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ISU planning, sustainable agriculture student wins travel award to study female farmers’ access to water in Kyrgyzstan

August 11, 2015


Rebecca Nixon

AMES, Iowa —  Rebecca Nixon, a second-year graduate student working toward double degrees in community and regional planning and sustainable agriculture at Iowa State University, received a $4,000 Graduate Student Travel Award for International Study in Sustainable Livelihoods to study what barriers may prevent female farmers in Kyrgyzstan from participating in Water Users Associations and how their participation affects irrigation practices.

The scholarship provides resources for students in the social sciences to pursue graduate-level multidisciplinary research with an international theme of importance to the improvement of individual, family or community livelihoods in a developing country. The award is made possible through an endowment established by Lorna Michael Butler, the first holder of the Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State, and Robert O. Butler.

An interest in women's roles in agriculture, coupled with the increasing responsibility of women on farms in Kyrgysztan as men move to urban centers for employment and concurrent stresses on the water supply in central Asia, drew Nixon to pursue this research for her master's thesis.

"In Kyrgyzstan, Water Users Associations (WUAs) are groups given responsibility for the management and distribution of irrigation water. Participation in these associations allows farmers to gain information about irrigation timing, receive training and communicate grievances regarding infrastructure and water supply," Nixon said.

"Access to WUA meetings can be difficult for female farmers despite their role as caretakers of household water supplies and their major contribution to agricultural labor. Women lack social and physical mobility in Kyrgyzstan, and a lack of land ownership by female farmers can hinder their access to WUAs as those without land can be denied active participation," she said.

Nixon, of Lafayette, Indiana, will spend January through July 2016 in Kyrgyzstan collecting data on women's water use and roles in WUAs. Her research will be done while completing an internship with the Rural Development Fund (RDF), a nongovernmental organization that conducts research, develops policy recommendations and coordinates activities throughout rural Kyrgyzstan.

Nixon will gather data on irrigation practices and women's experiences in WUAs through interviews with local farmers, WUA leaders and NGO workers.

"Conducting research in partnership with a local NGO will promote an increased awareness of barriers and create an opportunity for RDF to explore potential policies that support women's access to irrigation water and best management practices. This could increase female farmers' ability to support their families and further empower women as active participants in their communities," Nixon said.

Nixon expects to receive her Master of Community and Regional Planning and Master of Science in Sustainable Agriculture degrees in May 2017.

Rebecca Nixon, Community & Regional Planning / Sustainable Agriculture, (317) 370-1449,
Heather Sauer, Design Communications, (515) 294-9289,