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Building women and youth capacity for resilient rice-based food systems in Nepal

Nepal’s rural youth are increasingly choosing employment in areas other than agriculture. Women, children, and elderly people are forced to work in the agriculture sector due to out-migration of youth. Attracting and retaining youth in agriculture is a major challenge.

With financial support from the International Labour Organization (ILO), IRRI implemented a short-term project on the “Capacity Development of Women and Youth for Enhanced Employability and Efficiency in Rice-Based Systems to Facilitate Enhanced Food Security and Resilient Livelihoods” in selected provinces of Nepal from October-December 2020. 
The project capitalized on the opportunity for developing advanced technical and managerial skills of a new generation of workforce in agriculture specifically from smallholder farmers, women and youth to support them in improving their employability, efficiency and incomes for developing resilient livelihoods, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 1.3 million farmers are organized into 12,772 agricultural cooperatives in Nepal. In 2014, it was estimated that around 68% of these cooperatives are women-led and 53% of the members were women, and a significant number of the members are youth. However, despite their robust participation, women and youth have yet to gain technical and managerial skills that can help them respond to modern challenges and adapt to emerging innovations.

The project, which is probably the first in Nepal of its scope both in the number of trainees and the skills gained, was conducted around three themes: (i) machine operation, maintenance and servicing, (ii) rice nursery enterprise development and management, and (iii) agricultural enterprises development and management. All of the training themes are of strategic importance for transforming subsistence and traditional agriculture into knowledge-based and business-oriented agriculture in Nepal.

A majority of the participants were individual entrepreneurs and members of cooperatives, with migrant returnees and representatives of poor and vulnerable communities highly prioritized during selection. The criteria included age (below 40 years) and proven interest in rice farming, machine operations, and enterprise management.

Many participants were from Banke, Bardiya, Saptari and Dhanusha while few of them were also from Mahottari, Sarlahi, Rauthat, Sindhuli, Dang, Kailali and  Kanchanpur. The participants from various Stations of Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC) and other government farms were included in the training events across many districts of Nepal from the East to the West. Each of them benefited from a mix of theory and practical field sessions which were also attended by agriculture technicians from the local levels and provincial government, Prime-Minister Agriculture Modernization Project (PMAMP), Agriculture Research Stations and Agriculture Knowledge Centres (AKCs).

As part of COVID-19 safety precautions, the criteria also included a requirement that no participants should have underlying symptoms that could increase their risk for severe infection.

Multi-stakeholder participation was instrumental in making the training sessions a success. IRRI received tremendous support from NARC; National Rice Research Program, Agriculture Machine Testing and Research Centre, Directorate of Research Nepalgunj among its other constituent research stations. Support from the Department of Agriculture, Agriculture offices in the Provincial level, and the CIMMYT-CSISA project was also very helpful.

Machine operation, maintenance and servicing

Modern agricultural machines like laser levelers, seed drills, rice transplanters, and reapers  have been proven to significantly increase land productivity and smallholder farmers’ income. Despite this, many farmers in rural communities use traditional and manual farming methods due to a lack of access to and skills surrounding these machines.

Eighty four (84) local resources persons (LRPs) for machine operation, maintenance and servicing were developed through eight days long Training of Trainers (ToT). Under the field training,143 youth were trained (Lumbini Province-68 and Province 2 – 75). These training sessions focused on strengthening hands-on skills and knowledge about modern machinery operation servicing, and repair in the project area. Training sessions were facilitated by a team of five expert Agricultural Engineers assisted by a number of sub-engineers, mechanics, and experienced machine operators.

Rice nursery enterprise development and management

Conducted at different local levels with the direct involvement of 618 farmers, the training on rice nursery enterprise development and management aimed to develop skills in raising healthy rice seedlings, impart skills of using mechanical transplanter, demonstrate alternate methods of rice establishments, and develop understanding among participants on starting rice nurseries as an enterprise.

For rice nursery development and management 130 LRPs were developed through Training of Trainers (ToT) events conducted both in Province 2 (77 participants) and Lumbini Province (53 participants). The course ran for 3 days. A total of 5 programs were organized; two ToT events were organized in Lumbini Province and three ToT programs in Province 2.

In addition to the ToT program organized, the project also delivered field training in both the provinces. These training events focused on capacitating the individual entrepreneurs and cooperative’s representatives. In total, 492 persons (255 in Province 2, and 237 in Lumbini Province) participated in twenty three training sessions.  Of this 79% were women.

Agricultural enterprises development and management

Five-day residential trainings, entitled “Training on Reskilling and Upskilling of Agricultural Cooperatives/Private Sector Enterprises around Entrepreneurship” helped attendees gain expertise on how to navigate the agricultural market, assess opportunities, prepare for threats and challenges, develop a business plan, and manage credit and financials, among others.

Conducted in Province 2 and Lumbini Province, a team of six experts facilitated the sessions. The team used a diverse array of methods from lectures to business games and practical exercises, which helped the trainees present viable agri-based and off-farm business plans.

Women and youth entrepreneurs, including migrant returnees and the representatives of the poor and vulnerable communities, attended the training. A total of nine training events (5 in Province 2, and 4 in Lumbini Province) were conducted, and the total number of trainees were 224 (127 in Province 2, and 97 in Lumbini Province). The participants in Province 2 were from Dhanusha, Mahottari, Saptari, Sarlahi, and Siraha districts, and the participants in Lumbini Province were from Banke and Bardiya districts.

Empowering women and youth as change agents

224 youth and women participated in agricultural enterprises development and management, of which 126 (56%) were men and 99 women (44%) while participation of migrant returnees was 9% in these training. Significant number of participants were composed of members of agriculture cooperatives, farmers’ organizations and individual enterprises participated in the training. 
“To empower women and youth, we must not only give them a voice. We have a responsibility to provide them with adequate resources so they can make informed decisions and contribute to the development of their communities. They play a huge role in food security and nutrition, and we must allow them to play their part to the fullest extent possible,” said Dr. Krishna Dev Joshi, IRRI Country Representative for Nepal, who also provided technical and managerial support to the trainers.

The sessions were beneficial to the attendees, whose work and livelihoods were impacted by the pandemic and whose upgraded skills will be important in building resilience and preparing for future economic shocks. Ultimately, building capacity in Nepal’s women and youth will help them become major and significant conduits for transforming the rice and agriculture sector and securing the future of younger generations.

Note: The project was implemented amidst the COVID-19 pandemic by strictly following occupational health and safety measures at training venues. Active participation of women and youth from various villages of project districts, master trainers, trainers, nursing staff and IRRI staff who spared their time to implement the project in spite of high COVID-19 health risk was commendable.  Thankfully, no COVID-19 positive cases were reported on the participants side during the training.