Uneven access to irrigation technologies influencing social relations: Master’s thesis

It has been an exciting experience conducting research as part of the project DSI4MTF and writing my master thesis on ‘Gendered groundwater technology adoption in Bangladesh’ at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, Sweden. I am grateful to the project partners BRRI and CSIRO for funding the local costs of my fieldwork during the research. Here, I share the experiences of my journey in quest of knowledge.

The fieldwork started with a relishing cold breeze in the morning in early March when I visited one of the DSI4MTF project sites, Dhandogaon village in Thakurgaon. The breeze went away and the scorching sun revealed itself, I found a significant number of the farmers are busy with harvesting the potato with a big smile on their faces. I could simply guess that the harvest was good for them this year. Through a discussion with my key informants and roaming around the village along with some other farmers, I have learned the characteristics of the irrigation system in the village and the different operation processes. After collecting the necessary data from Dhandogaon village, I moved to Ramnather Para village in the Rangpur District. The same process of data collection was conducted in this village as well.

Figure 1: Women and Men are harvesting potatoes in Dhandogaon village

My main objective of this research was to find out how the farmers experience different kinds of irrigation technologies, e.g. Deep Tube Well (DTW), Diesel-run Shallow Tube Well (D-STW) and Electric Shallow Tube Well (E-STW). It also focuses on the social relations in adopting different technologies.

I interviewed stakeholders from different social backgrounds including women/men, machine owners/renters, tenant farmers/landowners, Hindu/Muslim, etc. The intention was to include diverse types of people in the dataset. Along with individual interviews I also conducted Focus Group Discussions (FGD), and Community Wealth Rankings. Various methods of data collection enriched my data and helped me analyse it well.

Figure 2: The researcher, Sadiq Zafrullah, is conducting a focus group discussion with the farmers, Source: Author

According to the farmers, there are disparities in water extraction capacity, rental costs and time needed for irrigation among different machines. There is no fixed structure followed in deciding the rental costs. There are different types of contract between the machine owner and renter. However, for similar kind of machines the contracts are more or less similar in both the study sites. Such variation influences farmers’ experiences of these technologies and shapes the meanings assigned to the machines.

I asked a farmer if his female family members were involved in irrigation tasks, he replied no. But when I followed up asking when I met his wife doing the irrigation, he told me that she was just overseeing the work due to his absence. When asking the same question to another farmer, he also replied, “No, they do not come for irrigation. They are women”. Similar types of perspectives could also be found out in conversation with the farmers which clearly showed low recognition of women irrigators.

Figure 3: A woman in Dhandogaon village irrigating her land with STW, Source: Author

Differential access to the technologies affects the social relations among the farmers. The benefits and decision-making power are higher for machine owners than water renters. A farmer who rents water from an E-STW said, “It would be good if I had my own machine. Then I could get the water whenever I wanted. I do not need to wait for my serial”. In several cases, adoption and/or control of irrigation machines contributes to uneven benefits among the farmers that, in turn, strengthens social hierarchy. With E-STW, there is a machine operator who is in-charge of irrigating the lands of the renters. He maintains the queue and irrigates the lands in rotation. A farmer complained, “…those who get water from E-STW, they have to wait for the serial. By the time I would get the water, my land gets dry”. I also found that different social identities intersect each-other and creates discrimination and divergence of experience. As a result, interpretation of the technologies varies among different social groups.

To ensure the sustainability of the irrigation system, it is important to evaluate if the advanced technology would be sustainable to the agricultural system. It is because several farmers in both the study sites opined that the action of powerful machines has impact on the capability of other machines. Secondly, the latest technologies implemented should have a management system with regular monitoring and more participation from community members. Besides, the cultural norms have implication over women’s access to a machine according to different modes of operation. Thus, the design of a technology should consider the social aspects like the institutions that create barriers for people with certain social identities. If the technology can offer the convenience of operation and improve the accessibility within the social norms such as increased women’s access to technology, then the outcome of a technology might be the maximum. Lastly, the agricultural extension services (AES) need to be strengthened and address the issues of social inequality.

Figure 4: A few women and children in the village after a participatory resource mapping

The whole journey of writing this master thesis, starting from writing research proposal to the submission of the final version of the thesis, has been full of learning and gaining experiences. I would like to thank my supervisor Stephanie Leder for the continuous support. The advice and suggestions from DSI4MTF partners have been crucial in developing the thesis. Specially, I would like to thank Mohammed Mainuddin of CSIRO, Md Maniruzzaman and Mahbubul Alam from the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) for their contribution to my research work.

The master thesis can be downloaded here: https://stud.epsilon.slu.se/14576/1/zafrullah_s_190613.pdf

-Sadiq Zafrullah
MSc, Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
BSS, Economics, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh

Agricultural innovations for water security in North West Bangladesh from institutional, gender, food and livelihood security perspectives

Sanjiv de Silva and Stephanie Leder

The research conducted in Bangladesh that constitutes this report, is part of a project that seeks to test technological adaptation to seasonal water stress and more recent stresses induced by climatic change in the States of West Bengal and Bihar in India, and Saptari District in Nepal. Bangladesh is seen as a potential source of learning in view of ongoing experiences of technology adoption in Bangladesh to adapt to these challenges. This report therefore highlights existing technological and institutional innovations in improving water security for food production in North and Northwest Bangladesh, and their production and socio-economic impacts from the perspectives of different stakeholders, especially differently capacitated farmer groups and women. Data was collected through a literature review and qualitative interviews from five villages distributed in Rangpur, Thakurgaon and Rajshahi districts between May 2015 and March 2016.


Agricultural innovations for water security in North West Bangladesh from institutional, gender, food and livelihood security perspectives (PDF 2MB)

New Documentary: Participatory Gender Training- Experiences from Nepal


The recently published gender training manual, titled “Participatory gender training for community groups gender training for community groups“, now has an accompanying documentary about its usage in western Nepal. The short film follows community mobilizers as they facilitate the manual’s activities and discussions for groups of farmers. The community mobilizers generate critical discussions on gender norms, roles and relations, and the documentary provides commentary on how researchers and field staff can implement this training in their own work. The training concept was developed by Stephanie Leder (Postdoctoral Fellow – Gender and Poverty, IWMI) and Dipika Das (previously Gender Coordinator, IWMI/ACIAR) under the DSI4MTF project and the BRACED-Anukulan project (DFID).

A gender-sensitive approach to dry season irrigation: Piloting a participatory gender training for farmers in Saptari

by Stephanie Leder, WLE-IWMI, and Dipika Das, IWMI

In all project sides in the Eastern Gangetic Plains, we observed gendered divisions of labor in agriculture, as well as gendered norms in the villages on speaking up and mobility, which hinder women to take up tasks. Within this context, how can the groups work effectively as groups, being aware of those gendered restrictions?

Our aim was to develop a participatory gender training for our farmer groups in which farmers are sensitized to discuss these “gender issues”. Based on prior field work, we noted the need to raise awareness on gender roles and gendered behavior and how this influences the adoption of DSI4MTF interventions and trainings. Further we saw a need to increase farmer group interaction and empathy through discussions on collective support and increasing the willingness to mitigate the gendered division of labor within the groups. Lastly, we aimed at promoting bargaining skills which equip farmers to confidently negotiate with their group members and others in cases/management of conflicts.

The objectives of the gender training for farmers are:

  1. To uncover myths on women and men roles relevant in agriculture and the DSI4MTF project interventions by discussion and introducing the concepts of biological “sex” and socio-cultural “gender” through visual input, as this helps to interlink knowledge
  2. To enable farmers to understand the relativity of and changing gender division in reproductive and productive labor as well as community roles (triple work load); reflecting on women’s tasks with a life cycle approach
  3. To discuss gender factors which influence whether women or men become successful farmers
  4. To promote bargaining skills by encouraging role plays between male and female farmers
  5. To spontaneously integrate any issues which farmers might bring up in the training schedule

Based on these objectives, we developed, piloted, modified and implemented a gender training twice in Khoksar Parbaha and Koiladi, Saptari, in the Eastern Terai of Nepal. The training was tested with both male only (1 group), female only (2 groups) and male and female (1 group).

The training consisted of 3 activities and 2 discussions:

  • Activity 1: Boy or Girl? – Understanding gendered constructions of community
  • Activity 2: Gender Position Bar – discussing the gendered division of labor
  • Discussion 1: Sex and gender
  • Discussion 2: Visioning male and female successful farmers
  • Activity 3: Role play – bargaining as the other gender

The following pictures illustrate our experiences during the gender training.


Briefing the support facilitators on the training structure


“Girls care for their parents when they are old, work hard and are birth of Laxmi (the Goddess of wealth), that means they will bring wealth” Activity 1: Boy or girl? – Understanding our own and our community’s constructions of gender, and that gender roles are already changing in agriculture in the last years and decades


Group work discussing boy or girl preferences – and noting that the reasons are actually rather similar


Gender Position Bar – discussing the gendered division of labor


Facilitating discussions in Koiladi


Whose task is it to dig, to irrigate, to transplant, to harvest, to take care of the elderly, to cook, to buy seeds….? Every farmer chose one picture, described it and placed it along the gender position bar, giving a reason for their choice.


The longer chain of activities indicates activities to be performed by both in future


A participatory approach means that every farmer is encouraged to express her or his views – we ensured this with the help of pictures. That way it was at one point every farmer’s turn


A female farmer group in Khoksar curiously looking at the pictures from the field



Farmers instantly developed their own story and characters for role plays: Impressions from the bargaining role play – female farmers playing male farmers in Khoksar Parbaha….


…and male farmers playing female farmers


Our male farmer group was very strong


Female farmer group in Koiladi after the training

2nd round of field work for gender research

CIMG6505 CIMG6620
CIMG6622 CIMG6601

In Madhubani, Bihar, Anoj and Stephanie from IWMI and one Sakhi staff met seven farmer groups established by Sakhi in the villages of Loha Piper and Bhagwatipur. The farmers discussed the value of a functioning group and collective farming for women and tenants’ empowerment, while the group dynamics and the style of communication in the groups was observed.

In West Bengal, Joy and Mithali from CDHI and Prasun and Stephanie from IWMI visited the villages Dholaguri and Uttar Chakaoketi to interview farmer group members. In-depth interviews were conducted with group members to understand their particular constraints in accessing water for productive farming – with a close look at gender, age, caste and other power relations.