By Jennifer King, MEDA
The last three months has been a flurry of activity in MEDA’s Myanmar project, Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW). Our staff and partners are now working directly in 69 villages and have selected the first cohort of female lead farmers – a network of local farmers who will act as knowledge agents and coaches to help other women farmers in their villages improve agricultural practices. MEDA has used this approach successfully in several other projects, including GROW in Ghana.
For most of these villages, this is the first time women have been targeted to receive training. They have not been seen as leaders in agriculture, despite their more-than-equal participation in farming and their key role in the marketplace.
MEDA staff have worked intensively with several of our local partners over the last few months to successfully navigate through gender stereotypes and assumptions that women are not suited to a lead farmer role. Today, we are very pleased to have more than 230 female lead farmers identified and receiving training!
The main training the lead farmers are receiving is on sustainable agriculture and good agriculture practices (GAP) to improve agricultural productivity, efficiency, safety and quality in a way that protects the natural environment, adapts to climate change, and increases incomes.
Much of this training is conducted in the field, in demonstration plots established by the women and our partner organizations. Key topics of learning are seed selection and use, soil and water management, integrated pest management, and post-harvest practices. The curriculum has been developed to respond to the major constraints and challenges farmers told us they are facing, including a lack of knowledge on how to identify and treat pests and disease, how to mitigate weather-related risks, and how to maximize water usage.
Kyaw Lin Oo, our Myanmar agriculture specialist, has observed that women farmers demonstrate lower knowledge of basic agriculture practices compared to men. But he also notes that they have shown strong engagement and commitment to participation with multiple trainings running over schedule and into the night to allow for discussion.
For me, both observations reinforce the importance of working with communities to push through stereotypes and other barriers to purposefully give women farmers opportunities for leadership, skills development, and decision making. I’m looking forward to watching how these women develop and share what they have learned over the coming months and years.