless family rented for irrigated rice production. But first she had to overcome her husband’s reluctance, which was not easy. The only other area that the family had for producing food and income was 0.6 hectare of unirrigated upland.

When Duddeda harvested 6 bags of paddy rice from an area from which she had previously gotten just 4 bags, she decided to put the whole irrigated area under SRI in the next season. Her yield that year was 10.5 tonnes per hectare instead of her usual 7 tonnes. The methods also reduced her water requirements by 30-40%, which reduced her costs of production because she had to pay for the irrigation water that she got from a neighbor’s tubewell.

Because she no longer purchased fertilizer, Duddeda’s total costs of production were reduced by US$ 275 per hectare, which added to the profitability of SRI for her family. Below is a picture of Duddeda using a mechanical weeder that she redesigned herself to make it more suitable for a woman of her size and strength. The other picture shows her helping the NGO from which she learned about SRI to train fellow farmers in her area, a Dalit woman instructing mostly men.

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Duddeda’s additional earnings from rice enabled her to buy a buffalo and a cow, which both produced milk that she could sell to add to the household’s income. Five years after she started SRI, two of her daughters were continuing their education beyond secondary school, unusual for their social class and social status.

Duddeda reported that SRI methods were improving the fertility of her soil, reducing her crop’s pest problems, producing higher-quality grain, providing more fodder for her animals, and her rice crop was maturing about 10 days sooner than before. Appreciating these benefits, she became an active promoter of SRI in her region and beyond.[20]

In Bihar state, there was an even more remarkable example of women’s leadership for SRI, also discussed in Chapter 26 on farmer contributions to SRI acceptance. Here we note how Jyoti Devi, a Dalit woman farmer in Gaya district, became so popular as a trainer and advocate for SRI that the Chief Minister of the state asked her to be his party’s candidate in her electoral district for election to the Bihar Legislation Assembly. Even though she was illiterate and a first-time candidate, Jyoti was elected to the seat by a margin of 22,000 votes without making the kinds of political expenditures to attract votes that are common in Indian elections.[21]

The energy and conviction with which women have taken leadership in promoting fellow farmers’ acceptance of SRI has been some of the most persuasive evidence that the new methods are particularly beneficial for women.

These are some of the most dramatic stories of women’s engagement with SRI, but they are not unique. Learning that SRI can contribute to greater equity, security and opportunity for women has been an unexpected but welcome chapter in the SRI story, something that benefits men as well as women. Women have often been active and effective promoters of these ideas in and beyond their communities. This is important over and above the generalized benefits for women from taking up SRI practices, which can include greater empowerment.[22] Below is a picture of four colleagues who have done the most to advance women’s opportunities with SRI meeting at the SRI-Oxfam booth at the 5th International Rice Congress in Singapore in 2018: Bancy Mati (Kenya), Sabarmatee (India), Olivia Vent (SRI-Rice) and Le Minh (Vietnam).[23]

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NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] This vision has been communicated in a volume of Laulanié’s writings published posthumously. Riz à Madagascar: Un Dèveloppement en Dialogue avec les Paysans, Editions Karthala, Paris (2003).

[2] As noted in Chapter 3, the Malagasy name that Laulanié and his friends gave to the NGO that they established in 1990 was Association Tefy Saina. The Malagasy words mean ‘forger l’esprit’ in French, and ‘to form the mind’ or ‘to shape the mindset’ in English. The name Tefy Saina thus had nothing to do with rice.

[3] Because SRI has had no restrictions or protections of ownership, it has also always been possible that attempts could be made to appropriate or bastardize its ideas for private advantage or for less-than-benign purposes. As far as we know, the latters not occurred often, but an example of this from Tanzania is given in Chapters 17 and 34.

[4] One benefit for women that will be mentioned only in passing, because there is little information on it, is reducing the trafficking of girls and young women. In 2010, there was a Reuters report from the Indian state of Assam about an NGO that was introducing SRI there to slacken the economic pressures that led poor families in Assam to sell young females. Teresa Rahman, ‘Young girls face trafficking as lack of rains drives worsening rural poverty,’ AlertNet, Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 5 (2010). I was told once while in Cambodia about the initiative by an international NGO, the Committee on Migration, promoting SRI in eastern Cambodia to reduce the local sale of girls to Vietnamese smugglers, but we could never get details or documentation on this.

[5] There is no specific mention of women in Laulanié’s technical paper on SRI, for example.

[6] V. Slavchevska, S. Kaaria and S.L. Taivalmaa, Feminization of Agriculture in the Context of Rural Transformation: What is the Evidence? World Bank, Washington, DC (2016).

[7] These considerations and evidence are reviewed in O. Vent, Sabarmatee and N. Uphoff, ‘The system of rice intensification and its impacts on women: Reducing pain, discomfort and labor in rice farming while enhancing households’ food security,’ Women in Agriculture Worldwide, eds. A.J. Fletcher and W. Kubik, 55-75, Routledge, Abingdon, UK (2016).

     This subject has been examined in a study commissioned by Oxfam America, based on a survey of 648 households in 6 provinces of Cambodia. See B.P. Resurreccion, E.E. Sajar and H. Sopea, Gender Dimensions of the Adoption of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Cambodia (2008).

[8] This 1999 article written by Justin Rabenandrasana of Tefy Saina for the LEISA magazine was the first description of SRI in English (written with some help from this author). Premarathne had done several years of university studies which are relatively inexpensive and accessible in Sri Lanka, but when even so the cost to finish his degree was too great, he went into full-time organic farming.

[9] In her research on SRI impacts on women rice workers in Odisha state of India, discussed below, Sabarmatee measured the differences for nursery and transplanting labor that resulted from switching to SRI methods. First, the size of nurseries that had to be constructed and managed for growing seedlings was reduced by 90% with SRI, because it requires about 10% as many rice seedlings. The weight of SRI seedlings that need to be transported to the field is only about 1 tonne per hectare compared with 3 tonnes. Since soil is retained around the roots of SRI seedlings, their weight is not reduced by 90%, but only by two-thirds. Soil is knocked off the roots of conventionally-grown older seedlings, causing considerable trauma to the plants. The number of hours required to transplant one hectare with SRI methods is about 200 hours instead of 350 hours. These numbers summarize information given in the reference cited in endnote 7 above. On Sabarmatee’s study at village level on women’s burdens from rice production and on SRI effects, see this video produced by Flooded Cellar Productions.

[10] A. Mrunalini and M. Ganesh, ‘Work load of women using cono weeder in SRI method of paddy cultivation, Oryza, 45: 58-61 (2008). When I visited Premarathne’s farm a year later, I met with about 20 of his neighbors to discuss their SRI experiences (pages 3-10, especially page 9). In this discussion I encountered for the first time farmers insisting that for them, SRI was labor-saving, contrary to farmers’ experience in Madagascar. About one-third reported that SRI reduced their labor requirements. Others said there was no difference, while those who said that SRI required more work concluded that on balance their benefits from SRI outweighed their costs.

[11] In Africa, women growing rice are especially vulnerable to female genital schistosomiasis, caused by a parasite transmitted through water-loving snails. Schistosomiasis is a widespread cause of gynecological disorders that can increase women’s risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS. Also a study in India found women who worked in rice fields reported have more menstrual problems. S.K. Kar, S. Ghosh, R. Paul, S. De and P.C. Dhara, ‘Ergonomical evaluation of occupational problems of women workers in agricultural tasks,’ International Journal of Basic and Applied Physiology, 1: 103-108 (2012). This article also discussed the musculoskeletal stresses and resulting problems associated with producing rice with usual practices.

[12] See the website report on an elderly woman rice farmer in India, Phumani, produced by SRI4Women in the UK, which is almost too painful to read and watch.

[13] A systematic comparison is presented in Sabarmatee’s article, ‘SRI: A practice that transforms women’s lives,’ LEISA India, 31: 26-29 (2015).

[14] Here is a summary of Sabarmatee’s findings from her interviews and group chart discussions:

In conventional rice cultivation, women normally spend about 1,000 to 1,250 hours per hectare for uprooting seedlings, transporting and transplanting them, and then weeding several times by hand. These activities require many hours in bent-over postures or sitting in flooded fields where they come into contact with parasites, leeches, snails, and mosquitoes. These contribute to multiple maladies, from diarrhoea to skin diseases to malaria as well as to ‘women’s infections.’ SRI with rice fields are no longer kept continuously flooded reduces or eliminates women’s prolonged exposure to these hazards.

     Women reported to Sabarmatee that they find SRI work is less strenuous. They have fewer infections in their hands and legs and less severity of body pain. On days when they work in their rice fields they have more time to cook, eat, and rest. Major reasons given were that women do not have to keep their hands and legs in the water and mud of flooded fields for long hours; their workload is reduced due to men’s participation in activities like mechanical weeding; and their hours and volume of work are less, and there is less exertion of continually changing postures.

     With SRI practices, women figured that they spend about half as much time, or even less, compared to their previous cultivation practices. Spending less time in stressful postures carrying out repetitive movements is also appreciated. Some of the tasks themselves are now easier because of the great reduction in plant density (about 90%), the lower seeding rate and smaller nursery size (only one-tenth), and having many fewer and lighter young seedlings to handle.

[15] See article referenced in endnote 10.

[16] That SRI methods were found to give more than twice as much net income per hectare from rice cultivation surely made this shift more acceptable to the men.

[17] More information and other details on this conclusion is provided in the references in endnote 6 above. See also a document prepared for the 4th International Rice Congress in 2014 in Bangkok.

[18] The data and many details are laid out on pages 2-6 of my trip report from the visit.

[19] Farmers Leading the Way from Crisis to Resilience: Global Perspectives on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) -- Farming Practices to Improve Family, Community and Environmental Well-Being, Africare/Oxfam/WWF (2012).

[20] This information is from the publication cited in the preceding endnote and from personal discussions during the World Food Prize symposium. While in Des Moines to speak about SRI , Duddeda took the initiative to the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s agriculture section, Dr. Prabhu Pingali, in his natal language, Telegu.

     Two days later, when in Washington, DC for a farmer presentation on SRI at USAID headquarters, Duddeda noticed the Administrator of USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah (whom she had heard speak at the World Food Prize symposium), walking to his office about 30 meters away from her. She hurried over to him at her own initiative to tell him personally about her experience with SRI. No social barriers or distance could keep her from championing of SRI whenever she had an opportunity.

     While she was in the US for the World Food Prize symposium, Duddeda’s landlord in Andhra Pradesh canceled her lease to the land that she was renting. Upon her return, public outrage and appeals to the law led to her reinstatement as a tenant. ‘The rise of a woman farmer,’ Deccan Chronicle, April 2, 2012.

[21] For an account of Jyoti Devi’s ascent to become an elected member of the Bihar state legislative assembly, see ‘Beyond the Rat Race,’ The Times of India, December 29, 2010.

[22] Empowerment is a much-used term, not often quantified or objectified enough to make very firm statement about. A study commissioned by DFID in Tanzania, looking at the effects of the commercialization of rice production on women in Kilombero district also looked at the effect of different farming systems on women’s empowerment, comparing SRI practices with present small-scale rice farming and middle-scale rice farming. The average percent of women in the first category classified as high empowerment was 56%, while for the other two categories it was 23% and 26%.

     The conclusion of the study was: “Women from villages involved in different aspects of SRI were more empowered than those from the MSF and SSF groups, which imply that the different practices of SRI, including training on better agronomic practices, farm management, and group activities, had an empowerment outcome.”  J. Jeckoniah, D.B. Mosha and G. Boniface, Does Rice Commercialisation Empower Women? Experience from Mngeta Division in Kilombero District, Tanzania, Agricultural Policy Research in Africa Working Paper 34, Agricultures Consortium, Brighton, UK (2020).

[23] Olivia, on receiving this emailed picture with 2022 New Year’s greetings from Minh, wrote in a reply: “The IRC in Singapore was a real high point [for women in SRI], even if very intense. Minh not only hosted a special side-event on women in rice farming, with Sabarmatee as one of the eminent guest speakers, but she also advocated for women rice farmers in her plenary keynote speech, which featured a brief video that we worked on with Sue Price [http://sri4women.org/]. Bancy, Lucy, Anizan [Isahak, from Malaysia], Sabarmatee and I all bunked together in an Air BNB apartment, which just happened to border Singapore's red light district. We never would have known though, since all was quiet during the day, and we were in bed before it got too late.” [January 4, 2022]

PICTURE CREDITS: Sabarmatee (Sambhava); Elske van de Fliert (FAO/IPM); WWF-ICRISAT program on Food, Water and Environment.

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