Orissa State, in east India, has the highest poverty levels in the country, with 46.4% of its population living below the poverty line. Agriculture continues to be the primary source of employment in the region, but over the years, the sector has suffered from minimal investments, declining growth, and frequent natural disasters.
While women farmers throughout India face gender-based inequalities, women belonging to the historically poor and socially excluded communities such as the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Scheduled Tribes (ST) are particularly marginalized, experiencing multiple layers of discrimination. Women in SC and ST communities are heavily engaged in agricultural activities, but their work is seldom appreciated, and they are generally not viewed as farmers, either in their communities or by wider society and government. In spite of these challenges, several trends represent promising opportunities for Pathways—particularly the growing presence of women’s collectives in the region, as well as government policies to promote investment in agricultural development.
With this context in mind, CARE India’s is implementing its Pathways initiative in three districts in Orissa – Kalahandi, Kandhamal, and Gajapati. The objective of the initiative is to enable more productive and more equitable participation of SC and ST women farmers in sustainable agriculture and to contribute to their empowerment. The initiative will directly impact 10,000 women from SC and ST households, with direct wellbeing benefits on 40,000 others in their households and 12,900 other women in collectives.
Key interventions that make up CARE India’s Pathways initiative include:
- Strengthening collectives to build solidarity and support for SC and ST women smallholders, with a specific focus on existing Self Help Groups in Orissa.
- Promoting sustainable and intensified agricultural practices in order to promote greater productivity, livelihoods diversification, and community capacity to assess and mitigate environmental risk.
- Using a value chain approach to advance women’s access to markets and services by identifying and addressing the most critical structural barriers that limit the productivity of women farmers.
- Improving the availability of information that smallholders need, including information on farming techniques, nutrition, markets, public and private sector services, and other development opportunities to diversify livelihood strategies.
Additional approaches include: improvements in seed varieties and crop diversification; expansion of income generating opportunities outside of agriculture; promotion of food and nutrition security; engagement of boys, men and elites; and development of a set of learning approaches designed to enhance the quality of CARE’s work.