Beer, barley, livestock, and milk: who adopts agricultural innovations in rural Rajasthan?

Learnings emanating from the Green Revolution in India indicate that the ability of development intervention recipients to reap more of the economic and social benefits from new agricultural technologies and innovations is directly related to their resource buffer and socioeconomic standing. While this idea is applicable to high yielding varieties of rice, maize, and wheat, along with the introduction or expansion of irrigation and the increased use of fertilizers and pesticides, other commodities such as barley and livestock innovations and their tandem may suggest a different story.

In India, the increasing demand for beer compared to other alcoholic beverages promotes barley as cash crop for its malt. In Rajasthan, India, barley has come closer to the popularity of wheat due to its adaptability to dryer growing conditions, and its utility as a fodder for livestock. Recent studies have demonstrated interdependence between crop and livestock technologies when introduced as tandem innovations. In this study, experts from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the University of Western Ontrario in partnership with Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI), Rajasthan, India look at how gender, age and social class might influence the ability to adopt and benefit from innovations in barley and livestock cultivation in three rural communities in three villages, one in each district of Rajasthan. Mundru in Sikar District and Etawal Bhopji in Jaipur District are better connected to markets and have long been barley-producing areas. However, Mansegar in Jodhpur District is more isolated, with poorer access to agricultural services, including markets, and is only an emerging barley cultivation area. The focus group discussions were aimed at understanding the differences between men’s and women’s capacities to adopt and benefit from barley and livestock innovations and to understand the role of gender norms at the local level in influencing adoption decisions and outcomes.

Despite sharing of responsibilities and tasks in the farm, there is common understanding among all informant genders and ages that women`s role is “helping men”. Men by default take leadership roles and possess the most technological and financial competencies in the household and are the earliest adopters of innovations. This order is due to the existing male-biased gender norms. Women were never considered as ‘farmers’ and were assigned domestic responsibilities as their validated socially appropriate role. Men on the other hand were assigned higher levels of entitlement and better access to credit, information and training about farming practices, and agricultural extension services.

Regardless of understanding the value of building competencies and knowledge, women typically accessed information about new agricultural innovations indirectly through their spouces, other men in the community, and/or other women, who are usually the wives of male early adopters of agricultural innovations. Only when women are part of local leadership, as in Etawal Bhopji, will they have direct access to new information discussed in meetings where higher women participation is also encouraged. Compared to men who have adequate leverage to access credit via formal lenders, women were more likely to depend on non-formal creditors, consequently increasing their risk of falling victims to unscrupulous or exploitative lending practices. The main reason for this disparity in access to credit is marginalization in independent land ownership among women. Land, which women rarely own, is often used as collateral by formal credit-granting institutions, thereby becoming a major limiting factor to access formal loans, that is detrimental and affects households with female heads more (caused by male outmigration or widowhood) that account for 5-10% of the households in these three districts. In terms of preferences for innovations, informants across gender and age groups presented a harmonized perception of the innovation types that are appropriate for specific gender. Crop production innovations such as farm machinery, pesticides, and irrigation were seen as most useful for men, while non-cropping innovations such as dairy processing, livestock, and feed preparation were seen as most useful to women.

Policy recommendations that seek to address learnings from these relatively general aspects of information, credit, and innovations scenario in these three villages include, (1) challenging the existing norm to change the recognition of women in farming households from helpers to farmers. Raising public awareness on women as farmers and their contributions towards the economy and the society can be a viable starting point for institutions to leverage this transition, (2) enhancing women`s firsthand access to farming information by adding more female agricultural extension workers, and holding meeting venues in public places to allow for more women participation which can enable them to adopt innovations more actively, and (3) increasing women`s access to safer loan platforms by reforming male-based inheritance and/or waiving collateral requirement, especially among women can improve their access to financing.

An emphasis on barley and livestock innovations that have been recently deployed, their usefulness and adoption patterns were also assessed. Due to the productivity levels of barley amidst dry growing conditions and opportunities for higher returns, while most men evaluated the new varieties positively, men from poorer backgrounds showed particular interest. Women on the other hand, identified new breeds of livestock with higher milk yields as most useful since they tend to have more control over sales from milk than barley, and selling from their homes allows them to conform to social norms.

Viewing the barley varieties and livestock breeds deployed as tandem innovations, adoption pattern reveals that both livestock and barley innovations were often adopted first by wealthier farmers, but eventually also by less well-off farmers. This adoption pattern is due to the observed strong demonstration effect of the successes enjoyed by wealthier farmers in adopting the new varieties of barley and new breeds of goats, cows, or buffaloes in rural Rajasthan upon other farmers irrespective of gender, class, and age. Further, with barley as a food and fodder crop, once the barley grain used for malting beer has been sold off, the barley stalks are used as livestock feed which effects positively on the local food security and women’s income.

Findings from this study in three villages in Rajasthan contradict the widely held assumption that innovation in agriculture and farming practices always exacerbates existing gender and class inequalities. They reveal that the nature of the innovation and its interaction with the social, cultural, and geographic context in which it is introduced, determines whether and how its benefits accrue to different groups of people. Further, as the barley example demonstrates, food security and cash cropping do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Social norms strongly influence how people make decisions and act, making them vitally important for understanding how and whether innovations are adopted and who they benefit. Gender was shown to affect the reasons and preferences for adoption of innovations in several contexts in rural India. To improve the ability of different groups of farmers to adopt agricultural innovations and to benefit from them, scientists should pay more nuanced attention to gender, class, age of farmers.

This policy recommendation contributes to the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) 1: No poverty, SDG 2: Zero hunger, SDG 3: Good health and well-being, SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth, SDG 13: Climate action, and SDG 17: Partnership for the goals. In CGIAR terminology, this policy is at maturity level 1 i.e., has been taken up by next user(s) which may be a decision maker or an intermediary thereof.

Authors: Dina Najjar (Gender Scientist, International Center for Agricultural Research In the Dry Areas) and Jake Carampatana (CRP-GLDC MEL Research Assistant)

Further reading:

Acknowledgment: This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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