The transplanting of the rice seedlings is done by women, facing work for eight to twelve hours daily.
Photo: © Helvetas

Will new rice production technologies help women in Pakistan?

A study conducted by Helvetas on the gender role in the rice value chain in Pakistan focuses on the question whether water-efficient rice production has effects on women workers.

Inefficient irrigation practices in smallholder farming for cotton and rice are being addressed by a global project under the lead of HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation in India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan with innovative approaches. The project, defined as Water Productivity (WAPRO), is based on the insight that the complexity of water productivity in the field cannot be tackled by individual actors. WAPRO is positioned within the Global Programme for Food Security of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and is working with a multi-sectoral group of actors.

In Pakistan, the project aims at enhancing water use efficiency and sustainable food production in the rice value chain in the area of Muridke, District Sheikhupura. Rice Partners Limited (RPL) is a lead private sector partner working first-hand with the farmers and a national supply partner of Mars (owning the rice brand Uncle Ben’s Rice). Mars and RPL jointly aim to steer water efficient production of basmati rice in the Punjab area. Water stewardship/governance elements will be implemented jointly by the actors facilitated by HELVETAS based in Pakistan, called Intercooperation Pakistan.

After the first baseline assessment in March, 2015 by Intercooperation Pakistan, it was noted that there were good prospects for the introduction of new technologies in the rice value chain of contributing to reducing water usage and enhancing the income of the rice farmers. Before initiating the project however, it was necessary to study the possible impact of such technologies from the labour perspective, particularly for women with certain specific roles in the value chain.

In Pakistan, rice is mostly cultivated through seedlings obtained from nurseries. These nurseries are raised during early June, and seedlings are thinned out in early July, when temperatures are often around 40 degrees centigrade in Punjab province. The transplanting of the seedlings is mostly done by women, facing work for eight to twelve hours daily for more than 45 days in these extreme temperatures, bare-footed in deep mud and hot water, and without medical support.

Women play a significant role in the rice value chain.

The gender study was to explore how this role would be impacted in a positive or negative manner by the introduction of the new technologies which the project is aiming to implement in the field. This study was conducted by HELVETAS along with an RPL team in the field. The study was conducted in District Sheikhupura, the major rice-producing area in Pakistan. Two types of area were selected as a study sample/target area, one where best practices are being implemented by contracted farmers of RPL and one with farmers who are still attached to the traditional farming technologies. 

The findings revealed that women in the target area have a significant role in the rice value chain. They are mainly involved in the transplantation of rice, which takes around 45 days once a year. The study team found no traces of this task being performed by men. According to the women, it is so harsh that it is impossible to be performed by men The farmers consider women to be a mandatory option because the task is delicate and requires a lot of bending, which the men maintain can only be performed by women. The women, they claim, can do this work because they can bend for 4-6 hours without complaining aches, whereas men can only bend for 1-2 hours.

Women do not get paid specifically for their tasks in rice production. Their work is considered to be contributing to the family income, as the family work together as a unit and get paid as a whole on per acre basis. The head of the family, usually a man, receives wages for the entire group, which is why it becomes difficult to draw a distinction between which income is earned by women and which by men in a respective season.

The study evaluated how women would be affected through the new technology, as they would lose the task of transplanting with the new technology. Their perspective about the change was not negative. They considered rice crops to be an important source of earning but at the same time it did not contribute to their personal income. Given the hardship entailed in transplantation and the health-related issues mentioned above, the perspective of not having to do this work anymore was seen rather as a welcome change.

The positive indicator found in the area was the absence of cultural and religious constraints for mobility of women. Men and women in the community can easily interact, and the women were bold enough to express their views without any shyness. This supports the hope that there is a clear acceptability of women’s contribution to household income through various economic activities.

Recommendations

The study recommends seeking all possible options for alternatives before losing the transplanting task for women. Some actions could be:

  1. Install medical support to women during transplanting season and mobilise regular health facilities in the villages.
  2. Sensitise women on basic health and hygiene management.
  3. Install secondary school education for girls.
  4. Develop or explore new employment opportunities for young women in the area.
  5. Provide clean water to improve health conditions in the area and also decrease health related expenditures.

(Helvetas/wi)

More information: GENDER ROLE IN RICE VALUE CHAIN, PAKISTAN