I remember vividly that a desire to travel and have a career in social programs was borne from my grandmother’s dreams, conversations with her, and the humble way in which she lived her life. Up until middle school, our household did not have a television, so listening to the radio led us into countless discussions on social topics in the United States and abroad. Our immediate family gave to churches, to other family members and friends, and of course, to organizations such as “Feed the Children”, which worked extensively in Africa.
Fast-forward thirty-five years. I am now a military retiree and reflecting on a family dynamic that brought an awareness of needs outside of my community and the United States, and making a transition into international development felt like the natural next step, only I didn’t know what that looked like until Peace Corps (PC) Senegal began their work with Kansas State University’s Sustainable Intensification and Innovation Lab (SIIL). In 2018, PC Senegal, SIIL and the Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA) partnered together to demonstrate new agricultural technology and innovations in the fields of PC/Senegal’s Master Farmers. Under this program, Senegalese graduate student Khady Diome came to Keur Bakary, a small village in Senegal, to lead a research site. She worked on testing millet and fertilizer varieties as well as seed-spacing techniques in the fields of three local farmers.
In conferences and one-on-one discussions, what echoed in my head time and again is that there needs to be an intermediary with the ability to connect more research and pilot projects to government organizations and institutions, as well as smallholder farmers, without a long lead-time. With this trifecta partnership, we are building synergies that will be able to breach this paradigm and, in turn, Master Farmers like Chiekh Dieng can work with researchers to identify more readily technology that has been tailored to his community’s farming practices and challenges, but with “scaled up” benefits for the broader Senegalese farming system.
ISRA researcher Khadi Diome and Master Farmer Chiekh Dieng
Photo Credit: LaTrese Taylor
As I prepare to wrap up my third year with Peace Corps Senegal, I plan to return to American University in Washington D.C. to pursue a Master’s Degree in International Development, with focus in West African Food Security, armed with the hands-on experience in working with researchers. Working with PC Senegal to manage this partnership also gave me a birds-eye view of what research-led youth development looks like in Senegal, and how research that incorporates nutrition-led agriculture, can fit into the greater system. In this particular scenario, my primary role was creating the linkage between the smallholder farmer and the researcher, and while it may have been a small role, it was still one with a potentially large impact in making these type of relations more customary in the future. This theme obviously warrants more discussion and work, and I plan continue working in the international development community to see how that unfolds and how I can contribute to its growth.
Poor road networks, waterlogging, canal networks, and undulating topography are considered barriers to agricultural mechanization in this coastal region. Additionally, the limited agricultural mechanization that does exist in the coastal zone, mostly two-wheeled tractors, are mainly operated by men. Most farmers in the polders cultivate a single low-yielding rice crop in a year, and agriculture is considered as a low-input, low-risk business. Generally, poor and landless women are engaged in the annual rice harvest on family-cultivated land and on neighboring farms as wage-earning day laborers. During rice harvest, which is done mostly in December, women can work for up to 8-9 hours daily.The rapidly growing economy of Bangladesh has fueled demand for labor in non-agricultural sectors, resulting in a scarcity of rural agricultural workers. This has driven wages up and is affecting farm productivity and profitability. Although women have always played a critical role in the agricultural sector, their identity has historically been only that of unpaid family labor, with the widespread perception that women’s roles in farming are limited to the homestead and some postharvest operations. However, in the polders of the coastal zone, women are involved in almost all agricultural activities, in addition to all their other household duties. The women also face several constraints, such as restricted access to inputs, resources (land and labor), assets (machinery and equipment), and services (extension and advice, financial loans), which restrict them from playing a leading role in most activities.
As a part of the SIIL (Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab)-Polder Project, mechanical harvesting, using a reaper, was introduced to small and marginalized farmers to ease the physical burden on women and increase their contribution to household earnings. The project organized hands-on training, in collaboration with the ACI Motors Ltd., on using the reaper for 450 men and 377 women for three cropping years from the 2016 monsoon season to the 2019 dry season. The team then worked closely with four women who showed a strong interest in learning how to use the reapers as a business venture. The project purchased one reaper for them to work with. Of these, two, Nomita Golder and Madhuri Mondal, actually used the reapers as a way to make additional money in the first year (Fig. 1). In a follow-up interview with the women, they provided additional information on how the use of mechanization improved their livelihoods. For example, Nomita worked 22 days during the previous season to manually harvest rice paddies and she earned BDT 6,000 (USD 72). Using the reaper not only reduced her drudgery, but also saved significant time. Both young women reckoned that it generally took 48 hours to manually harvest a 1-acre paddy field while it could be harvested in only 3 hours with the reaper. With the time saved and the money earned using the reaper, the women were able to contribute to their respective family’s income by buying and raising livestock and poultry and by providing child care services or tutoring the children of neighboring families in addition to their harvesting activities.
As the project has only one machine, which was used extensively for training and demonstrations at an early stage of the harvesting period, Nomita and Madhuri were able to use the machine for only a few days to provide harvesting services to other farmers. In order to accommodate the lack of additional reapers, the women, instead of harvesting all day, both decided to work in the field during the morning hours only, which was sufficient for them to harvest the area that they used to harvest in 5 to 6 days. In the afternoons, Nomita could then continue providing child-care services to neighborhood families. Using the reaper helped her earn money in a shorter time while continuing other income-generating activities. Madhuri spent the extra time on family care and some time for herself. Having some leisure time has significant implications on women’s health and well-being. Spending more time on family care, particularly children, contributes significantly to overcoming the household’s nutrition and health challenges.
After assessing the interest of women, the project purchased one more reaper and provided Madhuri Mondal and Shipra Biswas to harvest paddy in the subsequent years (Nomita Golder was not able to continue service provision after 2016 due to poor health). Madhuri Mondal was able to earn BDT 82,838 (USD 1035) after five seasons and while Shipra’s net income in four seasons was BDT 62,688 (USD 784). Due to less drudgery, they devoted more time in mechanical harvesting to earn more for family’s welfare. Madhuri used her earnings for children’s education, daughter’s marriage and purchasing a cow that is providing nutrition to her family; while Shipra used the earnings to get back her father’s (deceased) mortgaged land, purchased goats and a sewing machine with which she started a tailoring business.
Although there is a long way to go, mechanization has shown promise in helping increase household income, reducing women’s drudgery, and improving their health and overall household well-being. Without mechanization, women either need to spend significantly more time on manual harvesting as wage laborers to meet the expenses of the family or reduce their family expenses, which might include stopping the education of their children or limiting other important family needs.
The success of this service provision model using mechanization depends on awareness, training, and access to credit to purchase machines, among other aspects. Although the capital needed to purchase the machines is seen as a major limitation, it can probably be addressed through pooled community investment in conjunction with existing organizational structures such as water management groups or through loans from self-help groups/ NGOs. Linking these groups to financial institutions might also be an option in the future. The government has introduced about 50 to 70% subsidies to acquire agricultural machinery. Linking women to these subsidies will help empower them and move the country closer to ensuring food security and better family health.
The SIIL-funded Appropriate Scale Mechanization Consortium (ASMC), and their Michigan State University (MSU) project, has developed a new traction unit specifically designed to address the needs of the smallholder farmer in sub-Saharan Africa. The ASMC researchers, led by co-PI Dr. Ajit Srivastava, came up with this solar-powered, scale-appropriate, sustainable, and multifunctional machine, to aid smallholder farmers with many of their daily tasks— these include threshing, planting, irrigation, milling and weed control. 70% of the farmers targeted by this technology still use manual labor to perform these tasks, with only 10% using any kind of mechanization. The final 20% use animal labor, a method of farm labor is not without its own costs and issues. By using this machine, farmers in the ASMC target-countries can increase and intensify their production, while reducing costs and human drudgery.
Check out the great video that the ASMC-MSU produced to showcase the machine. It features this exciting and innovative technology, explaining in more detail the solar-powered traction unit’s specifications and uses, along with a demonstration of its functions. We are excited to promote the new ways our funded projects are able to extend sustainable intensification around the world!
The interactive SI Toolkit is here! The SI Toolkit is a dynamic, online platform designed to aid researchers and development workers in assessing sustainable agricultural intensification across five domains: productivity, economic, environmental, human condition, and social. Users can navigate the SI Toolkit to select appropriate indicators and metrics and visualize tradeoffs and synergies using the Radar Chart Generator. The idea behind this tool is to provide people with indicators that will allow them to assess an innovation in terms of eventual consequences, both direct and indirect. Additionally, the tool aims to make sure those innovations and their eventual goals are treated holistically, thereby increasing the odds of continuing the practices in a sustainable way. The SI Toolkit was developed by SIIL management entity researchers: Zach Stewart, Jan Middendorf, and Vara Prasad building from the Sustainable Intensification Assessment Framework Guide and Manual developed by Mark Musumba, Philip Grabowski, Cheryl Palm, and Sieglinde Snapp. The SI Toolkit was formally launched in Baltimore, Maryland on November 5, 2018 during the Agronomy Society of America’s annual meeting. The launch included a symposium organized by SIIL titled, “Scaling of Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Practices” and a live demo of the SI Toolkit. Continue reading “Sustainable Intensification Assessment Framework”→