When it comes to Pakistan’s potato value chains, women’s participation is critical. Women make up around two thirds of the agricultural labour force in Pakistan.
However, the role of women in potato value chains is even more valuable compared to other sectors. This is especially the case for potato seed preparation and planting. Women also provide support with all kinds of harvest and post-harvest practices. Yet, while their roles are labour-intensive and time-consuming, they earn little or no income from potato production. Gender norms and traditional roles often prevent them from earning a living.
However, a potato value chains project is helping to change this. With help from CABI, women are breaking social norms and upskilling. They’re redefining gender stereotypes by involving themselves in every stage of the potato value chain.
Building technical knowledge and skills in potato value chains
Through dedicated training, a CABI-led project is changing women’s role in potato value chains. The project has successfully addressed the issue of women’s limited access to agricultural inputs. These are things like fertilizers, pesticides and seeds. The project is called Capacity building of small-scale potato growers in Punjab, Pakistan. And it’s funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). The initiative focuses on improved inputs and also advisory services.
The project has brought together a team of partners, including:
Together, the project has trained over 1,000 farmers and labourers. This includes almost 200 women. The initiative has improved potato production practices through training sessions. The knowledge is delivered by master trainers through farmer field days and demonstration plots. The project has also produced and shared advisory extension manuals.
Enhancing women’s capacity to improve potato production can have significant positive outcomes. With new knowledge, women farmers have the confidence to carry out more skilled tasks. Their work includes a wide range of skills:
• seed preparation
• seed sorting and grading
• seed planting
• earthing-up of tubers
• dehaulming (or vine killing)
• sorting and grading of harvested potatoes
The women feel empowered to make decisions. They supervise field activities and have better access to inputs and financial resources. The access gives them better market opportunities. As a result, they can increase their earnings and in turn, this boosts household incomes.
Here are the stories of three female farmers who have benefited from the project. They come from villages in Punjab’s Okara and Pakpattan districts.
Sabiha’s journey to empowerment
Ms Sabiha Khanum is from village 9/1-R in Okara district. She broke societal norms and gender stereotypes by becoming a leader in the agricultural sector. She’s been in the potato business for more than 10 years. However, during this time, she’s needed more information about pest monitoring. Her crops suffered significant losses from pests and diseases.
The training is helping to deliver this knowledge. In an interview, she talked about what it was like before participating in the training sessions. “I didn’t know how to identify pests and diseases associated with the potato crop,” she said. She expressed how cultural and social challenges have limited her access to inputs like pesticides. She also needed access to extension services.
Ms Khanum explained how CABI’s female master trainers guided women in pest and disease monitoring. They also supported them with the implementation of integrated pest management (IPM) techniques. IPM helps to reduce the spread of harmful plant diseases.
She also learned about the benefits of using improved seed varieties. She learned about adopting advanced potato production practices for both seed and ware crops. Ware potatoes are grown for consumption rather than as seeds. She talked about how the CABI team connected her with input providers and wholesalers. These connections have helped her to obtain high-quality fertilizers, pesticides, seeds and other inputs.
“With the support of the project, my potato crop outperformed the crops of my fellow male farmers. And I also received a better price in the market,” she said.
Bashiran’s path to success
Ms Bashiran Bibi is from Village 63-GD in Pakpattan district. She’s overcome many challenges on her path to empowerment. She was determined to change her circumstances and improve her economic prospects. So, she sought opportunities to enhance her skills and grow her own seed potato crops. She explained how she and her family were unaware of the knowledge needed to produce seed potatoes. However, the CABI project delivered training on improved seed production practices. The training focused particularly on plant spacing of 17cm to obtain the desired-sized seed potatoes.
She described how the women also received training in IPM. Pest scouting helped them to control damaging potato pests and diseases. She explained how the lack of access to input suppliers was a barrier that they faced. They needed input suppliers to obtain affordable and good-quality seeds. “The project team made tremendous efforts to connect us with input suppliers,” she said. The team helped the women acquire good-quality, improved inputs.
The change was noticeable. Ms Bibi described how, last year, the women produced their own seed crops. They obtained a greater quantity of optimal-size seed tubers compared to when they used traditional practices. “We stored these tubers for future use. [This] will enable us to cultivate a more profitable potato crop,” she said. She expressed her thanks for providing her with the opportunity to produce seed potatoes.
Allah’s journey to self-confidence
Ms Allah Mafi lives in village 9/1-R in Okara district. She’s been taking care of her farm for many years. She used to be limited to doing the menial tasks on the farm. However, she nurtured a deep passion for agriculture and recognized her potential.
Ms Mafi took part in CABI’s capacity-building project for potato growers. Here, she learned about good potato production practices. She’s now training women in her district with the skills she acquired from the CABI master trainers. She said, “Before working with CABI’s master trainers, I had little confidence in my knowledge and skills.” She explained how, after taking part in the training sessions, she learned about proper seed sorting and grading. She discovered crop management and harvest and post-harvest practices.
She’s now directing and supervising female labourers to ensure they carry out their tasks effectively. She feels more confident in her ability to choose improved seed varieties. And she understands how to use the right pesticides to protect her potato crops.
Main image: A master trainer guides women on how to identify weeds (Credit: CABI).
Dr Umair Safdar – Project Manager
Yasar Saleem Khan
Maila al Saba Shah
Hafiz Mahmood ur Rehman
Learn more about how the project is increasing the productivity and sustainability of the potato smallholder sector in Punjab, with particular attention given to supporting the role of women and good agricultural practices though the project page here.
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