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Reaping the rewards of their labour: economic empowerment for women farmers in Nepal

Chandra Kala Thapa is a thirty-year-old smallholder farmer living in Ranichauri, a village in the Sindhuli District of south-eastern Nepal. Like many women farmers here and in other parts of the developing world, she has faced a number of barriers to improving her agricultural productivity and increasing her income.


Many of these barriers are related to cultural norms that limit women’s access to productive resources, such as land and agricultural inputs. In many cases, they do not own any land themselves, and instead work on family farms that are owned and managed by husbands or male relatives. Because of this, women reap few of the financial benefits of their labour.

Even if women do own or control land, however small in plot size, the burden of household chores—which in most homes is placed solely on women—greatly limits the time they have to work on their land. And many families are reluctant to let women go to market to buy seeds or fertilizers, further limiting their mobility and productivity.

Chandra, for example, owns no land. Yet she is responsible for tending her family farm for little or no profit, and works for around 16 hours a day. She also engages in a great deal of unpaid work at home, such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare, all of which is both physically demanding and time-consuming.

In early 2016, the United Nations joint programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE) began working with Chandra and other smallholder women farmers in Ranichauri and elsewhere in Nepal, to help them improve their agricultural productivity and food and nutrition security, while also increasing their income.

Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE) is a joint programme of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

Launched in October 2012 and currently funded by the governments of Sweden and Norway, the five-year multi-agency programme is being implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda, where it aims to empower rural women, in particular by improving their food and nutrition security, increasing their incomes, enhancing their decision-making power and encouraging policy environments that are conducive to their economic empowerment.

“Now the money comes on time”

With the support and training they received from RWEE, the women have been quick to increase their yields and market their surplus, and Chandra was no exception. “The RWEE JP provided me with technical knowledge as well as agriculture inputs (seeds, fertilizers, equipment) and facilitated access to credit so that I could produce more crops and sell [them] in the market,” she explains.

They have also learned to reap the benefits of crop diversification. Chandra points out that a kilogram of maize would sell for 40 Nepalese rupees in the market, whereas the fruits and vegetables that she can grow and sell throughout the year bring in up to 120 Nepalese rupees per kilogram. The steady market for their produce helps to ensure a consistent and sustainable source of income.

“Now the prices are good and the money comes on time. This was not the case when I used to sell maize in the market,” she adds, as she picks broad beans in the kitchen garden she has set up outside her house.

United in their shared goal

A key aspect of RWEE’s work involves strengthening local farmers’ organizations. Chandra, who is the president of the Laliguras Women Farmers’ Group, meets with her fellow women farmers at least once every two weeks to discuss issues and find solutions to a wide range of problems, both farm- and family-related. She feels strongly that working together as part of a farmers’ association has been a significant morale booster for the women, as they are now united in their shared goal to grow enough nutritious food for their families and for their livelihoods.

Chandra is happy that her sons, aged eight 8 and 11, are getting a balanced diet at home and that she can afford to send them to school. “Before, I had no money to properly feed my children or send them to school. Now, I produce enough for me and my family. I am happy that I can provide for their education and also pay for medical care,” she says. 

She also recognizes other tangible benefits of the RWEE. “This training has boosted my confidence and given me an opportunity to express myself. It has also equipped me with knowledge to advance my rights. These days I can participate more fully in activities both related to my home and community,” she says.

The programme focused in particular on garnering and solidifying support from the men in the community, especially in addressing many of the barriers the women faced in increasing their productivity and income. Indeed, Chandra notes that the support she received from her husband, Bir Bahadur Thapa, has been instrumental to her success.

“I often share my learnings about gender with my husband,” she says, adding with a smile, “I am so happy that he is helping me both in my household chores and in farms.”


See also:

Joint Programme RWEE Video: Changing the lives of rural women in Nepal