HYDERABAD                 -          There was a consensus among researchers and experts in agriculture, water and livestock management that rural women’s participation in decision making at all levels-- ranging from production to marketing-- might contribute to increasing family’s income, said Mustafa Nangraj, a leading researcher in plantation, crops productivity and nutrition on Thursday.

Speaking at a programme held here on “Women Empowerment through Women’s Increased Access to Water Resources and Agricultural markets,” organised by Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO), he gave a reference of a recent study he had conducted in 12 districts of the province, saying that 60 percent women did not have the power to decide about crops farming.

Besides media persons, representatives of Agriculture Extension, Livestock department, Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) and independent researchers attended the event to discuss the challenges facing rural women, mostly in farming, livestock and water governance.

Nangraj sharing his observations said that women played a major role in agriculture, while men had a little role. Thus, he suggested engaging women in agriculture, livestock management and water governance was essential.

He suggested introducing an integrated model in agriculture, by planting high density fruit trees, especially reviving traditional ones at homes to have access to nutritious food.

“High density orchards, like of mangoes, guava, lemons and other common fruits are must to prevent the issue of malnutrition in rural areas,” Nangraj underscored. “Orchards once developed will sustain and benefit the farmers. It takes 18 months to give fruits,” he said, and added that usually farmers cultivated 25 trees per acre, but in high density orchards we can plant up to 200 trees in the same space of land.

Pirbhu Satyani, regional head of SPO, briefed the gathering about the importance of strengthening women’s role in water governance, agriculture and livestock; the major components of rural economy. “In this regard, SPO will provide needs based grants to 500 struggling rural women so that they could start small-scale businesses in the fields of agriculture and livestock,” he said.

He shared with the audience the results of need assessment conducted in three districts, including Badin, Tando Muhammad Khan and Hyderabad, by interviewing community women.

Satyani said that women workers were paid between Rs200—300 daily which was very less compared to minimum wage which is 673 rupees per day.

“This disparity also causes the problem,” he said, and added it had been observed that middlemen collected milk from women livestock farmers because they (women) did not have direct access to the market. “We are planning to form self-help groups so that these women could have direct access to the markets,” he said.

Mr. Satyani said despite major contribution of women in rural economy they face challenges of financing, marketing and newly emerging technology and lacking access to market directly. In some cases the women need help of their males to sale their products in markets. Because these women do not know the exact prices in market and in many cases middlemen exploit them. He emphasized the need to implement Sindh water management ordinance, which proposes women involvement in water user bodies.

He calls it policy gap, which shows that women should have responsibility in water user bodies, like area water board, watercourses associations etc.

When water bill will be implemented definitely the women will be accommodated in water associations, he said.

Mr. Masroor Shahwani of Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority (SIDA) suggested to have separate entity “integrated water resources department” to avoid dispute in irrigation water distribution mechanism because irrigation department presently seems incapable, to provide water for agriculture, industries, fisheries and other components. He also proposed to introduce water accounting mechanism at government level to see how much water is required to agriculture, industries, livestock and domestic purposes.

Dr. Abdul Majeed, Assistant Director Livestock sharing his observations, said despite women role in livestock management, they need training to know the importance of breeds for milk, meat or breeding purposes. This kind of awareness rising which can be helpful for the women farmers to increase milk yield and earn enough. Like this, they should be encouraged in poultry farming at courtyard level for income generation.

Livestock department itself is working for awareness rising among rural women so they may have nutritious food, in shape of egg, meat, milk and butter, he said.