KALAHANDI, ODISHA, INDIA — The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), together with Access Livelihoods Consulting (ALC) India and the Department of Agriculture and Farmer Empowerment (DAFE), is taking steps to narrow the gender gap for women farmers through a new Women Producer Company (WPC) initiative in the Dharmagarh and Kokasara blocks of the Odishan district of Kalahandi in India.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, closing the gender gap in access to productive resources such as land, seeds, credit, machinery, or chemicals can increase agricultural output by 2.5% to 4%, increasing food security for an additional 100 million people.

“The gender gap in access to productive assets, resources and inputs is well established,” said Ranjitha Puskur, senior scientist and theme lead for IRRI’s gender research. “Due to a multitude of societal and structural barriers, women farmers tend to face serious challenges in accessing good quality agricultural inputs at the right time, place and at an affordable price. Women’s access to markets tends to be limited, as they are not often recognized as farmers. This also limits their ability to access inputs from formal governmental sources or co-operatives. Through WPC, we can begin to address many of these constraints.”

Led and managed by women, the WPC initiative in Odisha has more than 1,300 members, and provides services that include input provision (seed, fertilizers, bio-pesticides), custom hiring of agricultural machinery, financial services and marketing. It also facilitates access to the latest technologies in production, processing, information and traceability.

“The WPC also builds the capacity and knowledge of women farmers,” Puskur said. “So far it has trained 78 members in mat nursery raising and machine transplanting. The women trained have become confident in using the machine transplanter independently and are earning extra income selling the mat nurseries. They are excited that the use of mat nurseries and transplanters are reducing their drudgery and contributes to better health.”

For the next cropping season, the WPC initiative is working to expand its reach and deliver benefits of its provision services and technology delivery to more women, contributing to increased incomes and better livelihoods for these farmers and their families.