Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgyal
Women all over the world are the invisible partners in agriculture and deserved to be called ‘Daughters of Soil’. They are almost involved in all the agricultural activities ranging from ploughing, broadcasting, sowing, transplanting, threshing, cleaning and winnowing, storage and other miscellaneous farm operations. They are also an integral part of livestock and many other allied activities in rural areas. Women are of vital importance to rural economies. Rearing poultry and small livestock and growing food crops, they are responsible for some 60% to 80% of food production in developing countries. Mainly rural women are engaged in agricultural activities in three different ways depending on the socio-economic status of their family and regional factors. They work as paid labourers, cultivator doing labour on their own land, managers of certain aspects of agricultural production by way of labour supervision and the participation in post harvest operations. There contribution to this sector is immense and has been time and again recognized by various national and international bodies.
Globally, there is empirical evidence that women have a decisive role in ensuring food security and preserving local agro-biodiversity. Rural women are responsible for the integrated management and use of diverse natural resources to meet the daily household needs. In many farming communities, women are the main custodians of knowledge on crop varieties. In some regions of sub-Saharan Africa, women may cultivate as many as 120 different plants alongside the cash crops that are managed by men. In developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12 to 13 hours per week more than men; yet, women’s contributions are often ‘invisible’ and unpaid. In the country, the Economic Survey 2017-18 said that with growing rural to urban migration by men, there is ‘feminization’ of agriculture sector, with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers. But now with the devastation caused by The COVID-19 and the rural areas witnessing reverse migration, there is an apprehension that already marginalized farm women will be marginalized further.
Women are an inalienable part of the farm sector, but they are only being taken for granted with all the major decisions being taken by the males. This has only made the things worse. Compared to men, women and girls are still more severely affected by poverty, hunger and disease. When food is scarce, female family members often get the smallest portions. On the labour market, women are literally paid starvation wages. Mothers also suffer most from lack of medical care and balanced diets. The responsibility for the survival of their children commonly demands additional sacrifices from them. In Africa and large parts of Asia, women in rural areas bear the main responsibility for taking care of children and elderly. They also constitute the majority of the agricultural labour force in small-scale and subsistence farming. Since official statistics do not capture unpaid work, be it in the garden, in the field or in the household, they insufficiently represent women’s actual share in agricultural work. Women in Africa and Asia who live in rural areas are often doubly affected by discrimination. Today the world suffers from many chronic problems like poverty, hunger, malnutrition and many others. Had the women be empowered, it would have made a lot of difference. In low-income countries, 46 million children suffer from stunting. If all women completed primary education, 1.7 million fewer children would be in this situation. If all women had access to a secondary education, 11.9 million children would be saved from stunting, equivalent to a decrease of 26%. The reduced agricultural productivity of women due to gender-based inequalities in access to and control of productive and financial resources costs Malawi USD 100 million, Tanzania USD 105 million and Uganda USD 67 million every year. Closing the gender gap could lift as many as 238,000 people out of poverty in Malawi, 119,000 people in Uganda, and 80,000 people in Tanzania each year. Rural women carry a great part of the burden of providing water and fuel. In rural areas of Malawi, for example, women spend more than eight-fold the amount of time fetching wood and water per week than men. Collectively, women from Sub-Saharan Africa spend about 40 billion hours a year collecting water. In the 97 countries assessed by the FAO, female farmers only received 5% of all agricultural extension services. Worldwide, only 15% of those providing these services are women. Just 10% of total aid provided for agriculture, forestry and fishing goes to women. On average, women comprise 43% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to 50% in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. If they had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30%. Due to legal and cultural constraints in land inheritance, ownership and use, less than 20% of land-holders are women. In North Africa and West Asia, women represent fewer than 5% of all agricultural landowners; while across Sub-Saharan Africa, they make up 15%.
Considering the dominant role of the women in agriculture and allied sectors, the basic rights of women, especially in rural areas in Asia and Africa has to be respected to be an effective means of fighting hunger and poverty in a sustainable way. If women have the opportunity to self-organize and take part in decision-making, often the whole community will benefit. This requires that women farmers should have enhanced access to resources like land, water, credit, technology and training which warrants critical analysis in the context of India.
In addition, 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. With women predominant at all levels-production, pre-harvest, post-harvest processing, packaging, marketing of the agricultural value chain, to increase productivity in agriculture, it is imperative to adopt gender specific interventions. It also requires an inclusive agricultural policy that should aim at gender-specific intervention, skill development and trainings, development of drudgery reduction tools, educating them with modern agricultural techniques, their mobilization through various groups and by involving them in decision making process.