Happy International Women's Day: 12 Innovations Helping Both Women and the Planet

© Nourishing the Planet

It's International Women's Day, as you may have noticed in the news this morning. There are all kinds of ways to celebrate, but the Worldwatch Institute did a great thing and compiled 12 innovations that are helping women worldwide.

They're pretty remarkable, and helping women in different ways—from improving incomes or access to credit to boosting ways to feed their children and families, to introducing sustainable crops and facilitating links with markets, and more. So we're highlighting them here:

1. Women's Cooperatives

Democratically owned and governed, cooperatives are popping up around the world and are a key mechanism for helping women's entrepreneurship and business operations, which in turn can help alleviate rural poverty and promote sustainable development.

Worldwatch highlighted one such group in November: “If a woman has a good idea, but doesn’t have the resources to implement it,” says Marceline Ouedraogo, the President of Burkina Faso’s rural women’s association, Songtaab-Yalgré, “it’s important to have the support of a group.”

2. Connecting Women with Local Markets

In Mali, farmers participate in a program where they can call the Sahel Eco office in the country's capitol, provide their product and contact information, and the office passes the information on to local radio stations and newspapers to spread the word. Interested buyers can then call producers directly on their cell phones. As a result of this effort, many farmers have established connections with buyers for large retail markets and small processors in urban centers.

3. Education and Family Planning

Worldwatch points to the Amhara region of Ethiopia, where the UN Foundation-sponsored organization Girl Up is helping to promote education for young girls. The project offers basic literacy classes, family-planning information, and agricultural training. In delaying motherhood by even a few years—in a region where half of adolescent girls are married—girls can gain critical years of education, where they often gain knowledge about successful agricultural practices.

4. Empowering Young Girls Through Agriculture

Women already produce an estimated 60 to 80 percent of the world's crops, but only own about 1 percent of the land, so there is room for some serious improvement within agriculture globally.

As Worldwatch explains: When young girls learn agricultural skills, they are better able to avoid being dependent on men for food and financial security.

In Rwanda, the Farmers of the Future Initiative helps to empower young girls and other students by integrating school gardens and agricultural training into primary school curricula.

Over 60 percent of students in Rwanda will return to rural areas to farm for a living after graduating instead of going on to secondary school or university. The more skills they acquire, the more self-sufficient they can be.

© Nourishing the Planet

5. Female Trade Unions

In developing countries, women are commonly disenfranchised and not offered the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership. In India, the 1.3-million-member Self-employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is a country-wide network of cooperatives, self-help groups, banks and training centers that help address the multiple constraints that women face. This system provides women with support, helps to end exclusion, and helps to foster social, economic and political empowerment.

6. Extension Services

Extension services are an important way of disseminating agricultural knowledge to farmers, but unfortunately, women have been excluded from many extension programs, whether as service providers or recipients. When women are included in extension programs, they receive an education, raise their agricultural yields, increase their incomes, raise the nutritional status of their household, and contribute to the improvement of their communities.

To improve female inclusion in extension programs, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture's Sustainable Tree Crops Program created videos that women could watch in their homes or in groups, without disrupting their childcare or fuel-gathering obligations. Since 2006, nearly 1,600 farmers in Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana have received cocoa-production training directly through Video Viewing Clubs.

7. Women-run Community Seed Banks

Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. Rural women farmers' lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs including Seed Savers Network and The Development Fund to create community seed banks in India's Karnataka state. Women run these seed banks, gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality organic seeds that yield profitable crops and their food security and incomes.

8. Urban Farming

The agricultural innovation in developing countries isn't happening only in rural areas. Urban farmers are also coming up with innovative ways of raising food—and incomes.

In Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum, the farmers' advocacy group Urban Harvest has helped urban farmers not only grow food to eat and sell, but also, perhaps surprisingly, to become a source of seed for rural farmers.

9. Vertical Farming

Over 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Vertical farming gives women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land.

Female farmers (also in Kibera), have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (about $4.33).

© Bernard Pollack / Worldwatch Institute

10. Increasing Access to Water

In sub-Saharan Africa, improved access to water means the difference between barely scraping by and eating balanced meals, affording education, and owning a home. In Zambia, Veronica Sianchenga, a farmer living in Kabuyu Village, saw improvements in her family's quality of life when she began irrigating her farm with the "Mosi-o-Tunya" (Pump that Thunders), a pressure pump that she purchased from International Development Enterprises. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, the task of gathering water can take up to eight hours of labor per day and usually falls to women. Because of the pump, her children are eating healthier and she is enjoying increased independence.

11. Microfinance

Globally, women fall well short of receiving the same financial benefits and opportunities as men. Only 10 percent of the credit services available in sub-Saharan Africa, including small "microfinance" loans, are extended to women.

TreeHugger has written about microfinance before, but according to Worldwatch, the New York-based nonprofit Women's World Banking is the only microfinance network focused explicitly on women, providing loans of as little as $100 to help women start businesses.

Microfinance institutions from 27 countries provide the loans to women who in many cases have no other way to access credit.

12. Women's Collectives

In many countries, women's subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence when working in the agricultural sector, which greatly inhibits their ability to work to their full potential.

In India, the Tamil Nadu Women's Collective focuses on advocating for women's rights and improving food and water security.

The collective reaches over 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India's Tamil Nadu state and has helped many women see an increase in crop yields. The collective provides counseling and support for female victims of domestic violence, promotes women's participation in local government, and helps women strengthen local food systems, through education on natural farming techniques.

Tags: Africa | Agriculture | Developing Nations

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