Resilient Mountain Solutions


Women farmers and sustainable mechanization: Improving lives and livelihoods in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

The challenge of food and nutrition security in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) has become increasingly complicated by rapid socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental change, including migration and climate change.

Women farmers and sustainable mechanization

Recent webinar

Episode III: The role of private sector in agri-mechanization

The mechanization pathway adopted by developing countries mainly focused on promoting industrial agriculture using power-operated heavy machines based on transfer of technology from developed countries. This approach favoured the flatlands and neglected the needs of the small holder farms in the hills and mountains.

Event date: 27 August 2021

Mountain agriculture and changing gender dynamics in the HKH

The challenge of food and nutrition security in the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) has become increasingly complicated by rapid socioeconomic, demographic, and environmental change, including migration and climate change.

Increasing climate variability and extreme events, coupled with limited investment in mountain agriculture and rural development, have resulted in low productivity and lack of off-farm employment options, pushing men into seeking alternative livelihoods elsewhere.

Women have therefore been compelled to take on tasks formerly done by men, especially in land preparation, harvest, and post-harvest operations, and marketing of produce, adding to their burden of household and off-farm work. This increasing feminization of mountain agriculture has emerged as one of the most pressing issues in recent decades.


Mountain agriculture is physically demanding and time consuming. Rural women, who mostly work as subsistence farmers while also performing domestic work and communal activities, often face a poverty trap, undermining their well-being. Despite increasing labour participation in this sector, women remain invisible as active players and agents of change.

A range of new and inexpensive agriculture machinery, adapted to local conditions, could potentially enhance labour productivity, reduce work burden and drudgery, and enable women to gain new skills and knowledge that can transform rural gender relations and reduce inequalities. It could also allow them to shift from subsistence to more market-oriented farming. However, the extent to which these technologies are available, suitably introduced (by individual use or via extension services) or adopted by women farmers in the HKH is still not clear.

Sustainable agricultural mechanization in HKH must be tailored to the diversity of mountain contexts and user needs, especially of women. To gain better understanding of the current context and explore the opportunities and barriers to introducing customized technologies for women farmers in the HKH, the Resilient Mountain Solutions (RMS) Initiative of ICIMOD organized a regional consultation on 15 November 2019. The consultation revealed that while there is some degree of mechanization in mountain agriculture, the process is uneven, understudied, and lacks documentation. It also highlighted the need to address gender-related concerns in agricultural mechanization and its effects on women farmers and disseminate these concerns to a wider policy audience. Some of the challenges to accessing and adopting these technologies based on the presentations made during the regional consultation are described in Box 1.

Lack of customized machines and equipment for women – The machines are often piloted with male farmers and fail to consider women’s needs and preferences. Lack of pre-consultation with women in technology development, evaluation, and their adoption results in machines that are not scale appropriate for women (too big to handle), easy to learn, handle, or maintain.

Limited access to finance – The cost of machines often makes them unaffordable for small holder famers, mainly women. Even where subsidies are provided, these are mostly availed by men as women have very little or no information. Limited ownership of land by women in many HKH countries makes it difficult for them to obtain collateral free loans easily. Consequently, women have difficulties in acquiring machines.

Inadequate institutional support – Absence of strong political buy in for upscaling and outscaling as well as limited linkages with existing outreach and extension, credit and market services which fail to target and reach women with information, knowledge, capacity, and services to handle these machines.

Restrictive social norms – Social norms associated with gender roles often amplify gender gaps and influence women’s ability to participate in training programmes, access finance, or use technology.

Little monitoring of the impacts of technology – While technologies may offer opportunities to challenge existing imbalances in gender relations, they can worsen existing power imbalances if not monitored. Sometimes, technologies meant to reduce drudgery or improve the socioeconomic conditions of women can push women out of the sector, replacing them with men, thus taking away their opportunity for income generation.

Based on FAO (2015) report, and presentation made during the regional consultation meet organized by RMS on 15 November 2019.

Given this background, ICIMOD’s RMS Initiative and United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have come together to organize a series of country-specific and regional webinars on sustainable mechanization for improving the lives and livelihoods of women farmers in the HKH region, as part of their commitment to improving women’s active participation in agriculture.

RMS is committed to scaling out gender responsive and mountain specific resilient solutions that are simple, affordable, replicable, sustainable as well as appropriate and relevant to the needs of stakeholders at different levels. FAO is committed to addressing gender-related technology adoption constraints by promoting dissemination of equipment, machines and tools that are sustainable and can address the drudgery women face. As part of this effort, FAO is also supporting women entrepreneurship by promoting women’s roles as mechanization service providers.


The webinar series

Through this webinar series, ICIMOD and FAO aim to create awareness and action around current mechanization gaps and help identify good practices and possible solutions for empowering women farmers in the region. The webinar series will discuss strategies contributing to the process of mainstreaming and institutionalizing successful efforts of agricultural mechanization for improving productivity while also reducing drudgery for women farmers.



The specific objectives of the webinar series are:

  • Share lessons learned from projects, programmes, and policies focusing on agricultural mechanization for women in the HKH
  • Showcase successful examples and solutions of agricultural mechanization used in the HKH
  • Identify key actionable solutions and approaches to promote agricultural mechanization in the HKH

Each webinar will conclude with a call for action to align policy with practice to leverage technology to address the constraints and solutions that women farmers face for sustainable, efficient, and profitable farming.



Topics Date
Episode 1: The Nepal chapter 05 March 2021
Episode II: The Bhutan chapter 07 May 2021


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