October 15 is observed, respectively, as International Day of Rural Women by the United Nations, and National Women’s Farmer’s Day (Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas) in India.
The Agriculture Census (2010-11) shows that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators, 30.3% were females. Similarly, out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural labourers, 42.6% were females.
Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh noted that “the participation of women is 75% in the production of major crops, 79% in horticulture, 51% in post-harvest work and 95% in animal husbandry and fisheries.” Recent statistics from his Ministry, however, show that these women are paid 22% less than their male counterparts.
Issue of land ownership – In terms of ownership of operational holdings, the latest Agriculture Census (2015-16) is startling. Out of a total 146 million operational holdings, the percentage share of female operational holders is 13.87% (20.25 million), a nearly one percentage increase over five years.
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.
The lack of a land title prevents women farmers from having access to credit, resources, extension services, decision making, employment and benefits that are commensurate to their labour.
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.
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, deciding 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.
- Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development should be encouraged.
- Land holdings have doubled over the years with the result that the average size of farms has shrunk. Therefore, a majority of farmers fall under the small and marginal category, having less than 2 ha of land — a category that, undisputedly, includes women farmers. A declining size of land holdings may act as a deterrent due to lower net returns earned and technology adoption. The possibility of collective farming can be encouraged to make women self-reliant.
- 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.
- Gender-friendly machinery – 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.
- 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.