Challenges and opportunities for women farmers in India - Hindustan Times
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Challenges and opportunities for women farmers in India

ByHindustan Times
Dec 05, 2023 12:49 PM IST

This article is authored by Rituraj Sharma, founder, Zetta Farms.

India, a nation deeply rooted in its agricultural heritage, stands firm on the pillars of its rural population. According to the Union Budget 2023-24, with nearly 70% of households depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the fields become the epicentre of India's economic life. What's even more remarkable is the silent, yet powerful, force behind the nation's bountiful harvests - the women of rural India.

Women farmers in their field at Kilba village in Kinnaur district. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Women farmers in their field at Kilba village in Kinnaur district. (HT Photo)

An article issued by Niti Aayog highlighted that a staggering 80% of women in these regions are deeply entwined in the rhythms of agricultural life, reinforcing their indispensable role in India's agricultural narrative.

Women farmers in India perform an array of roles that often go unnoticed. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that they represent 33% of the agricultural labour force and account for 48% of self-employed farmers. As more men seek opportunities in urban areas, women are shouldering the responsibilities of the agricultural sector. Their contributions span various activities, including cultivation, entrepreneurship, and labour-intensive tasks. These remarkable women are responsible for producing 60-80% of the country's food, and they are also involved in allied sectors like livestock rearing, horticulture, and post-harvest operations. They handle critical manual tasks such as cattle management, fodder collection, and winnowing. Additionally, they act as community managers, facilitating the dissemination of vital information at the grassroots level. However, the relentless juggle between farm work, household chores, and childcare becomes an overwhelming reality for many.

Leadership and innovation are the linchpins of this transformation. Women's leadership in agriculture can tackle gender inequality head-on, endorsing sustainable agricultural practices that elevate productivity and income. Simultaneously, financial and technological innovation can be the bridge over the hurdles they face, such as limited access to credit and markets.

Education, too, plays a critical role in this narrative. It's the gateway to enhancing women's productivity and economic status in agriculture. Yet, countless women in rural areas remain deprived of quality education due to societal, cultural, and economic barriers. Bridging this educational gap becomes paramount, with agricultural training, financial acumen, and entrepreneurial skills offering newfound empowerment.

Deep-rooted cultural and legal norms in many countries favour male inheritance and ownership, leaving women landless. The consequences are profound, hampering their productivity, income, and decision-making power. In India, where women own a mere 12% of agricultural land, this is a stark and sobering fact. Land ownership transcends borders; it's a challenge faced by women in agriculture-dependent countries worldwide. The fundamental requirement to address these inequalities is ensuring women's access to land and fertile soil.

Access to finance and technology often eludes women in agriculture, casting a long shadow over their farming endeavours. In my view, this limitation curtails their ability to invest in farms and adopt sustainable practices. Here, tailored financial services and the promotion of appropriate technologies can emerge as game-changers, amplifying productivity, reducing the workload, and enhancing resilience to climate change.

For women in agriculture, navigating the market terrain is often an uphill battle. Limited mobility, lack of information, and gender-based discrimination act as roadblocks. Yet, the access to markets and market information is a lighthouse guiding them towards economic growth. The prospect of enhancing income and reducing dependence on subsistence farming becomes more attainable with these avenues open.

Regrettably, women in agriculture are not shielded from the looming spectre of gender-based violence. Instances of sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation are alarmingly common in rural settings. Addressing this insidious issue is essential for safeguarding women's human rights, ensuring their well-being, and enabling their full participation in agricultural development.

While the challenges remain stark, the opportunities stand as guiding lights towards a brighter future. Legal reforms that grant women equal rights to land and property have already begun to change ownership patterns in some regions, promising enhanced economic status. Customised financial products and services tailored to women farmers' needs are a step in the right direction.

The Constitution grants men and women equal rights. Women usually inherit land, influenced by regional customs. Legal changes, like the 2005 amendment allowing daughters equal rights, and the 2006 Forest Rights Act's joint titling provision, promote gender equality in land rights. A 1985 policy encouraged joint titles for spouses in asset transfers. The 2013 Land Acquisition Act defines "affected families" to include not just landowners but also those dependent on the land. This inclusive approach benefits landless women engaged in farming and livestock rearing, giving them entitlement to rehabilitation.

The need for empowering women in agriculture is not just a matter of social justice; it's an economic imperative. Empowerment entails granting women access to crucial resources such as land, water, and seeds. Education and training are vital components, enhancing productivity, income, and decision- making abilities. Empowering women in agriculture aligns with the broader goal of achieving gender equity, promoting social justice, and bolstering sustainable development.

In my opinion, the integration of Artificial Intelligence and digital tools in agriculture offers opportunities to reduce women's drudgery and improve productivity. Technology has made tasks like drone operation more accessible for women. Public-private partnerships are needed to provide gender-neutral technology and address social aspects for greater women's involvement.

India's 2011 census identified 3.60 crore women farmers and 6.15 crore women agricultural labourers. Initiatives like the 'Innovation and Agri-Entrepreneurship Development' program have supported 173 women-led start-ups.

The challenges and opportunities for women farmers in India are two sides of the same coin, bound together in the narrative of progress. Empowering these silent protagonists is not just a choice; it's a necessity for sustainable development. In the sprawling fields and vibrant villages of India, the future of agriculture lies in the hands of its women.

In these fields, women are nurturing growth and cultivating change, one furrow at a time. They are the architects of a prosperous future, the guardians of sustainable agriculture, and the champions of food security. Furrow ploughed and every seed sown, and it's a story that will shape the future of India's agricultural landscape.

This article is authored by Rituraj Sharma, founder, Zetta Farms.

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