Women’s networks building home grown resilience in the Solomon Islands
March 8, 2023
“Before I was struggling to pay for my grandchildren’s school fees. Since I joined GWIBDI, through the agriculture and financial literacy trainings and distribution of tools and seedlings, I had the opportunity to improve my crop yields under different climatic conditions which I now sell at home and at the Gizo market. The support has enabled me to be economically stable now that I can now pay for my grand children’s school fees,” Marelyn Levusu.
Rural women, and in particular women with disabilities, face multiple barriers and risks to their livelihoods and towards ensuring food security for themselves and their families.
Some of these barriers and risks are created by social norms – women are often not invited to agricultural training as backyard gardening for food security is not considered ‘farming’. Even when included, women may not be able to attend due to family care responsibilities or may not be able to participate fully as they are not comfortable speaking and asking questions. Women with disabilities face barriers to accessing transport and market spaces.
To overcome these barriers, networks such as the Gizo Women in Business Development Incorporated Trust (GWIBDI), play an important role in supporting businesswomen. Located in the Western Province of Solomon Islands, the GWIBDI, established in 2013 empowers women to take on active leadership roles through entrepreneurship, build business knowledge and skills, provide opportunities and access to markets. Through GWIBDI, many women have achieved their aspirations, are now financially literate and secure and can better manage risks to their own food security and livelihoods. The network offers training in practical agricultural skills, financial literacy, mentoring and learning opportunities and acts as an aggregator by buying products from their membership to value add and connect to markets. It also supports its members to understand the importance of saving and setting goals for themselves to ensure that as they start to earn income, they can better plan for the future.
With GWIBDI support, Marian Talasasa has developed a backyard organic farm. She explained, “As a widow, I find it difficult and ashamed to borrow tools to farm. But my growing knowledge of organic farming, and the tools I received to support my efforts, has enabled me to provide food and income for me and my family,” said Marian.
GWIBDIna has trained more than 1,000 women on organic farming and resilient agro-forestry systems and assisted in securing access to markets for their products. Oscar Rayner, a 27-year-old young woman was trained by GWIBDI in organic farming and today has her own backyard farm which provides food and income for her family. Oscar’s parents noticed that the training has contributed to Oscar’s confidence to be self-reliant and independent. Through the support, she has created economic opportunities for herself, such as securing an agreement with a nearby secondary school to purchase her agriculture produce.
Oscar’s achievements have shifted perceptions, attitudes, and norms around disability in Gizo. “So often, rural communities view persons with disabilities as unable to be self-reliant but Rayner has shown that it is possible to work and economically sustain herself by generating her own income,” shared Teiba Mamu, from UNDP Small Grants Programme (SGP).
The training and distribution of farming tools has given Oscar and other women in and around Gizo not only the confidence to be self-reliant but also the knowledge on how to mitigate the impact of climate change on their agriculture products using organic methods.
Esther Suti, Project Coordinator for GWIBDI highlighted that backyard gardening is important for women, including those with disabilities, as it supports women to be independent, and grow their own nutritional food close to home. “A lot of families today rely heavily on processed and tinned food from the shops which are unhealthy,” says Esther. “We train women farmers on organic farming by using locally available materials and also provide tools to support them to start their own farms”.
One of the concepts introduced during the training undertaken as part of the Enhancing food production through agroforestry project, is seed banks. Esther reiterated the importance of establishing seed banks of high-quality seeds that women can access following a disaster.
“Following a disaster, food availability and diversity is reduced significantly, we must store seeds in preparation for disasters which is important for producing food. People tend to forget the importance of having quality seeds that can support ongoing production and recovery of food sources post disaster,” said Esther.
To support members further, GWIBDI produce and sell organic fertilizers made from coconut husks and seedlings for farmers wanting to invest in their own farm. They are also expanding market opportunities for GWIBDI members and non-members by moving into value adding and processing of local products such as soaps, peanut butter, and coconut oils which are gaining popularity among consumers in Gizo. All the raw products are supplied from their women farmers networks, creating ongoing market opportunities for members.
Strengthening networks such as GWIBDI is critical to adopting a contextualised approach to the challenges that women face, especially in times of increased climate change and disaster impacts on communities in the Pacific. This holistic approach enables women and their families to better manage risk to their incomes and to contribute to improving household food and nutritional security.
Climate change will disproportionately affect women and persons with disabilities, and this is exacerbated by existing social and cultural norms which we have the power to influence. Networks such as GWIBDI are strong advocates for challenging social norms of what women can do.
Esther added “Agricultural projects tend to have a narrow focus on food production systems, but we know from experience that supporting women to achieve their agriculture, food security and economic goals requires much more than agricultural training. Far too often, women are labelled as marginalised, so building the confidence of women to see themselves as agents of change is a core part of our approach. Connecting them with other women on the same journey is also critical so they can identify mentors and role models”.
The UNDP Gov4Res Small Grants Initiative (SGI) channels finance to organisations, such as GWIBDI, who understand how best to support their members, the risks they face and ensure that solutions to risk-informing development are locally led and driven. The GWIBDI Enhancing food production through agroforestry project is one of 11 community development projects being supported through the SGI in Solomon Islands. The UNDP Gov4Res project is implemented with funding support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) and the United Kingdom’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). The Initiative provides technical support and grants of up to US$30,000 to Pacific based Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs).