Rajesh Aggarwal, Managing Director, Insecticides India writes on the vital role of women in agriculture and allied activities and how this role is being ignored across the planet
It is ironical that when about a third of all cultivators and about 47 percent of agricultural labourers in the country are women, they are not even recognised as farmers, according to United Nations report. Even the Census conducted by the Government excluded them from the formal definition of ‘Worker’.
It is recognised by almost everyone, not just in India but across the world, that women lead to an increase the farm output and the yields. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that if women farmers have similar access to modern productive resources as their male counterparts, they can have 20-30 percent higher yields from their farms.
Even the famous agricultural scientist Dr. MS Swaminathan has stated that women were the ones domesticated crop plants first. It was women who established the art and science of farming. The men went out hunting for food; women gathered seeds from nearby plants and started growing them for various needs like food, fodder and even fuel. Swaminathan also says that women have been very scientific in their approach and have used proper organic recycling on the farm and have been instrumental in maintaining genetic resistance of the crops. Thus, they have played a very important role in the conservation of key life support systems of land and water.
Role and benefits of women in agriculture
The state and health of agriculture in India cannot be imagined without the role and contrition of women. According to the latest Census figures, about 90-100 million women are engaged in agriculture in the country and the agricultural output cannot be maintained without their contribution. About 85 percent of rural women depend on agriculture for their livelihood in India. This is excluding women who are engaged in livestock, fisheries, and other allied activities.
It is high time we recognise them as farmers and also gave them support to carry on their livelihood through agriculture by way of inputs like modern agricultural techniques, better knowhow and seeds, and an overall conducive environment at the grassroots level.
There is usually better crop rotation of those farms where women are primary cultivators. This is because men migrate annually to other parts of the country for a good part of the year and are not present to rotate crops and have 2-3 crops in a year. Women on the other hand usually do not migrate and can rotate the crops more regularly and timely. Thus, the soil’s fertility and other aspects associated with proper crop rotation are better-taken care of when a woman is looking after the farm.
There is another reason for supporting women farmers. They are known to manage the family finances better and also send their children to better schools, sometimes even outside the village. Thus, if women farmers are recognised, supported and nurtured an overall societal benefit would accrue.
Women leading from the front in allied activities
If the role of women in other forms of agriculture like poultry farming, fisheries, and others is taken into account, then their contrition becomes even bigger. Women account for 47 percent participation in tea plantations and cotton cultivation, about 45 percent in the production of oilseeds and 39 percent in vegetable production. There are some success stories of women leading poultry farming and fisheries business in certain pockets of the country. Men have minimal role in these activities in the said pockets.
Lack of recognition
Despite all this, women are not recognised for their contribution in the agricultural field. The gender discrimination is widespread and there is no parity among men, especially in rural India. Women in the agricultural sector are only paid 70 percent of the men’s wages. Then there are several cases of unpaid subsistence labour among the fairer sex. The gender discrimination also shows in the land ownership rights. Women generally do not have a right on property and even in cases of women having a right on the property; they have little control over decisions regarding their land holding.
Another obstacle in the way of women farmers is little or no access to credit. When they do not have property rights or assets in their name, they find it difficult to get loans that they can avail to have better farm equipments or superior farming techniques.
There have been some attempts to provide education, skills, training, and support to women in the past. But the attempts were far and few between and have failed to bear any identifiable results. They must be geared to shift their labour to export-oriented production. This will help them to have better income. Simultaneously, a concrete plan to change the financial and legal systems in the country must be laid down and implemented so as to bring about a change in the condition of women in agriculture in the country. This will also have the effect of increasing the agricultural output of the nation.
(The views expressed in the article are author’s own)