Climate Change

Women Lead Farming Amid Climate Challenges in India & Pakistan

Saddia Mazhar & Jennifer Kishan

“Climate change? What is this?” Aisha Bibi said, responding to a question related to changing weather patterns and its impact on rural women. Aisha was interviewed as she worked in a field located in 82/6 R, a village near Sahiwal, Punjab, Pakistan.

“We are a family of eight with five daughters and a son,” she said. “My husband works as a laborer. We do not have a stable income. I, along with my three elder daughters, used to work as laborers in fields. “We harvest potatoes, clean wheat crops, cut rice, and sugarcane on daily wages.”

Due to changing weather for several years. Bibi knows that there is now less to feed her family. Unpredictable rain, hailstorms, and heat have caused crop production to falter, meaning cuts in wages and opportunities to work.

“I was not aware that these changing patterns are affecting our own lives too,” she said.

Bibi couldn’t help but feel a sense of shared struggle with women like Nirmala Mahanto, thousands of miles away in India. When Nirmala Mahanto first started farming on her in-laws’ land, she was taken aback by the back-breaking challenge of crop production.

India: Nirmala Mahanto in Keonjhar works at her fields (Photo Credit: Jennifer Kishan)

Keonjhar is one of the drought-prone districts in Odisha, India, and the scarcity of water means that women must walk miles lugging water to irrigate their lands.

To buy fertilizers, seeds and other agricultural equipment, she needed to travel about 15 km outside her village to the cluster markets, costing her both time and money with little bargaining power herself.

“Only 60% of the seeds I sowed turned into saplings which meant huge losses in my field’s produce,” she said. “My family income was depleted, and I could hardly break even with what was left.”

Climate is having a major impact on both India and Pakistan, where growing populations will require a significant increase in food production. Too, leaders are recognizing the need to include women to be a big part of the solution. Investments in training and resources for women are happening in both countries.

That has meant a wide variety of new programs that use new technology, such as drones and Artificial Intelligence, to bring new weapons into the field. It also means new organizations that focus on women and are helping them realize the power of community.

There is much of the past to overcome. As it stands now, women-led agricultural plots are far less productive than those headed by men. In India, their farms are 23% less productive as compared to men.

According to the statistics shared by the Punjab (Pakistan)  commission on the status of women,” The total area of land owned by women in Punjab is much lower than the area of land owned by men. Only 21.8% of the total female population of Punjab are land owners.”

Pakistan Economic Research Institute data of 2017-2018 shows that in Punjab 27.6 % of women work in the agriculture sector .

India: Nirmala  Mahanto in Keonjhar works at her fields (Photo Credit: Jennifer Kishan)
India: Nirmala Mahanto in Keonjhar works at her fields (Photo Credit: Jennifer Kishan)

Dr. Aamer Irshad, head of Programs, the Food and Agriculture Organization in Pakistan, said many women work as unpaid laborers in fields and handle domestic tasks. Women play an important role in Pakistani agriculture, but their role is often overlooked.

There is a significant gender pay gap in this sector, too. And women are exposed to occupational health and safety hazards; 79.7% of women and 38.0% of men are exposed to accidents.

“I was shocked to see the hands of women laborers who were working on farms,” said Nayab Raza, a PhD Research Scholar at the University of Manchester, UK.

Raza noticed this during a visit to help train farming women in Pakistan. She said she was not aware of the lack of safety measures and the impact on women’s bodies.

As the Founder and CEO of ALGAVERSE, Nayab has taken the lead in creating inventive products like BHAAN, a bio-fertilizer derived from native freshwater microalgae.

Her efforts have extended to training 500-600 farmers in Sindh, highlighting the significance of sustainable farming techniques, and promoting women’s empowerment in agriculture.

Pakistan: Aisha Bibi is working in Potatao Farms in 82/6R (Photo Credit: Saddia Mazhar)
Pakistan: Aisha Bibi is working in Potato Farms in 82/6R (Photo Credit: Saddia Mazhar)

Access to agricultural education has been limited in both India and Pakistan due to various constraints such as migration issues, literacy levels and biased demands. Gender-based violence, violence against women and gender-neutral laws have often prevented women from participating in the labor market.

Climate agriculture expert and Digi Dera CEO Amer Hayyat Bhandara said that women do not have sufficient knowledge and skills in agriculture due to social and economic problems. He claimed to be the first one in Pakistan to start talking about women farmers and their rights.

Time is changing because now women are not only running their farms (though they belong to strong economic families)  but are also discovering tech solutions to the agriculture sector and organizing themselves.

One of the key ways in which women farmers in India are being able to organize is through formations of women or Self-Help Groups and through Women Farmer Producer Organizations.

Farmer Producer Centers (FPC) have been set up under the Indian Companies Act. They constitute groups of producer organizations that collectively give small and medium-sized farmers the advantage of market opportunities—supplying seeds, fertilizers, and machinery, and providing market linkages and technical advisories to them.

In Keonjhar, Saharapada FPC, a women-run FPC, has been playing a critical role in changing the way women farmers work.

They provide saplings through their greenhouse, organic fertilizers, and agricultural machinery at reasonable rates. More importantly, the center has been harnessing digital technology to build awareness on climate-smart agriculture. They are also working to ensure that women have access to information on weather advisories, and any entitlements pertaining to them.

Using videos, flash messages and WhatsApp groups to disseminate this information, the FPC has trained hundreds of women on climate smart agriculture and organic farming.

These new ideas are coming just in time. According to statistics, an increase of 1°C leads to a 23.6 percent decrease in agricultural income.

Pakistan: Nayab Raza of Bhann is working in lab(Photo Credits: Saddia Mazhar)
Pakistan: Nayab Raza of Bhann is working in lab (Photo Credits: Saddia Mazhar)

Dr. Adnan Arshad, senior researcher of PODHA (Potohar  Development Advocacy Organisation), said PODHA’s Aerial Agriculture Training Center helps women using digital technology.

The center is air-conditioned and powered by IOT devices such as soil moisture meters and hygrometers that provide real-time weather advisories in local languages via mobile networks.

“PODHA supports women with organic kitchen gardening training and vegetable tunnel farming, adhering to the standards set by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).”

“Through these techniques, we have empowered number of rural women with the services of our lead trainer and farm manager,” said Dr. Arshad.

PODHA has established a Climate-smart Sustainable Agriculture Farm to assess the efficacy of the latest technologies and climate-resilient crop varieties.

Dr. Arshad further added: “We translate these findings into local languages for dissemination among women farmer networks, accompanied by training sessions on establishing wheat seed banks in villages.”

Sarah Babar, who started the olive farm and is a teacher, remembers what it was like when she started her olive farm.

“At the outset, my fellow colleagues at school doubted my commitment to the entrepreneurial path I had chosen,” she said. “However, quitting was never on my agenda. “

Now the CEO of Farms Nursery, Babar embarked on her farming journey in 2017 by starting her own olive farm on leased land spanning four kanals. Despite her lack of prior experience in this field, she invested nearly seven lakhs to establish the farm.

The initial stages were challenging as the land, located in Chakwal, lacked development with no road network or electricity. It took over seven months of dedicated effort to level the uneven farmland before accessibility was feasible by vehicle, she said.

“In fact, with each hurdle I faced, my determination to transform my once barren plot of land into one of Punjab’s premier olive nurseries only intensified,” she said. “I make my dream true with the help of PODA using smart agricultural techniques and some other international organizations. Olive plants are weather friendly and with the changing climate pattern, we chose olive production in Pakistan.”

Pakistan: A tunnel  farming Farm  in Punjab (Photo Credit: Saddia Mazhar)
Pakistan: A tunnel farming Farm in Punjab (Photo Credit: Saddia Mazhar)

Governments are helping:

In the recently announced interim budget of the government of India, agri-tech has been speculated to see a boost as several government initiatives aim to enhance the adoption of agri-tech solutions.

Agri-tech solutions such as real time data collection systems, drone-based agriculture, and AI based precision agriculture are being seen as ways to increase farmer yield to meet the rising demands of food production.

Several studies show that increasing tech adoption with women farmers can increase economic benefits in rural households and food production.

In Keonjhar, women farmers are looking forward to these solutions. “Earlier we used to be dependent on our families for all farming decisions. We can now provide solutions and information—they now listen to us instead,” says Nirmala Mahanto.

Dr. Aamer Irshad emphasizes the crucial role FAO plays in empowering female farmers and enhancing agricultural sustainability and food security in Pakistan.

FAO’s Digital Village Initiative (DVI) is making significant progress in empowering rural communities, particularly in Rahim Yar Khan and Sargodha districts, he said.

Under the “Transforming the Indus Basin with Climate Resilient Agriculture and Water Management” program, FAO is making strides in gender equality, with 28% of direct beneficiaries and 49% of indirect beneficiaries being female. These women actively participate in Women Open Schools, showcasing their dedication to learning.

Saddia Mazhar

Saddia Mazhar, an accomplished Investigative Journalist hailing from District Sahiwal, Punjab, possesses a fervor for unveiling impactful narratives. With a demonstrated history of hosting radio shows, web TV programs, contributing to esteemed publications, and steering digital media platforms, she stands as a notable figure in the field. Connect with her on Twitter @SaddiaMazhar. She can be contacted at
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