Using Water Smart practices, they can take advantage of every drop of rain in dry climates and tap into additional water resources to irrigate key crops when needed. Growing more food means eating better and having more money to spend. Activities include improving the health of soil so it can absorb more water, using farming techniques that save and conserve water, installing small-scale irrigation, and thinking about farms and communities as a part of an entire inter-connected watershed.
Women represent half of the sub-Saharan African workforce and a significant portion of agricultural labor, yet they have very limited access to land, water, and information. By focusing on women’s needs and working with local chiefs, She’s SMART has helped increase women’s access to land and seeds.
In many areas, however, local chiefs gave women degraded land that no one was using to grow food. By using new techniques from the Water Smart Agriculture (WaSA) project, women farmers in Mali restored 91 hectares of degraded land to productivity – the equivalent of 76 soccer fields. That also meant that they could produce crops twice a year instead of just once.
Farmer Field and Business Schools (FFBS) are groups of farmers, taught by trained agriculture extension agents, who learn about improved planting methods, business skills, water and soil management, nutrition, and communication skills. CARE also encourages farmers to use CARE’s Village Savings and Loan model. Connecting women to savings allows them to borrow money for personal or business needs, or for collectively purchasing tools that benefit the entire group of farmers. Collectives also promote shared costs for transportation or marketing.
Within the She’s SMART program, CARE has partnered with local government and local universities to conduct water mapping and soil studies. Water mapping assists farmers, agricultural extension agents, and districts in making good decisions about water use. Soil studies with local universities provided evidence of the benefit of various WaSA techniques – particularly which ones led to better moisture retention and soil fertility.
The program helps families diversify their diets by establishing backyard or homestead gardens. Female farmers learn how to grow and prepare healthy greens and other vegetables for themselves and their families. They learn how to use wastewater and water runoff from boreholes to water their gardens and reduce labor for water collection.
Community trainers and strong extension agents have been a key part of scaling WaSA by partnering with local governments.
Gender dialogues at the community level – with women, men, girls, and boys – challenge attitudes and perceptions of gender roles and encourage women and girls in conversations and decision-making roles. Women have gained new access to land and farmers reported a change in local attitudes toward women and their roles in decision-making. WaSA has encouraged more women to actively participate in community meetings, and more men now recognize that improved conditions for women benefit the entire family.
The She’s SMART program has reached over 36,000 women farmers across the three countries. In Mali, since the adoption of Water Smart Agriculture techniques, women report that they fetch water for their fields just half as often. Meanwhile their annual income increased 18%. In Malawi, women saw incomes increase 27%, and in Ghana, the costs of production decreased 27%. Women using small-scale irrigation to produce dry-season cash crops in Ghana and Malawi doubled their annual incomes.