Supporting Women Farmers under Climate Change

The Gadaref State is boasting a vibrant agricultural economy, driven largely by the contributions of women farmers in the rural areas. These women farmers play an active role in sustaining the region’s agricultural economy and the country’s food security. They are also responsible for collecting fresh water and fuel wood for their families.
Despite their critical role, women farmers in Sudan are still largely excluded from access to empowering tools that can boost their productivity and enhance livleihoods. These are namely finance (credits to purchase improved seeds, hand tools and land; savings/insurance to ease shocks and risks), physical labor (for land preparation, cultivation and cleaning), technical knowledge (around fertilizers, pesticides and other conservation farming techniques.
Meanwhile, climate change and environmental destruction in recent years have degraded the quality of Sudanese soil. Overgrazing of livestock has turned much of Sudan’s fertile land into desert, while slash-and-burn agriculture has destroyed two-thirds of the country’s forests. Soil erosion has increased flooding, contaminating drinking water and spreading water-borne illnesses, such as cholera.
A tremendous increase in burden on rural women farmers has been the result.

Building Resilient Livelihoods

We build resilience in the lives of Sudanese women farmers as we believe that they are agents of change.
Since 2006, we have reached over 42,000 people (5330 female-headed households and 1880 male-headed households) in 58 villages in the Gadaref State, rain-fed traditional agricultural sector in Eastern Sudan. We target women farmers and their partners with cultivable land size of 20,000 Feddan or less. Our work is yielding transforming impact.
With the support from our partners (namely EU, FAO, MADRE, Mama Cash, OFID and UNDP), we provide rural women farmers with climate resilient agricultural input package (containing improved seeds, fertilizers and pesticides), hands-on training on conservation agricultural techniques (land preparation  and post-harvest process), access to finance (credit, savings and insurance against natural disaster), access to market (linkages to local and international buyers at a competitive price). Our overall objective is to contribute to improved food security through increased production and productivity for small-scale rain-fed farming in Sudan.
Further, we prioritize to secure sufficient ‘time’ for women farmers to spend at home by facilitating access to productive machinery (to cut down the physical workload in the filed) and male drivers (to ensure that access to machinery is utilized in patriarchal contexts).
In ensuring sustainable knowledge dissemination around such new tools and techniques, our project provides ‘train-the-trainer’ workshops for the 73 associations, established as part of our activity. We organize workshops/forums/symposiums on best agricultural practices around seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, crop rotation and optimum use of resources. We also raise awareness around how to combat and mitigate negative impacts of climate changes, such as tree planting and composting.

Women Farmers in Gadaref

Our research has shown that 97% of women in Gadaref engage in agriculture. Other areas of employment include livestock, drying vegetables, cookies and dairy processing. A woman’s farming area  is  ranging between 2-40 feddans. The main crops grown by farmers are sorghum (Feterita and Dabar varieties), bulrush millet, sesame and groundnuts. Those who are raising livestock are responsible for keeping, feeding and milking animals which are kept in their houses’ back yards.

Women farmers are aged between 30-50 years old.
The average household size is about 7 people, 1-4 huts per family (Note: A hut is a type of traditional housing, built with poles, sticks and grass. The shelter walls are sealed with mud treated with animals dung while the roof is thatched with grass).
In Gadaref, there are as many female headed-households as male-headed ones.
Farming practice starts by manual cleaning of the land from April to May. Land ploughing takes place in June; Seeding starts mostly in July. In many cases, primitive tools are used by women farmers. As such, they practice manual weeding when crops are germinated. Harvesting tends to be in December to January.
Since many women have limited means to accommodate themselves living below the poverty line, they tend to cope with their urgent needs by selling their assets.
The average productivity per feddan(F.=4200SQ.M) of sorghum ranges from 1.5 sacks/feddan to 3 sacks/feddan, depending on the level of the rainfall and the agricultural practices adopted.

Average production of main crops compared to average rainfall:

Year Sorghum Millet Sesame groundnut Average rainfall
2008 1.5 sacks 1 sack 1 sack 4 sacks 601 ml
2009 1 sack 0.5 sack 0.5 sack 2 sacks 480 ml
2010 3 sacks 3 sacks 2.3 sack 5 sacks 863 ml

Challenges around Women Farmers:

We began our work in 2006 with a preliminary survey with 500 women farmers in 6 villages (Wad-Daief,Wad-Assayed,Wad-Assanosi, AL-Hamra, Abunnaga and Ginan). It showed that the main problems encountering women farmers were lack of finance (42%), scarcity of improved seeds (25%), shortage of productive machinery (25%) and lack of market linkages (8%) . One of the main issues that they were facing was the below-standard farm productivity.
In the absence of agricultural extension services, the agricultural practices adopted by these women farmers had relied mostly on the conventional slush-and-burn methods without crop rotation to maintain or restore soil organic content. This led to deteriorated soil fertility. Additionally, weeding, seed sowing and harvesting were all manually done. There was no water resource management system in place. While fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides were available in the local markets, these were not affordable both financially (too expensive) and practically (lack of technical know-how).

Key Threats to Small-Scale Farming Productivity

Below is a list of key factors that hinder the productivity of small-scale farming.
  1. Dependency on seasonal rain, failure of the rainy season (in terms of amounts and distribution throughout the season) jeopardize farmers productivity.
  2. Heavy rainfall and flooding .
  3. Lack of extension services .
  4. Scarcity of improved seeds.
  5. Decreasing soil fertility.
  6. Pests infestation mainly grasshopper.
  7. Inadequate ploughing mostly due to financial reason and or lack of technical know-how.
  8. Parasite infestation mainly Striga (Boda).
  9. High cost of labour, for small scale women farmers.
  10. Delay, in good rainy seasons, caused by the scarcity of agricultural labor and machineries   in agricultural operation particularly land preparation, seeding and weeding.