Women have achieved a lot in every sphere of life. They are bread winners to many families, they have entered male bastions and done tough tasks. There is nothing really impossible for them. To explain this in specific circles, let’s get down to the most important occupation of our country, namely agriculture. The role of women in agriculture seems more than obvious. Lets trace the feminization of agriculture in the following areas.
Women and their contribution to agriculture
The prominence of women in agriculture grew only after India gained independence. Before that, they did not play a very significant role when it came to on site farming and fields. Though we cannot trace back to the exact date though, roughly around 1970’s the prominence of women in agriculture grew.
Women ventured out of their comfort zones in their kitchen and gave a helping hand to their husband and male counterparts in every possible way. That included selecting seeds, tilling, growing, caring for them is their feminine way. They gained knowledge about farming mostly from the male members of the family. This became part of a traditional knowledge gained and shared by the women folk of that era.
Down the history lane
The years following the 1990’s saw huge surge and reforms in the economic sphere of the country. Financial markets began making serious business. Job opportunities at cities went on the rise. This soon had an effect not just on the urban middle class population, but the rural folk were drawn towards it too.
So many male folk from their rural farming occupations chose to abandon their agricultural practices and fled to big cities in search of suitable jobs. This was quite the trend between 1991 to 2001 and major economic shifts happened in the country’s progress due to this. If we were to look at facts and figures, the male workforce that participated in rural agricultural jobs reduced from 183 to 171 million in just a matter of a decade.
This further pushed the women of the house to get a full time role into farming. The male bastion that left behind agriculture seeking better options in cities gave way to higher women participation in rural agriculture. This also resulted in the increased interest of women as labourers in their agricultural fields. Thus the specific prominence of women grew in the agricultural industry.
Role play of women in agriculture
Women employed in agriculture, either by their own self-interest or for the family’s welfare or to look after their own fields employ every role possible to indulge in farming. Women play a role right from selecting good quality seeds for sowing, tilling the lands, ensuring proper utilization and distribution of manure and essential nutrition to crops, etc.
Not just these basic techniques, farming also involves women to put together a lot of manual woe for storing and streamlining water channels and ensuring adequate water supply for crop growth.
If there are timely rains, then these women have a reason to rejoice. Else, making sure their crops don’t dry up like the water less channels become another headache for them. After the initial preparation, setting and seeing the crops grow, the later phases of the crop cycle emerge.
Women not just indulge themselves in what is called as women-centric tasks of farming, but see to it that they take on what was once an only male centric task of farm labourer. The migration of men from rural occupation to city-bound jobs created space and opportunities for women to push themselves into farming for their livelihood. Thus to a great extent, farming and feminization of agriculture to a large extent depended on the male out migration from the same industry.
Feminization of allied agricultural groups
Feminization of agriculture can bring to us a very throw-shot picture of a women working in her fields with her crops. But as time emerged, women became more proactive in other fields too such as livestock and poultry rearing, bee keeping, cattle farming etc. What was once a much sought after family business reared and taken care of by only male members of the family saw inroads by women too.
Women too learnt the tricks of the trade and started testing their skills in parallel lines of agriculture. Whenever farming subsisted or saw a drought situation, cattle and poultry rearing had to be adopted as alternate means to run their livelihood. Though unfamiliar with this state of business, women saw gain in knowledge through male family members and shared it amongst other women too.
Soon, many groups of women began working on and off fields, running their own poultry farms and looking after primary agricultural fields as well to support and earn their family’s income. They in turn came out of their shell and learnt the art of marketing their produce as well. Both farming and poultry products were seen on their list of marketable assets and they learnt to stock up their bags with these financial income generators.
If we look at women participation in agriculture and its allied sectors, the ratio has risen relatively high over the past few years. But this need has come as a method for forceful income generation and by the women folk raising the bar to become breadwinners if their families. So, most of the knowledge that they have gained comes from word-of-mouth by the male members of the society.
What was previously practised by male domination continues in the hands of the feminized agricultural society. So, in totality there has been no increase in specific agricultural productivity figures. These numbers continue to either decline or remain the same over the years. Infact, due to decline in practices we can even see an increased cost factor where women become responsible parties for the same.
Not long ago, the Modi government announced many lucrative schemes like Kisan Call Centre and other benefits that will directly help the farmers increase their general productivity. There are two faces to this general scheme of progress. First thing is to make these schemes work for the farmers and second thing is to inform farmers about existence of such schemes.
In the lateral case, propaganda of available help is done with the help of med but when it comes to women, they might not be accessible to it. Women folk balancing their duties on the field and taking care of their household may not have an ear for this. Secondly, schemes bearing benefits may not be directly available to women, as compared to men due to rural society restraints.
If we were to describe the broader picture here, women have no specific skills in farming and there is nobody out there to educate them to learn farming technique from a very primitive and subsistence farming era, India has moved to inculcate scientific practices at every step of technological growth.
This holds good for agriculture and farmers as well. But in the bottom line, men generally have more awareness in this regard. When women have ventured into a agricultural domain, they have specifically learnt what was being practiced by their yesteryear family members.
However, what they lack is upgradation scientific use of machinery, modern ways of ploughing and tilling lands, better seed selection at source using different techniques knowledge of hybrid varieties and benefits, higher cost and marketing factors, scientific methods of crop processing and storage process, etc. There are some of the highlights that showcase what drawbacks are present in the case of feminization of agriculture is concerned.
Let us now move to the urban areas where there are agricultural colleges and institutes offering women a better place and platform to contribute towards a modern and educated society. Here too, the participation of women in top-notch decision making facilities is very low. In agricultural bodies, women who are skilled and can reform and define farming at an all-new scientific push is very very less. Women participation is thus very low, be it in rural agricultural fields or in cities where higher decision making panels are concerned.
Threat to food security
Farming as on today has lost the ability to be a source of subsistence for majority of farmers in India today. This holds good for both male and female farmers in the country. Technological invasion and very low rural pay have also decreased women’s participation and opportunities in agricultural productivity.
Of late, social subsidies on education and health have been reformed and society may not be completely averse to it. All these are creating a situation, where people involved mainly in agriculture are opting out and migrating from their core occupation. So, we see a dangerous trend that is affecting food security in our country.
Factors not contributing to feminization of agriculture there are various issues concerned when it comes to feminization of agriculture. First of all, in majority cases, women are not the owners of the land where they work. This is the bigger demotivating factor and they lose credibility for their work due to this.
Many financial institutions fall to administer loans to female farmers, asking them for strong collateral bases or male supervision. Women lack access to resources and inputs that will give them the edge to increase their yield in agriculture. Technology may have improved but heavy weight machines may not be operation friendly for female unless they are taught and skilled at it.
Very poor educational background is another distress factor affecting their growth. Women in rural areas lack consideration and the roles they play on and off the field hardly get recognized either by their families or by the society in general.
We can see a good 30% allocation solely for women development schemes and programs by the government at various hotspots, which is a welcome move. Creation of women self help groups and implementing them in the right direction will create more awareness and bring in help at the doorstep.
Feminization of agriculture should not be viewed as a mere replacement of by women farmers. It is a good a career opportunity for women. Good skills in marketing of their produce and inculcating scientific habits will reap good benefits in their investment. A clear understanding and analysis of this transformation will pave way for total food security and nutrition for the country.