A study on the gender role in rice value chain focuses on the question if water efficient rice production has effects on women workers.
Inefficient irrigation practices in smallholder farming for cotton and rice are being addressed by a global project under the lead of Helevtas Swiss Intercooperation in India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with innovative approaches. The project defined as Water Productivity (WAPRO) is based on the insight that the complexity of water productivity in the field cannot be tackled by individual actors. The project is positioned within the Global Programme for Food Security of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and is working with a multi-sectoral group of actors. In Pakistan, WAPRO aims at enhancing water use efficiency and sustainable food production in rice value chain in the area of Muridke, District Sheikhupura. Rice Partners Limited (RPL) who is a lead private sector partner working first-hand with the farmers and a national supply partner of Mars (owning the renowned rice brand Uncle Ben’s Rice). Mars and RPL jointly aim to steer water efficient production of basmati rice in the Punjab area. Water stewardship / governance elements will be implemented jointly by the actors facilitated by Helevtas based in Pakistan.
After the first baseline assessment in March, 2015 by Helevtas Pakistan, it was noted that the introduction of new technologies in rice value chain had a good possibility to contribute to reducing water usage and to enhance the income of the rice farmers. Before initiating the project however, it was necessary to study the possible impact of such technologies from the labour’s perspective, particularly for women with certain specific roles in the value chain.
In Pakistan rice is mostly cultivated through seedlings obtained from nurseries. These nurseries are raised during early June and seedlings are thinned out in early July when temperature are often around 40-500 in the Punjab province. The transplanting of the seedlings is mostly done by women, facing work for 8-12 hours daily for more than 45 days in these extreme temperatures, bare footed in deep mud and hot water. No medical facilities are available, they continue their work until the condition is severely troublesome. Without any free medical facilities, women spend a lot of their money on medical treatment (90% of the women reported).
The gender study was to explore how this role will be impacted both in positive or negative manners by the introduction of new technologies which the project is aiming to implement in the field. This study was conducted by Helvetas along with a team of the partner of this project Rice Partners Limited (RPL) in the field. The study was conducted in District Sheikhupura, the major rice producing area in Pakistan. Two types of areas were selected as a study sample/target area, one where best practices are being implemented by contracted farmers of RPL and with farmers who are still attached with the traditional farming technologies. Data were collected from 320 women and 8 men through Focus Group Discussions and by semi-structured interviews of 10% of women of these groups. Women gathered in large numbers to make sure that they express themselves and are heard.
The findings revealed that women in the target area have a significant role in the rice value chain. They are mainly involved in transplantation of rice that takes around 45 days once a year. The study team found no traces of this task was being performed by men. According to the women, this task is so harsh that it is impossible to be performed by men (SIC). The farmers considered women to be a mandatory option because it is a delicate task which needs a lot of bending during the activity, According to these men, only women can do this work, as they can bend for 4-6 hours without complaining aches, whereas men can bend only for 1-2 hours (SIC).
Women do not get paid specifically for their tasks in rice production. Their work is considered to be contributing to the family income, as the family works together as a unit and gets paid as a whole on per acre basis. The head of the family, mainly a man, receives wages for the entire group. This is why it becomes difficult to draw a distinction line between what is the income earned by women and men in a specific season.
The study evaluated how women will be affected through the new technology, as they would lose the task of transplanting with the new technology. Their perspective about the change was not negative. They consider rice crops to be an important source of earning but at the same time it did not contribute to their personal income. Due to the hardship entailed in transplantation and the health related issues mentioned above, the perspective of not having to do this work anymore was seen rather a welcomed change. The women shared that they were looking forward to explore some alternative jobs, at least for their next generations.
The positive indicator found in the area was the absence of cultural and religious constraints for mobility of women. Men and women in the community can easily interact and the women were bold enough to express their views without any shyness. This represents the hope that there is a clear acceptability of women’s contribution to household income through various economic activities. There was high acceptability and hope towards girls’ education and women productivity as an earning source.
The study recommends to seek all possible options for alternatives before losing transplanting task. Some of the following actions could be carried out that by RPL and Mars Foods under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR):
- Organize medical support with these aspects:
- Organise readily available first aid service to injuries / troubles in the field while transplanting
- Mobilise regular health facilities in the villages where women can go for first consultation before they need a more specialised support elsewhere far away
- Sensitise women on basic health and hygiene management
- Provide opportunity for secondary school education for girls (for increasing better prospects)
- Develop or explore new employment opportunities for young women in the area
- Provide clean water to improve health conditions in the area and also decrease health related expenditures