Over the years, there is a gradual realization of the key role of women in agricultural development and their vital contribution in the field of agriculture, food security, horticulture, processing, nutrition, sericulture, fisheries, and other allied sectors.
▪ Agriculture in India is significantly dependent on women. Women make up about 33% of cultivators and about 47% of agricultural laborers in rural India. Overall, the percentage of rural women who depend on agriculture for their livelihood is as high as 84%.
▪ Women have played and continue to play a key role in the conservation of basic life support systems such as land, water, flora and fauna. They have protected the health of the soil through organic recycling and promoted crop security through the maintenance of varietal diversity and genetic resistance.
▪ The rate of women in poultry farming at household level is the central in poultry industry. Women farmers in India perform most of the big farming jobs, from sowing to harvesting, yet their access to resources is less than their male counterparts. Closing this gender gap is essential in order to accelerate the pace of growth in the agriculture sector.
▪ Maintaining the ancillary branches in this sector, like animal husbandry, fisheries and vegetable cultivation, depends almost solely on women.
Constraints for women role in agriculture: Systemic barriers to finance, inputs, extension services and land rights have limited their potential and recognition as the mainstay of agrarian ecosystem.
▪ Gender wage gap, males are usually the targeted beneficiaries of government’s largesse etc ▪Getting loans, participating in mandi panchayats, assessing and deciding the crop patterns, liaising with the district officials, bank managers and political representatives and bargaining for MSPs (minimum support prices), loans and subsidies still remain as male activities.
▪ Women mostly tend to cluster in lower-paying jobs.
Encouraging women in agriculture leads to nutritional security : With enough financial support and choice in crop selection, women farmers preferred crops that would contribute to household dietary diversity while promoting food and nutrition security.
▪ Male farmers, on the other hand, were found to be more inclined to use the farmland for cash crops. They also preferred mono-cropping instead of cultivating a diverse set of crops.
▪ Women farmers can ensure their children also get enough nutrition if they cultivate the crops.
Empowering them in agriculture alone does not help in tackling malnutrition: Empowered agricultural women is alone not a panacea to the malnutrition problem as malnutrition involves multiple factors where women are subjected to secondary position due to patriarchy, behavioral factors as well.
▪ National Family Health Survey 2015-16 state that 26.7% of rural women are underweight and 54.2% anemic. Land ownership and financial constraints can make women still dependent on men for monetary resources.
What more needs to be done :▪ Skill and knowledge transfer in sustainable agriculture techniques, crop varieties and farm management is necessary. These efforts need to be strengthened by engaging with existing village level collectives of women for social mobilization, accessing formal financial services and collective market action.
▪ Agricultural extension efforts should help women improve food production while allowing them to shift more of their labor to export production.
▪ Changes in legal, financial, and educational systems must be undertaken in order to enhance women’s social and economic contributions to rural development in the long term.
▪ Women need direct access to information on improved agricultural practices and links to markets. In today’s digital world, it is also important to think critically about the information and communication tools which can help women farmers who may not enjoy much physical mobility to reach out to markets.