Celebrating women soil champions on World Soil Day

11 January 2024
On the 2023 World Soil Day celebrated on 5 December, two women lead farmers, Sugna Bai and Rekha Devi, were awarded the Mati Mitra Award (Soil Friend) for their efforts in promoting and practicing natural farming practices in crop and vegetable cultivation in Tonk distict of Rajasthan, India.

Sugna Bai and Rekha Devi are among 6,000 women farmers participating in the project enhancing food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Rajasthan, India ran jointly by the Centre for microFinance (CmF) in India and the Louis Dreyfus Foundation (LDF).

Thanks to this project, women are trained in good agricultural practices in crop and livestock production that includes training on natural farming based on agroecology principles. This training helps women to enhance their agricultural production skills, gain additional knowledge about production of organic fertilizers and pesticides to boost their production while preserving and improving quality of soils.

Being a low-cost solution, the inhouse production of organic inputs helps women to reduce their expenses on agricultural inputs resulting in less dependency on external input providers. Soil fertility over time will also significantly improve thanks to increased organic matter content, enhanced microbial activity and reduced nutrient leaching.

Like many women farmers in this region, Sugna and Rekha are convinced that natural farming is critical for sustainability of their agricultural production in a long-term. Being lead farmers in their communities, Sugna and Rekha disseminate knowledge about the benefits of natural farming, train women on natural fertiliser and pesticide production and organize field demonstrations in the fields.

“Around three years ago, I learned the technique of natural farming. During my training, I came to know that the use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides is gradually damaging soil fertility as well as human health. Now, I am using bio compost and natural pest repellent that I make myself in my fields. I have also shared this knowledge with around 50-60 women farmers in my village, who are now also practicing natural farming.”

Sugna Bai, Village Jhundwa, Tonk Rajasthan

In Rajasthan, women are often the main users of natural resources. By engaging women in natural farming activities, Sugna and Rekha also improve women confidence and advocate for greater women participation in agriculture and access to productive assets such as seeds, tools and credit. 

“The CmF & LDF introduced me to the concept of natural farming, which is being practiced by women farmers in a nearby village. I learned that these women cultivate crops and vegetables by preparing bio compost and natural pest repellent at their homes, resulting in decreased farming expenses. Inspired by this, I gradually started using bio compost and natural pest repellent in my fields. It improved the quality of soil in my field and also reduced diseases and pest attacks. Today, I am supporting about 30-40 women farmers from my village on how to practice natural farming. “

                        Rekha Devi, Village Devri, Tonk Rajasthan

With the help of lead women like Sugna and Rekha the project has already trained 5,003 women on natural farming. The farm produce is both consumed by women farmers’ households and sold in the markets, allowing women to improve the food security and nutrition and secure additional income for their families.

Local farming communities have so far seen a 49%-improvement in their income derived from agriculture, compared to baseline values of 2020. Further, adopting natural farming practices has led to cost reduction of 22% in major food crop of wheat. The intensification of food production helped women producers to generate food surplus allowing them to cover their household’s food requirements for additional 3-4 months. This increase in both income and productivity has contributed significantly to improving the livelihoods of households and embarking on a pathway out of poverty.

To recognise women efforts in promoting and practicing natural farming practices in crop and vegetable cultivation, Sugna Bai and Rekha Devi were awarded the Mati Mitra Award (Soil Friend) for their commitments and work. The award has been instituted by GIZ-India (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH) and Government of India-promoted institutions - the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and the National Rural Livelihoods Mission.