Insights into Editorial: Helping the invisible hands of agriculture
Since 2017, October 15 is celebrated as Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas in India. UN observed this day as International Day of Rural Women by the United Nations.
In 2016, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare decided to take the lead in celebrating the event, recognising the multidimensional role of women at every stage in agriculture from sowing to planting, drainage, irrigation, fertilizer, plant protection, harvesting, weeding, and storage.
This year, the Ministry has proposed deliberations to discuss the challenges that women farmers face in crop cultivation, animal husbandry, dairying and fisheries.
The aim is to work towards an action plan using better access to credit, skill development and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Women in Agriculture:
- The Agriculture Census (2010-11) shows that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators, 3% were females.
- According to Oxfam India, women are responsible for about 60-80% of food and 90% of dairy production, respectively.
- Similarly, out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural labourers, 6% were females.
- According to Census 2011, there has been a 24% increase in the number of female agricultural labourers between 2001 and 2011.
- As per Census 2011, out of total female main workers, 55% were agricultural labourers and 24% cultivators.
- Participation of both men and women in agriculture has declined, but the rate of decline has been faster among men than it has among women.
- Decline among women has been specifically in relation to their roles as cultivators, however their numbers as agricultural labourers have increased.
Women’s work goes on Unnoticed:
The work by women farmers, in crop cultivation, livestock management or at home, often goes unnoticed.
Rural women are engaged in agricultural activities in three different ways depending on the socio-economic status: They are work as:
Agricultural Labourers or as Cultivator doing labour on their own land or as Managers of certain aspects of agricultural production by way of labour supervision and the participation in post-harvest operations.
Attempts by the government to impart them training in poultry, apiculture and rural handicrafts is trivial given their large numbers.
In order to sustain women’s interest in farming and also their uplift, there must be a vision backed by an appropriate policy and doable action plans.
While the “feminisation of agriculture” is taking place at a fast pace, the government has yet to gear up to address the challenges that women farmers and labourers face.
Issue of land ownership:
The biggest challenge is the powerlessness of women in terms of claiming ownership of the land they have been cultivating.
In Census 2015, almost 86% of women farmers are devoid of this property right in land perhaps on account of the patriarchal set up in our society.
Notably, a lack of ownership of land does not allow women farmers to approach banks for institutional loans as banks usually consider land as collateral.
As of now, women farmers have hardly any representation in society and are nowhere discernible in farmer’s organisations or in occasional protests. They are the invisible workers without which the agricultural economy is hard to grow.
A declining size of land holdings may act as a deterrent due to lower net returns earned and technology adoption.
Solution for land ownership Issues:
Research worldwide shows that women with access to secure land, formal credit and access to market have greater propensity in making investments in improving harvest, increasing productivity, and improving household food security and nutrition.
Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development should be encouraged.
Better access to credit, technology, and provision of entrepreneurship abilities will further boost women’s confidence and help them gain recognition as farmers.
The possibility of collective farming can be encouraged to make women self-reliant. Training and skills imparted to women as has been done by some self-help groups and cooperative-based dairy activities (Saras in Rajasthan and Amul in Gujarat).
These can be explored further through farmer producer organisations. Moreover, government flagship schemes such as the National Food Security Mission, Sub-mission on Seed and Planting Material and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana must include women-centric strategies and dedicated expenditure.
Female Farmers: Labour Intensive Tasks as well as Household Activities:
Female cultivators and labourers generally perform labour-intensive tasks (hoeing, grass cutting, weeding, picking, cotton stick collection, looking after livestock).
In addition to working on the farm, they have household and familial responsibilities.
Despite more work (paid and unpaid) for longer hours when compared to male farmers, women farmers can neither make any claim on output nor ask for a higher wage rate.
An increased work burden with lower compensation is a key factor responsible for their marginalisation.
Gender-Friendly tools and train Women Farmers about Innovative Technologies:
It is important to have gender-friendly tools and machinery for various farm operations. Most farm machinery is difficult for women to operate.
Manufacturers should be incentivised to come up with better solutions. Farm machinery banks and custom hiring centres promoted by many State governments can be roped in to provide subsidised rental services to women farmers.
Women generally have less access to resources and modern inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) to make farming more productive.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation says that equalising access to productive resources for female and male farmers could increase agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 2.5% to 4%.
Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district can be assigned an additional task to educate and train women farmers about innovative technology along with extension services.
As more women are getting into farming, the foremost task for their sustenance is to assign property rights in land.
Once women farmers are listed as primary earners and owners of land assets, acceptance will ensue and their activities will expand to acquiring loans.
Then they can decide the crops to be grown using appropriate technology and machines, and disposing of produce to village traders or in wholesale markets, thus elevating their place as real and visible farmers.
To achieve the full economic benefit from employment, rural women should be provided a greater choice over their occupations so that they are not forced to do the work left behind by men.
It is thus important to have overall women empowerment through education, awareness and doing away with gender biases.