Women’s Participation in Agriculture
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General Studies 1
- Role of women and women’s organization,
- Population and associated issues, poverty and developmental issues,
General Studies 3
- Agriculture and issues related to it
Women are the backbone of the rural economy, especially in developing countries. They make up almost half of the world’s farmers, and over the last few decades, they have broadened their involvement in agriculture. The number of female-headed households has also increased as more men have migrated to cities. As the primary caregivers to families and communities, women provide food and nutrition; they are the human link between the farm and the table.
India’s agricultural industry, which employs 80 to 100 million women, cannot survive without their labour. From preparing the land, selecting seeds, preparing and sowing to transplanting the seedlings, applying manure/fertilisers/pesticides and then harvesting, winnowing and threshing, women work harder and longer than male farmers. Despite their hard labour in the field, women are not officially counted as farmers, and are either labelled “agricultural labourers” or “cultivators”.
Agriculture can be an important engine of growth and poverty reduction. But the sector is underperforming in many countries in part because women, who are often a crucial resource in agriculture and the rural economy, face constraints that reduce their productivity.
Rural women often manage complex households and pursue multiple livelihood strategies. Their activities typically include producing agricultural crops, tending animals, processing and preparing food, working for wages in agricultural or other rural enterprises, collecting fuel and water, engaging in trade and marketing, caring for family members and maintaining their homes. Many of these activities are not defined as “economically active employment” in national accounts but they are essential to the wellbeing of rural households.
Women and unpaid household responsibilities: Women are generally less able than men to participate in economic opportunities because they face a work burden that men do not. In most societies, women are responsible for most of the household and child-rearing activities as well rearing of small livestock, although norms differ by culture and over time. This additional work burden is unpaid and limits women’s capacity to engage in income-earning activities, which often require a minimum fixed time before being profitable. Furthermore, the nature of tasks, such as caring for children and elderly household members, requires women to stay near the home, thus limiting options to work for a wage.
Gender differences within Agriculture market: Intra-household inequality can also weaken a woman’s position also outside of the home (Kapadia, 1993 and 1995). Women are over-represented in jobs characterized by low wages, high job insecurity and generally poor labour standards. When women have limited decision-making ability within the household or low access to resources and household income, they are more likely to accept lower wages. Kantor (2008) notes that, for most women in northern India, labour market participation is a survival strategy for the household, not a means of improving standards of living or voice in the household.
Lack of ownership of land: As many as 87 per cent of women do not own their land; only 12.7 per cent of them do. There are two primary reasons for the alarmingly low number: One, land being a state subject is not governed by the constitution under a uniform law that applies equally to all citizens but rather is governed by personal religious laws, which tend to discriminate against women when it comes to land inheritance. Second, the cultural aspect of the deep-rooted biases that hinder women’s ownership of land in patriarchal societies cannot be discounted.
Women: Change Agents
As the global community works toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — among them, SDG2, which aims to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030 — women can be the key agents of change in agriculture, nutrition and rural development. With better access to information, training, and technology, women can alter food production and consumption so that land and resources are used sustainably.
- Of the total farmers in the country, about 14 per cent are women. A research by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) conducted in nine states shows that the participation of women is 75 per cent in the production of major crops, 79 per cent in horticulture, 51 per cent in post-harvest work and 95 per cent in animal husbandry and fisheries.
- In order to bring women in the agriculture mainstream, the government has allocated more than 30 per cent of funds for women under various major schemes/programmes and development related activities.
- Under the National Cooperative Union of India (NCUI), 38.78 lakh women have been trained in the last two years. Similarly, 6.07 lakh and 7000 women have benefited through KVKs (Krishi Vigyan Kendra’s) and skill training respectively.
Economic Survey 2018: Gender-specific interventions for higher productivity
“With growing rural to urban migration by men, there is ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector, with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers,” the survey noted. Women play a significant and crucial role in agricultural development and allied fields “is a fact long taken for granted,” the survey observed.
- Women farmers should have enhanced access to resources like land, water, credit, technology and training which warrants critical analysis in the context of India.
- The entitlements of women farmers will be the key to improve agriculture productivity. The differential access of women to resources like land, credit, water, seeds and markets needs to be addressed.
- Focus on women self-help group (SHG) to connect them to micro-credit through capacity building activities and to provide information and ensuring their representation in different decision-making bodies.
The Way Forward
- An ‘inclusive transformative agricultural policy’ should aim at gender-specific interventions to raise productivity of small farm holdings, integrate women as active agents in rural transformation, and engage men and women in extension services with gender expertise.
- An increased work burden with lower compensation is a key factor responsible for their marginalisation. 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.
- 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.
- Providing women with access to secure land is key to incentivising the majority of India’s women farmers. This, coupled with the need to make investments to improve harvests, will result in increased productivity and improve household food security and nutrition. Land-owning women’s offspring thus receive better nourishment and have better health indicators. Land-owning mothers also tend to invest in their children’s education. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation all around — for the farmer, her family and the larger ecosystem. With security of tenure, female farmers should be provided with the three critical driving factors — the incentive, the security, as well as the opportunity — to invest in the land they harvest. Security of land tenure also presents advantages for landlords by removing the fear of losing their land ownership.
15th October: International Day of Rural Women by the United Nations, and National Women’s Farmer’s Day (Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas) in India
Connecting the Dots:
- With the ‘feminisation of agriculture’ picking up pace, the challenges women farmers face can no longer be ignored. Analyse the challenges faced by women farmers in India and suggest some measures to alleviate them.