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Low-tech projects are overturning prejudices and leaving disabled people free to farm, says Sue Coe.

Two recent SciDev.Net stories covered important current food provision issues: farming methods for smallholders and the need for more agricultural research funding in the post-2015 global development goals.

Agriculture is a vital sector for many living in poverty across the developing world, but it is one where disabled people face some of the greatest prejudice and exclusion.

Non-disabled people can assume that disabled people are incapable of doing agricultural work. People with impairments are often assumed to be physically or mentally unable to undertake farming activities. Those with physical and visual impairments are perceived as being unable to move around farmland. Those with hearing and learning impairments are often believed to be incapable of learning agricultural techniques because of communication challenges. Others may not want to associate with disabled people because of false beliefs about disability being "contagious" or bringing curses.

This denies tremendous opportunities for disabled people to be self-sufficient, productive members of society.

“Agriculture is a vital sector for many living in poverty across the developing world, but it is one where disabled people face some of the greatest prejudice and exclusion.”

Sue Coe, World Vision

Yet clearly they do have this capacity. The New Agriculturalist, an online magazine, has recently published an excellent special edition on disability and agriculture, focusing on successful case studies of disability inclusion from Africa and Asia. [1] Examples given include hearing-impaired women contributing to women's groups' vegetable gardens in Bangladesh, and visually impaired people managing subsistence smallholdings close to their homes in Niger.

The most important inclusion activities in several of the reported case studies involved introducing low-tech adaptations that enabled people from different impairment groups to manage smallholdings. In Niger, CBM International, a charity, developed a modified bucket for a blind participant. The woman could fill this with well water, and it would then automatically tip into a basin, which would then pour into a channel and be distributed throughout a garden. In a project in Kenya, adapting agricultural tools so they are lighter and increasing the spacing between crops meant that wheelchair users could work in urban gardens.

Another activity that helped spur inclusion across all the studies was addressing negative local attitudes. For example in a Bangladesh project, disabled women initially suffered from 'name calling'. But after their neighbours were given disability awareness training organised by a consortium of local groups and NGOs, the disabled women found they were better socially accepted — with many being addressed by their name for the first time in the community. Women with disabilities were even elected as local group leaders, further confirming their increased social acceptance.

The SciDev.Net news stories highlight important agricultural challenges for the scientific community to address. I urge all those involved in tackling them to ensure disabled people are included in responses to those challenges.

Sue Coe has worked in international development for 25 years across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Now a development and disability inclusion consultant, she previously worked for World Vision, Practical Action (formerly ITDG), VSO and Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID). Coe can be contacted at [email protected].


[1] New Agriculturalist Focus on… Agriculture and disability (New Agriculturalist, 2013) 

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