How women like Sulochana are playing a greater role in sustainable farming

The value of women is infinite. Women bear the brunt of problems—ranging from poverty to climate change—but they also possess the capabilities, knowledge and talents to solve these problems. That is why gender and social inclusion is embedded across Australia’s development programs.

Through the Australian Government-funded Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio (SDIP), the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is working with partners to increase gender equity and empower women across the Eastern Gangetic Plains (EGP) of India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

ACIAR SDIP aims to maximise agriculture’s contribution to sustainable food systems in the EGP in gender-inclusive and collaborative ways. At the local level, this means promoting sustainable agricultural practices as the key pathway to resilient and inclusive farming systems with a particular focus on benefits for women and girls.

The program supports women such as Sulochana Devi, who is a farmer with her husband Dilip Biswas in rural Bihar, North India, where farming is the major source of income for families. Over the past few years, Sulochana has emerged as a champion of conservation agriculture in her community, leading a women’s farmers group of 20–25 female farmers.

WATCH: ACIAR SDIP – Sulochana’s story

Since 2014, researchers from Bihar Agricultural University have been working with ACIAR and farmers like Sulochana, and have introduced these practices to more than 100,000 farmers across India, Bangladesh and Nepal—a third of whom are women.

“First we used to throw in the seeds, then it used to be transplanted to different areas. That used to take some time. There is much labour spent, there is a lot of cost with it,” says Sulochana, who is leading the work on the family farm in consultation with her husband, who has been suffering from chronic foot issues impacting his ability to work.

Working with local partners, the researchers introduced new conservation agriculture and sustainable intensification practices to farmers such as mechanical rice transplanting, direct-seeded rice, and zero-till sowing of rabi crops (crops grown in winter). Access to reliable water is essential for these farming processes, so ACIAR SDIP has been examining the availability, sustainability and cost of groundwater for irrigation in the EGP.

This season, Sulochana used all of their land to apply the sustainable intensification practice. She explains that by adopting conservation agriculture practices, “we can save water, time and labour, and the environment is preserved. We get the benefit because labour is less and yield has increased.”

Women, water and climate change are inextricably linked. While implementing sustainable agricultural practices, SDIP also explores the transformational changes that are needed to ensure sustainable and resilient food systems in the face of growing populations and climate change in the EGP.

Women like Sulochana are highlighting the value of women as leaders and the value of water in Australia’s development programs, which are helping to build resilient communities and deliver more sustainable and effective outcomes. This is because societies that include women in all aspects of economic, political and cultural life are more likely to be vibrant, inclusive, productive and stable, for everyone.

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