The benefits of improving women’s access to participate in small scale irrigation are clear.
Equity and inclusion in small scale irrigation improves resilience of households, enables climate adaptation, and bolsters nutrition and health. Supporting women’s access to small scale irrigation through gender-sensitive approaches in irrigation value chains can ensure the potential is fully realized.
Women and men have different priorities, challenges, and preferences when it comes to irrigation. Understanding and addressing women and men’s specific needs can help significantly increase the overall number of people adopting and benefitting from small scale irrigation. The introduction of SSI can bring opportunities for both empowerment and exclusion.
Women face specific barriers that keep them from investing in small scale irrigation. Market actors and public development initiatives must reach women through their preferred information sources, provide technologies suitable for multiple purposes, offer suitable financial tools and credit products, and facilitate market linkages that can help women turn a profit from their irrigation investments. Projects must also design interventions to help address the challenges women meet within the household and community.
ILSSI’s gender responsive approach looks at multiple, interconnected issues in irrigation equipment supply chains through to irrigated value chains. Important value chains, such as nutritious crops, livestock and fodder, and cocoa, are being explored. Together, researchers, private sector actors and farmers are together identifying approaches to overcome constraints and make SSI technologies available to women.
Enhancing equity and inclusion in small scale irrigation can improve the resilience of households to adverse climatic, economic, or health challenges
A greater focus on equity and inclusion in small scale irrigation can free up women’s time, for example by allowing them to grow crops near their homestead and reducing their travel time. Irrigation systems also serve as a nearby water source, eliminating the need to walk far to collect water. With more time, women can, for example, grow crops for sale, increasing the family’s economic resilience. Improving women’s access to high-quality agricultural insurance through irrigation providers can also offset their climate risks.
Small scale irrigation interventions designed to enhance women’s empowerment are more likely to contribute to improved nutrition
Women’s empowerment is one of the four main pathways that link small scale irrigation to improved nutrition: when women are able to make decisions about irrigation technology, or irrigated produce, or when women no longer have to spend time collecting water, then irrigation can be a route to women’s empowerment. Research has indicated that women’s empowerment translates into greater spending on nutritious diets.
Gaps in women’s access to credit can be overcome by designing finance products and information tools to be gender sensitive
Business models as well as finance tools and products are often inadvertently gender biased, and private companies might not prioritize women farmers as a potential market segment. But considering the specific needs and circumstances of women, youth, and resource-poor groups can enable private and public actors to expand their markets, while allowing more people to invest in and reap the benefits from small scale irrigation.
Women use irrigation water resources for multiple purposes and therefore including women in local management of water can help ensure that all users and uses are accounted for
Efforts to improve water resource governance are more successful when both women and men actively participate. By enhancing shared understanding of water resources, decisions made about them, and the potential consequences of these decisions, communities are better able to manage them for the benefit of all. While potentially leading to more sustainably and inclusively managed irrigation across the community, this can also result in improved equity in the distribution of irrigation-related benefits.
If private sector actors and entrepreneurs are supported to reduce their risks, they can contribute to building resilient market systems and enable equitable access to small scale irrigation
ILSSI provides competitive awards to small and medium enterprises working in solar irrigation, which enables them to offset the costs and risks associated with exploring new markets, revising financial tools and products, and testing new distribution approaches to reach more women and youth.
Contributing to solutions
Making financial products for small scale irrigation more equitable can boost climate resilience for everyone
ILSSI works with partners to strengthen insurance products based on irrigated production indices. By using integrated models that combine field and crop production cycles, water systems, and economic analysis, crop production indexes underpin insurance products with more reliable pay-outs to farmers during climate extreme events. In addition, integrating irrigation into insurance and finance packages opens innovative paths to credit and risk reduction, for farmers and for equipment suppliers.
Designing finance products and information tools to be gender sensitive can help overcome gaps in women’s access to credit
ILSSI is working with irrigation equipment companies, financial service actors, and irrigated produce off-takers to develop more inclusive approaches to finance, such as asset-based finance, pay-as-you-go, seasonal repayment plans, and more inclusive asset-based finance. Through ILSSI, researchers are collaborating with private-sector solar irrigation equipment suppliers to integrate a wider, more inclusive, gender-sensitive set of credit assessment criteria, benefitting both women farmers and equipment suppliers.
Small scale irrigation can support women’s empowerment and in turn improve households’ nutritional security
Irrigation can be an entry point for women’s empowerment, and women’s empowerment can lead to improved nutritional outcomes for entire households. ILSSI research in Ethiopia indicates that empowerment may in turn lead to more of a household’s resources being allocated to nutritious foods and healthcare. Also in Ethiopia, women who began producing irrigated fodder to support livestock have seen significant improvements in dairy production, leading to enhanced nutrition and family incomes as well as improved climate resilience.
Ensuring that women’s voices are heard helps improve water governance for all
In Ethiopia, as the use of groundwater for irrigation expands, ILSSI researchers have been working with communities, using experiential learning processes, to improve water resource governance. A key priority is ensuring that women’s voices are heard when decisions are made about the use of and access to collectively managed water resources.
- Discussion paper: Women and small-scale irrigation: A review of the factors influencing gendered patterns of participation and benefits
- Project paper: Exploring small scale irrigation-nutrition linkages
- Discussion paper: Are smallholder farmers credit constrained? Evidence on demand and supply constraints of credit in Ethiopia and Tanzania
- Discussion paper: Irrigation and women’s diet in Ethiopia: A longitudinal study
- Journal article: Evaluating the pathways from small-scale irrigation to dietary diversity: Evidence from Ethiopia and Tanzania
- Journal article: What happens after technology adoption? Gendered aspects of small-scale irrigation technologies in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania
- Brief: Value chain actors providing inputs and services to fodder producers in SNNPR and Amhara regions of Ethiopia: Potential avenues to support women’s empowerment
- Video: Pathways to more nutrition-sensitive irrigation