Choki Wangmo

With an increasing number of men from rural areas leaving farmlands to seek better income opportunities in towns, feminisation of agriculture is occurring rapidly in Bhutan.

According to National Commission for Women and Children’s (NCWC) gender and climate change report, almost 60 percent of employed women were active in agriculture, as compared to more than 34 percent of the employed men in 2017.

To discuss such emerging issues in the country, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) conducted a webinar on May 7 focusing on sustainable agriculture and women.

The programme director at NCWC, Ugyen Tshomo, said that only 68 percent of women farmers were aware of climate-smart and resilient agriculture initiatives. “A higher proportion of males (83 percent) than females (73 percent) have access to information on climate-smart and resilient agriculture initiatives, training, and inputs to enhance climate-smart agriculture.”

NCWC’s findings indicate that while women have access to land and other resources, they have less control over land than males. Comparatively, 63 percent or male have land ownership compared to 32 percent of female.

The agriculture secretary, Rinzin Dorji, said that there was increased feminisation of the agriculture sector in the country, who are involved in drudgery due to lack of farm technology.

He said that although the agriculture sector plays an import role in the economy of the country, it is faced with many challenges like water scarcity, land use change, land fragmentation, human-wildlife conflict and climate-related hazards. “Amidst these challenges, women have to manage farmlands due to increased out-migration of men.”

According to the secretary, mechanisation could be the way forward, but women farmers have limited access to training, farming tools and technologies, and financial security. “The ministry is focused on sustainable farming, land development, technology and making these technologies more gender-friendly while mitigating the impacts of climate change.”

Farm mechanisation as of 2019 is 17.34 percent and farm technologies include mini-tillers and seeders.

The mechanisation process, the secretary said, was uneven and slow in the country, with the need for further research. “The rugged terrains also impede the mechanisation of the sector.”

More than 60 percent of Bhutan’s population lives in rural areas, and a majority is engaged in low productive crop- and livestock-production, and forest use.

Agriculture engineer with Agriculture Machinery Centre, Pema Wangmo, said that with the introduction of new technologies, women have been saved from drudgery but challenges still remain. “There is a need for vigorous research and development to improve the mechanisation process,” she said.

Farm Machinery Corporation Limited (FMCL) has machine hiring services across the country but accessibility still remains unknown without research and studies.

An evaluation and monitoring officer with FMCL, Choki Wangmo, said that farmers were reluctant to accept new technologies and the steep terrain made the mechanisation process difficult. “There is a shortage of specific machines required by farmers and machine operators.”

Till date, more than 48,000 households across the country have availed FMCL’s hiring services.

Out of six calls for action, the online audience focused on the need to adapt, source or invest in research and development of customised machines followed by investing in building capacities of women farmers in operating the machines.