February 17

Syeda Samara Mortada

Want to Change the World? Support Poor Farmers

Tarini Mohan and Emily Coppel of BRAC recently wrote about the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), which can be used to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture and livestock, and how BRAC is thinking of taking up this tool. As background to that discussion, it is important to understand the impact of agriculture in BRAC operating countries and to discuss some of the results already achieved in these countries.

As per World Bank statistics, approximately 75 percent of the poor live in rural areas and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture growth is two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in any other sector. Achieving food security and improved nutrition worldwide is one of the biggest objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals. But to achieve these goals, two things are crucial: women must have decision-making roles in both the public and private sector, and organizations working on providing anti-poverty solutions must have business-like models.

BRAC is the world’s biggest “family,” a development organization born in Bangladesh that creates opportunities in the 10 other countries where it works by taking the models of its various programmes and contextualizing them. More than 65 percent of BRAC’s target beneficiaries are women whom we reach through our programmes in education, microfinance, health, agriculture, poultry, livestock and targeting the ultra poor, amongst others. Our agriculture, poultry and livestock programme is currently being implemented in five African countries: Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The main objective of this programme is to increase production and help with income generation that will in turn lead to food security, improved nutrition and livelihood.

How do we do this? Some of the main components of the programme involve training farmers, supplying and arranging inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, setting up nurseries, helping with market linkages between farmers and the private sector (for inputs and outputs), establishing partnerships with the government, and building linkage with agri-finance loans. But that’s not all. While the programme aims to work toward a better life cycle for its direct beneficiaries – through better agriculture and livestock production, income generation and improved nutrition – other community members also benefit in the process, as they become part of demonstrations that show good practices in agriculture, vaccination and artificial insemination, among others. Moreover, they also get the benefit of market development.

The total population covered under the agriculture, poultry and livestock programme is 3,052,604. An impact study in Tanzania indicates that there were improvements in productivity (by 71 percent in maize and 125 percent in poultry), income generation in maize (by 45 percent) and in poultry and food security (by 145 percent) among farmers in the past three years. Separate studies show significant increase in using improved seeds (27 percent) and accessing vaccination services (24 percent) in Uganda. In Liberia, farmers’ income in poultry farming increased by 403 percent (from U.S. $20 to $80.70) and in agriculture farming by 147 percent (from $342 to $502). In Sierra Leone, the farmers’ income in poultry farming increased by 398 percent (from $46 to $183) and in agriculture farming by 153 percent (from $368 to $564) during the past three years.

All of the projects under the agriculture, poultry and livestock programme have a specific quota for women and youth, and female-headed households also take precedence over others in terms of beneficiary selection. Also, around 4-5 percent of beneficiaries under the Global Poverty Action Fund project – which is part of the agriculture, poultry and livestock programme and is funded by the Department for International Development – belong to disabled households for whom it is the most difficult to work, earn a living and feed their families.

The question is, what is happening after the end of the MDGs? A popular theme of the SDGs seems to be “Leave no one behind” and the leading prevailing discussion is how to convert this discourse and include it in the policies of countries so that equality actually becomes attainable. Kevin Watkins, the Overseas Development Institute’s executive director, wrote, The reason so many countries have fallen so far short of the Millennium Development Goal targets is precisely because of a systemic failure to narrow extreme inequalities in income and opportunity.” The main barrier in the development of a nation lies in its economy – income generation of the masses – and that is most closely linked to ending hunger and, consequently, poverty.

If more organizations come up with strategies to work with governments and aim to create opportunities for income generation among the poorest, change is only around the corner. One of the ways forward for us is having a separate component in our next projects under the agriculture, poultry and livestock programme to measure if women participants involved in these new projects are actually being empowered, and WEAI is definitely going to be a major part of the research component.


Photos courtesy of BRAC International. 

Syeda Samara Mortada is the senior lead, communications, of BRAC International.

Agriculture, Education
poverty alleviation