How one woman’s aptitude for farming inspired a whole community


Gul Bano is leading the way for women in Sindh, Pakistan, promoting new skills and livelihoods

Gul Bano is learning to make the most of her farmland through an FAO project, and encouraging other women to do the same. ©FAO/A. Noor

24/01/2020

Nestled among date trees and endless lush fields in southeastern Pakistan is the district of Tando Allahyar. The main source of income for many villages in the area is farming, as it is in the rest of the province of Sindh. However, despite the vast area of arable land, people struggle to make a living. The villages here have only limited water and electricity and lack functioning schools. In one such village lives Gul Bano, a fifty-one year-old mother of seven who is changing the narrative of the women in Tando Allahyar.

The only educated female in the village, Gul completed her graduate degree in Karachi but moved to Tando Allahyar when she got married. She is one of the few women in the village who owns a small piece of land herself. Because of this, she was always interested in farming, but limited knowledge and means stopped her from pursuing it. After a visit from FAO field facilitators, Gul began attending the local participatory sessions where she first learned about the Improving Land Tenancy in Sindh (ILTS) project.

Supporting the local community

The FAO ILTS project, funded by the European Union and in partnership with the Government of Sindh, aims to improve the food and nutrition security of poor, agriculture-dependent communities in Sindh by improving their land access, security and knowledge of farming. In 2012, it was estimated that 7.74 million people were employed in rural Sindh, the majority of them working as landless sharecroppers (also known as haris, farmers who use land in exchange for giving landlords a share of the crops) and wage workers on farms.

The ITLS project works to improve tenure governance arrangements for haris and move towards secure and clear customary agreements, in terms of responsibilities and rights, aiming to eventually bring tenancy agreements in line with the FAO internationally recognised Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests. A major part of the project is the Farmer Field Schools (FFS), which help rural communities and farmers increase productivity on their farms and land. 232 Farmer Field Schools have been set up so far, teaching farmers to use sustainable, resilient, economically-viable agricultural practices. The idea is that this will improve productivity and income, encouraging landlords to sign stronger written informal agreements with haris.

About half of the FFS are for women and, hearing about this opportunity, Gul began to attend. Lessons focus on improving women’s agricultural and food security knowledge, including small livestock management and rearing, nutrition, integrated pest management and basic literacy. Gul quickly learned land-preparation methods, farming techniques and how to make use of her land as a vegetable garden. She even learned to use homemade natural pesticides on her land instead of commercial sprays, saving her money in the process, and improving her and her family’s health and safety.

FAO’s Farmer Field Schools are helping the community in Tando Allahyar increase their agriculture productivity. ©FAO/A. Noor

Soon Gul’s kitchen garden began to flourish, and she generously allocated part of it to fellow female trainees who didn’t have land of their own so that they could grow vegetables too. From seeds distributed by the project, Gul harvests okra and ridge gourd. Both her household and her community benefit from the fresh produce.

Empowering women through farming

Now equipped with knowledge and practical experience, Gul spends most of her time tending to her crops on the 15-by-15 foot plot of land behind her home. At the same time, she keeps an eye on the crops of the five women who are using her land. Seeing their enthusiasm and the improvement in their farming skills, the women from her community have started planting kitchen gardens in their homes as well, and reaping the benefits.

“I don’t have to go to the market every day to purchase vegetables. Now I am proud to say that I am growing my own produce and hope to be able to save money,” Gul describes.

Gul is inspiring and empowering other women in her community to get involved in farming or improve the way they do it. ©FAO/A. Noor

When Gul started out, her aim was to become a volunteer facilitator in an FFS. She has now achieved that goal and is able to spread the knowledge she has acquired to help empower the women around her. She wants to expand her area of cultivation in the future and save enough money to send all of her children to school. Gul would love for her daughters to one day teach at the village school, which is now unused due to a lack of teachers.

Projects like the ILTS are an effective way of introducing change in the traditional system, and allowing smallholder farmers, especially women like Gul, to achieve their goals. When women have access to land to grow vegetables, and the farming knowledge to go with it, they can do wonders within their community – taking on leadership roles and empowering women around them. Women are key to reducing inequality, promoting inclusive societies, and ending poverty in rural communities like Tando Allahyah – as well as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals globally by 2030. 


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1. No poverty, 5. Gender equality