Feminization of agriculture: women in agriculture must be supported by legal and social infrastructure

Editor’s note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for July 2022 is Gender and environment. We invite submissions on the many layers of this theme throughout the month. If you would like to contribute, please refer to our submission guidelines and email your articles to [email protected]


Women in agriculture live at the intersection of social, economic and legal deprivation. This makes them more vulnerable to the devastating effects of climate change. It also makes it one of the most resilient and proactive responders to environmental crises, albeit by necessity. Several stories from all over India have demonstrated how women can be positive change agents, lead and provoke interventions and adaptations to climate change.

India’s economy is mainly dependent on agriculture and its responsibilities fall entirely on Indian women, with 71 percent economically active women employed in the agricultural sector. Due to the agrarian crisis, more men are migrating to urban areas and abandoning agricultural jobs. This means that Indian farmland is increasingly being ceded to women. The Economic survey 2017-18 calls it the “feminizationof the agricultural sector.

In addition to their greater numbers, women farmers play a crucial role because of their ability to share information quickly. It is easier to mobilize women collectively, and existing socio-professional support networks like Self-Help Groups (SHGs) or community-based women’s organizations like State Missions for Rural Livelihoods (RLMs) can be used to involve more women and develop knowledge related to agriculture. more accessible.

Access to information is particularly useful for the agricultural extension system. To research found that participation in an SHG increases women’s access to information and participation in agricultural decisions, but this does not entirely translate into a huge impact on agricultural practices or overall outcomes.

This can be attributed to financial constraints, social norms, women’s domestic responsibilities, as well as their lack of influence in decision-making. Self-help groups can help women be informed, but what does it mean if it can’t be translated into results?

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Without land, women have no autonomy. Without title, women farmers do not have access to credit, subsidies, government programs for seeds, irrigation or fertilizers. They can’t get loans and don’t invest to improve their returns. Due to the small size of farms, these women farmers are also unable to produce at scale and exploit the benefits of economies of scale. Landlessness has other grueling consequences as well, including the second-class citizenship of women in India.

Women in agriculture: land ownership, politics, gender lens

Different interventions have been introduced by governmental and non-governmental agencies to reach farmers at the local level. An oft-recited example is the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, which experienced a prolonged drought from 2012 to 2016, leading to crop failure, groundwater depletion and food insecurity.

The Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) has developed a multi-pronged agricultural approach calledModel of climate resilient agriculture led by women(WCRF) that repositioned women as farmers and knowledge holders, empowering them to make informed decisions about what crops to grow, what to consume and how much to sell. This approach has encouraged women to practice sustainable agriculture and helped them secure food and income for their households. The success of this approach has manifested itself in the form of a 25 percent increase in crop yield, resulting in good annual savings per household.

One of the other agriculture-based programs supported by the government is the Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) which benefits farmers by filling the gaps in the use of technology. One of his Goals is ,”Addressing gender concerns by gathering and grouping women farmers into groups and providing them with advanced training.” The program has had many successes that have been compiled.

These stories are about social and economic empowerment. But the challenges faced by women farmers are generally multiply. One-off interventions may have limited effect until they are institutionalized. One of the most important aspects is to ensure women’s effective participation in decision-making in political and legal institutions, which is severely restricted due to women’s lack of land rights.

More than three-quarters of Indian women lead their lives as farmers, which is a much higher percentage than that of men, making farming a predominantly female occupation. Ironically, less than 13 percent of land owned by women in India. Even for those who own land, almost 90% of farms owned by women fall into the category of small marginal farms, according to the agricultural census 2015-16. Despite the passage of Hindu Succession Law in 2005 which allows girls to inherit land, its implementation remains dull.

Read also : Seed saving by women farmers: spearheading sustainability and financial independence

Appropriation and empowerment being intangible effects, it is difficult to quantify them exactly. But they have an interrelationship. Without the help of one, the existence of the other does not have much meaning. Gender-blind interventions miss specific opportunities and constraints because gender is integrated into almost every aspect. If interventions fail to note and address this link between gender in systems, crucial opportunities to transform agricultural systems and increase productivity may be missed.

Without land, women have no autonomy. Without title, women farmers cannot access credit, subsidies or government programs for seeds, irrigation or fertilizers. They can’t get loans and don’t invest to improve their returns. Due to the small size of farms, these women farmers are also unable to produce at scale and exploit the benefits of economies of scale. Landlessness also has other draining consequences, including the second-class citizenship of women in India.

It also prevents women from sitting on the table. For example, policy changes in the context of irrigation deconcentration practices increasingly introduced quotas for women members of the executive committee of the Water user associations. But attempts at participatory irrigation management policies like in Gujarat can only target “land owners» to be members of water user associations. Due to the lack of land rights, women may have only nominal participation in these committees.

Ownership and empowerment being intangible effects, it is difficult to quantify them exactly. But they have an interrelationship. Without the help of one, the existence of the other does not have much meaning. Gender-blind interventions miss specific opportunities and constraints because gender is integrated into almost every aspect. If interventions fail to note and address this gender nexus in systems, crucial opportunities to transform agricultural systems and increase productivity are likely to be missed.

For that, initiatives that ensure access to grants and financial instruments without requiring land ownership, and enabling an environment sensitive to women’s limited time and ability to take on work responsibilities due to other household responsibilities, are needed. It is also necessary to operate more establishments such as agricultural centers or Swa Bhoomi centers (by Work group for women and the earth property) in Odisha, headed by women.

Along with these, gender responsive budgeting that is, budgets that are responsive to gender-neutral outcomes and specifically focused on women-centered programming, which were capped at 5% in 2020-21, need to be increased.

All of this is important not only to create a better space for women, but also to change the landscape of agriculture in the face of climate change. Because of their numbers, experience, responsibilities and strength, women can be the first to lead sustainable adaptation on Indian farmlands. They must be supported by the legal and social infrastructure to claim this power and contribute to crucial decision-making processes.

Read also : Peasant Protests: The Past and Present of Peasant Movements in India


Featured image source: A land

About Keneth T. Graves

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