Katrina Sasse

The True Champions of Agriculture – Smallholder Women Farmers in Nepal

If I do not get the chance to write a blog about smallholder women farmers now then I don’t know when I ever will. I am currently in Nepal on a short but welcome break from the farm. I am travelling alone as per usual and in moments like today looking out the window of a bus and waving at a guy ploughing his rice paddy field with a buffalo, I fully appreciate the hard work of smallholder farmers. I try to picture myself as one of the ladies in the fields who plant and weed manually; and I try to put myself in the shoes of those who barely have enough to grow for survival and security, let alone for market production.

In Nepal, it is fairly obvious that when it comes to working in Agriculture, and on farms women and men have different roles, each working together in harmony. Any jobs that require physical strength such as lifting, carrying and pulling for instance, the men do. Men have additional responsibilities, like the elderly farmer whom I met in the mountains, such as spending their entire life trekking up and down steep slopes every single day to cut and carry grass for the livestock. Women on the other hand tend to the work that requires patience, attention to detail, gut intuition and patience: weeding, planting and taking care of the animals are just some of them.

In actual fact, the roles for women are even more diverse than I had ever imagined. If you were to look at the jobs a typical Nepalese woman would do on a daily basis as I saw them, you would probably think empowerment begins with giving women free time and a break. I asked them and empowering means something different to each individual. Empowerment to some women is being empowered by their husband to do what they want and spend the money they earn on things that they want. To another woman, it is about securing access to land, learning farming tips and techniques and selling for a higher price. One thing that was obvious was women are carrying such a heavy burden through the confines of their daily routine as a female. That is, they are restricted because they are female. Women are not appreciated for their worth to the economy, and they see themselves as having to conform to the pressure of society. They even place pressure on their own daughters from a young age through socialisation and culture to conform; such as the idea that women should get married and get a husband to provide for them.

Katrina Sasse, Daughter and Farm Manager, Leichhardt Fields Pty in south-Western Australia
Katrina Sasse, Daughter and Farm Manager, Leichhardt Fields Pty in south-Western Australia

Katrina Sasse,
Daughter and Farm Manager, Leichhardt Fields Pty Ltd – family owned and managed cereal and oilseed cropping enterprise in south-Western Australia.

The daily routine of a woman is confined by:

  1. Morning duties: wake and start preparing for their day, light wood fire oven, cook breakfast for the family, send the children off to school, do at least an hour cleaning, wash and sweep, milk the cows, tend to the animals, feed the livestock.
  2. Day duties: walking to the fields, working in the field, return home to cook lunch, return to the field, and tend to the animals once more, clean the family’s clothes and more dishes.
  3. Night duties: supervise the children and help them with their homework; cook dinner and do more cleaning.
  4. Ongoing duties: collect water, care for the young, help the elderly.

When I stayed in the village, I of course felt uncomfortable for the amount of work one woman did. Only once all the family (and animals) were fed, watered and cared for could women sleep - they are true champions!

Women contribute a significant amount to the global agricultural economy. And a microcosm of that is in Nepal. I have no doubt that investment in agriculture needs to focus in on solving these issues from the ground up. It was not hard to notice that there were very few younger people working in the same capacity as their mothers. So what does the future hold? Neither male nor female youngsters are engaged in agriculture or farming. I asked people about it and they just simply answered “why would young people see farming as a viable option?” when all it has been is struggle and extremely hard work for the older generation.

Returning to places like Nepal is such a rewarding but mentally challenging experience. I saw enough in a small space of time to understand that investment in agriculture is not only just about scaling up market production for world food security, it is about talking about and focusing in on giving each person the right to grow more than just for survival and security.

If you want to learn more, please visit our info page about smallholder farming.

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Thriving for Change - Championing Agriculture for a New Generation