Image credit: Courtesy of Swayam Shikshan Prayog

Regenerating Land in India through Women-led Climate Resilient Farming

Marathwada, the semi-arid southeastern region of Maharashtra state, is among the most drought-affected regions of India. The area is characterized by recurring crop failure, depleted groundwater levels, food insecurity, and uncertain cash flows in the absence of diversified livelihoods, rendering family farming increasingly unviable. Despite the climate risks and vulnerabilities experienced by small farmers, formal incentive structures continue to promote water-intensive single cash crops requiring expensive chemical inputs. These practices increase the vulnerabilities of grassroots women and their communities to climate change and other types of shocks and stresses. 

Furthermore, women from small and marginal farming households are treated as informal farm laborers. Despite their contribution to farming, women are not recognized as farmers and are not allowed to make decisions on agriculture as they do not own land. Women’s lack of land ownership also means that government institutions -such as agricultural extension departments –do not provide information, technical inputs, subsidies, or credit to women.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), meaning Self-Education for Empowerment, partners with 300,000 grassroots women leaders, reaching six million households in four provinces to build sustainable, resilient, and socially just communities. SSP’s programs focus on grassroots women-led solutions in four strategic areas: climate-resilient farming, energy and environment, livelihoods and enterprise, and water, sanitation, health, and nutrition.

Image credit: Courtesy of Swayam Shikshan Prayog

SSP is seeking resources to scale up the Women-Led Climate Resilient Farming (WCRF) model that has demonstrated transformational changes by restoring the natural resource base and productivity of small and marginal farmers, reducing costs and environmental degradation, enhancing livelihoods and food security while empowering grassroots women. The model -centered on building the social, economic, and ecological resilience of small and marginal farming families and communities in the drought-prone region of Marathwada-is currently operational in more than 750 villages across four drought-prone districts of Maharashtra.

Scaling up and strengthening WCRF Resources will invest in two elements of this work.

  1. The first element will focus on mature grassroots women leaders driving an information campaign, experimenting with new techniques to deepen practices, hosting learning exchanges, and providing guidance to new adopters of the model.
  2. The second will focus on forging relationships with technical and policy institutions to identify entry points for collaboration leading to institutional recognition and resources that strengthen grassroots women’s leadership and expertise and attract more investments in empowering grassroots women to transform rural ecosystems and economies.

WCRF adopters are already experiencing a 10 to 15% increase in the productivity of food crops. Linking farmers to Government schemes of micro-irrigation and water harvesting models has been a core element, resulting in 35 to 45% of adopters gaining access to drip or sprinkler irrigation or farm ponds. The model has secured livelihoods by reducing the cost of cultivation, reducing household costs by saving on market-bought food and diversifying livelihoods. In addition, 83% of the adopters have started at least one additional farm-based business. The model has enhanced land ownership by promoting land title for 13% of the adopters and mentored 25% of the adopters to become agri-entrepreneurs.

Image credit: Courtesy of Swayam Shikshan Prayog

In two years, 2,000 additional women farmers will be trained and capacitated on women-led climate-resilient farming practices. In addition, the model will leverage policy, technical, and financial support from at least one to two institutions. This grassroots women-driven model will catalyze a transformational process that shifts agricultural practices to restore the natural resource base, enhances the food and income security of small and marginal farming communities, and attracts institutional investment in further expanding grassroots-driven solutions.