Social Equity

Roughly half of the world’s smallholder farmers are women, and women and girls make up 60-80% of the entire labor force in food processing and agri-food systems.
Despite this, women, and other marginalized groups, face barriers in accessing knowledge, technologies, and support services that could improve their livelihoods. This creates systemic gaps that lead to lower productivity and reduced economic benefits.
IRRI catalyzes people-centered initiatives that reduce the drudgery of farming and increase access to knowledge and services to improve marginalized farmers and laborer’s effectiveness.

A study on the impact of sustainable rice farming on rural women in Myanmar revealed that smallholder families who adopted best management practices experienced remarkable social and cultural changes in their livelihoods through higher yield and income.

Sustainable farming practices are at the center of food security and improved livelihoods. They are also the basis for research and development interventions, especially in rice-based ecosystems, which provide the staple food of most of Asia.

As one of Asia’s rice granaries, Myanmar aims to regain its past position as a huge contributor to regional and global food security through rice-based adaptive research for improving the productivity of diversified cropping systems.

Myanmar’s Department of Agriculture and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) have a long-standing alliance in promoting the use of best management practices (BMP). BMP is a technology package of agronomic practices developed by IRRI and verified through adaptive trials that includes using balanced nutrition and postharvest technologies to increase yield and efficiency of rice production.

Sustainable futures for women

A study on the impact of sustainable rice farming on rural women in Myanmar revealed that smallholder families who adopted BMPs experienced remarkable social and cultural changes in their livelihoods. The paper highlighted that rural women, 34-64 years old, described the changes they and their family members experienced by following BMPs which resulted in increased yield and income.

“Women observed that they had better financial and physical capital,” said Melanie Connor, a social scientist at IRRI’s Closing Rice Yield Gaps in Asia with Reduced Environmental Footprint Project (CORIGAP) project and lead author of the study.  “This enabled them to acquire new machines that made rice farming easier, thus, having more time to devote to other small-scale businesses such as shops, home gardens, community activities, and farming of other cash crops.”

Having more income also enabled the women to acquire better health services since they can now afford to get treatment for themselves and other family members.

“The family also acquired better nutritional status by having more variety of food to offer to the family,“ Dr. Connor added. “The women also shared how they are now more involved in community activities, particularly rendering volunteer services in the pagodas by cleaning it and preparing meals for the devotees.”

Gaining control over their lives, community, and society

Su Su San, an assistant scientist at IRRI and co-author of the study, added that the women also claimed that they were able to apply the knowledge they gained about BMPs for their other crops.

“It seems with the changes women have described, they are starting to strengthen their ability to act and gain control over their lives, community, and society,” Ms. San said.

The researchers recommend that providing more development projects that target different livelihood domains will enhance this strength and enable further improvements in the livelihoods of smallholder families in Myanmar.

“This can definitely spark multi-faceted innovations that will achieve the country’s target of achieving food security and improved livelihoods,” said Dr. Connor.

The research was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation through CORIGAP and the MYRice project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.


Increasing pest and disease incidence due to changing climatic conditions is compelling farmers to use heavy doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to maintain their production. The intensive agricultural practices and excessive reliance on agrochemicals adversely affect the delicate and dynamic balance of the agroecosystems, impacting agricultural sustainability, environment, and human health. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is promoting biopesticides and biofertilizers in Odisha together with Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment (DAFE) to address this challenge.

Women farmers play a central role in ensuring food security and preserving local agrobiodiversity. IRRI together with DAFE has been engaged in equipping women farmers in Odisha with cutting-edge and relevant knowledge and technologies so they can transform their farming into a resilient and remunerative enterprise. It is also promoting rural women’s entrepreneurship so that they are not only diversifying their own income sources and stabilizing their livelihoods but are able to provide inputs and services that could help other farmers and households transform their agricultural enterprises. Production of bioagents at the village level by women farmers could be one initiative in this endeavor.

On 27-29 January 2020, IRRI and the National Institute of Plant Health Management Hyderabad, with support from DAFE, organized the training programme, On Farm Production of Bioagents for Promotion of Sustainable Agriculture, under the project Increasing Productivity of Rice-based Cropping Systems and Farmer’s Income.

The training was attended by 30 women farmers from Adarsh Dharmagarh Women Farmers Service Producer Company Limited in Kalahandi District and the Society for Women in Agriculture and Rural Development (SWAD) and the NGO I Concept Initiative in Puri District.

They were provided hands-on training in the production of:

  • Biopesticides (solid and liquid formulations of Trichoderma and Pseudomonas);

  • Biofertilizers (Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azospirillum, phosphate solubilizing bacteria, Azolla, Mycorrhizae);

  • Trichocards (which contains eggs of the parasitoid Trichogramma ); and

  • Reduviid (predatory bugs)

As a part of the training, the women visited a commercial bioagent production unit in Hyderabad to study large-scale production bioagents, mode of operation, and marketing and business strategies. The interaction with the production staff helped build the confidence of the women farmers and motivated them to commercially produce their own bioagents.

“We thought that the production of biopesticides and biofertilizers requires a lot of skills and huge investment,” said Ms Prabati Mishra, a participant from Puri. “Actually, the technology for the production of microbial pesticides and biofertilizers is very simple and can be produced with minimal inputs.”

The women farmers were enthusiastic about producing these bioagents locally in the coming season.


“The training was very useful for women farmers and there is immense scope to produce microbial pesticides and biofertilizers locally,” Ms. Bina Pani Mishra, secretary of SWAD, said. “The initiative can be developed into ecoenterprises led by enterprising women farmers in Odisha.”


The study on the adoption of  Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) technologies by men and women in Vietnam is necessary to understand how the different social expectations, roles, status, and economic power of men and women are affected differently by climate change. It will improve actions taken to reduce vulnerability and combat climate change in the country.

Women play a more important role in rice production in North and Central than in South Vietnam while young people find agriculture as an unattractive opportunity. These are among the findings in the study, A comparative analysis of gender and youth issues in rice production in North, Central, and South Vietnam, that have implications for formulating policies in disseminating CSA technologies.

Climate change affects 30% of Vietnam. Typhoons and salt-water intrusion reduce crop production. particularly in the Mekong Delta which accounts for 90% of the country’s exported paddy rice. In recent years, to maintain its agricultural productivity and enhance farmers’ resilience and adaptation to climate change,  CSA was introduced in Vietnam. There are several CSA technologies available in the country, including, smart water and irrigation management; improved crop varieties; agroforestry and intercropping; sustainable land management; and improved agro-climate information services.

However, the majority of CSA technologies have a low to medium adoption rate. Among the reasons for this are low availability of required inputs, high costs of installation, financial constraints, limited access to tailored information, and limited clear integration, guidance, and support of CSA adoption in action plans and programs at the district and provincial levels.

Recognizing women’s contribution

Women have higher farming workloads and participation in the decision-making in rice production in Thai Binh and Ha Tinh Provinces because of the high rate of male migration to urban areas. Thus, women in Northern and Central Vietnam should be provided with more opportunities to participate in training programs on suitable CSA technologies, according to the study.

In contrast, rice production remains the main income source for the farmers in the Bac Lieu Province in South Vietnam.  Because there is a lower out-migration of men in this region to seek jobs in urban areas, men remain in charge of rice production activities while the women generally act as the custodians of household cash. The province’s rice production also has many advantages such as large-scale field, high tenure security, favorable conditions, and high level of mechanization.

Thus, the strategies for disseminating CSA technologies in Bac Lieu Province should consider the distinct gender roles and gender-based division of labor, according to the study.  In general, farmers should be provided equal opportunities for all–men, women, youth, elderly farmers, and ethnic groups– to attend training activities and field demonstrations on CSA technologies. This will ensure that they can equally learn and benefit from any intervention that can reduce risks linked to climate change.

Engaging young people

The study found a number of reasons why young people find agricultural work unattractive and prefer to seek employment in other sectors:

  1. Drudgery in farm operations (heavy and dirty work)

  2. Low farming profit margins (high input cost, low product price)

  3. Inadequate labor-saving technologies for ease of operations

  4. Inadequate finance/credit facilities, input price subsidy, lack of agricultural insurance scheme

  5. Inadequate land and poor road network

  6. Public perception about farming (i.e., low status of farmer and agriculture), and

  7. Extreme climatic conditions (e.g., flood, drought, and salinity)

As young people seek greener pastures in urban areas, the bulk of agricultural production fall on older people who do not have the incentive and ability to implement CSA technologies.

Based on these findings, the study’s recommendations for promoting youth engagement in agriculture are as follows:

  1. Provide more  opportunities for on-farm training for youth at primary and secondary school level;

  2. Organize exchange visits for rural youth, participate in trade fairs, exhibition, competition on
    farming techniques;

  3. Develop and expand the models on production and business for rural youth;

  4. Build respect for farmers by emphasizing the important role of farmers and agriculture;

  5. Provide motivation and improve the image of agriculture by updating policies and programs;

  6. Upgrade the skills and knowledge of local agricultural extension workers about CSA technologies to enhance the confidence of farmers on their technical capability.