Photo courtesy of Swayam Shiksan Prayog.
The U.N. Development Program (UNDP) recently announced the winners of the 2017 Equator Prize, recognizing 15 local and indigenous communities across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The 15 winners were selected from a pool of 806 nominations across 120 countries for protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing nature to achieve local sustainable development. Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) in Maharashtra, India, won for its unique, women-led, and climate-resilient agroecological farming model.
“SSP is thrilled to receive the UNDP Equator Prize 2017, [which] has brought global recognition to our grassroots women-led initiative. This prize will [allow] us to advocate strongly with Government authorities to influence policy and programs, to highlight the role of women as farmers, and also to replicate this model in other geographies,” says Prema Gopalan, Executive Director of SSP.
Operating at the nexus of gender, nutrition, and sustainable agriculture, SSP trained and supported 20,000 women to engage as farmers, entrepreneurs, and leaders during 2016 alone. In the drought-affected Marathwada region in India, farmers have been growing mostly soya and cotton crops, which require high quantities of water and chemical inputs, causing long-term harm to farmers’ land, health, and the environment. Through SSP’s Agriculture and Nutrition initiative, women are trained in modern, low-input sustainable farming techniques—including efficient water use, use of bio fertilizers and pesticides, preservation and exchange of local seeds, and crop diversification—to improve food security, increase climate resilience, enhance agro-biodiversity, and reduce stress on water resources. As part of this bio-farming model, SSP encourages women farmers to move towards self-sufficiency by cultivating traditional, locally available, and nutrient-dense crops.
Through SSP’s learning platform sessions, local women can connect with experts and other agricultural organizations to gain and spread their knowledge in a broader network. To create a long-term and sustainable impact, SSP trains progressive women farmers to become community advocates, catalyzing collaborations between local women and government research institutions, farmer field schools, and agriculture universities. Through these projects, women develop the capacity to influence household decisionmaking, improve nutrition, and increase water availability in the drought-prone Maharashtra region.
“SSP has learned that when women are provided with adequate resources and opportunities, they make decisions related to development which not only benefits their families, but the entire community,” says Gopalan.
Research and impact studies in SSP’s programmatic areas show that when women are supported as decisionmakers and innovators, there are multiple spin-offs: women farmers go beyond their farms and embrace the larger goal of community leadership while protecting natural resources such as water, trees, and biodiversity.
Sudha Devi, a representative from a grassroots women’s group in Bihar, highlights the importance of the program in her community,“If we won’t do [it] now, then who will? Many people compliment our determination and efforts in building a relationship with local government.”
SSP teams have trained more than 72,000 women in their new roles as farmers, entrepreneurs, and community leaders in sustainable agriculture, as well as other key sectors such as clean energy, health and nutrition, and safe water and sanitation. Reaching more than 100 villages in Maharashtra and Gujarat, the initiative is being scaled up with the support of the Government of Maharashtra to include up to 600 villages. Through this large-scale initiative, SSP aims to enhance women’s status in agriculture as well as in their families and communities.
Each of the Equator Prize winners receives US$10,000 and the opportunity for a community representative to join a week-long summit in New York during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly in September. SSP will join a network of 223 communities from 72 countries which have received the Equator Prize since its inception in 2002.