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2 May 2019 | Blog

Promoting SPIPs with a gendered focus paying dividends

Dipendra Bhattarai & Nabina Lamichhane

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Mamta Devi Yadav tends to her vegetable garden in Badgama, Saptari. She was one of 53 farmers (including 41 women) who installed SPIPs in their fields with financial support from ICIMOD. (Photo: Jitendra Bajracharya)

Solar-powered irrigation pumps (SPIPs) are visibly helping balance gender inequalities in agricultural participation and access to finance and land ownership in Nepal’s Terai region

Women across socioeconomic strata in the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region are disproportionately impacted by structural inequalities in the distribution of rights, assets, resources, and power, as highlighted by the comprehensive 2019 Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment report. In the context of the increasing feminization of agriculture across the HKH, technological interventions that help close the existing gender gaps in the field are essential. Despite the fact that around 80% of women in Nepal are engaged in agriculture, only around 20% of female-headed households owned houses and lands in 2011, with the figure at around 18% in the country’s Terai region.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has been introducing solar-powered irrigation pumps (SPIPs) for farmers in four Terai districts since February 2017, employing innovative financial models targeting women farmers. Given the relatively high capital cost of SPIPs, three sustainable financial models familiar to the targeted beneficiaries were selected following extensive background research: grant (70% up-front subsidy for women and 60% for men); grant and loan (grant model along with 20% of the total investment cost covered by a loan at a 5% interest rate); and pay-as-you-go (monthly or seasonal payments for a three-year rental period, followed by ownership). The additional 10% subsidy allocated for women farmers was aimed at shifting the gender imbalance in asset and land ownership in the selected districts, consequently granting more financial control to women.

The SPIP technology has visibly made irrigation easier for women farmers. As solar pumps installed in farms require just a switch to operate, they do not require any heavy lifting, unlike diesel pumps. This contributes to reducing women’s already long list of labour-intensive household roles. Further, the Women Empowerment Agriculture Index (WEAI) was used to assess changes in women’s role in agriculture following the SPIP intervention, which reached 53 farmers, including 41 women. Preliminary results show that beyond increased agricultural efficiency (through year-round crop cultivation and reduced diesel consumption), asset ownership inequalities were reduced and access to finance improved for women. An increased incidence of transfer of land ownership to women was observed for lands installed with SPIPs. This directly contributed to an increase in asset ownership among women farmers. The results also show that most of these women farmers were availing loans for the first time, indicating the dismantling of financial barriers and potential for further empowerment. Endline data currently being processed will help explain the dynamics of the increase in women-owned assets and greater women’s participation in income generation and household decision making.

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