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Women Farmers-Pillers of Food Security
5/22/2020 11:37:56 PM

Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Pawan Sharma

Women farmers work hard to grow and process the food. In order to reduce the rural poverty and achieve the food and nutritional security, there is dire need to promote the gender equality and empower the rural women. The women farmers play the key role in achieving the sufficient food grain production. If women are empowered with the same opportunity as men have, then food security can significantly improve. It is a complex problem but with the comprehensive approach, it can be achieved. In agricultural sector diverse opportunities can be created to empower them. They have less access of land and machinery. They are heavily involved in the domestic activities which are hidden economically. Empowering women is key to food security. Empowering women by strengthening a range of assets is critical for enhancing their welfare and improving the status of future generations. There is need to enhance the land rights of women. India is predominantly an agrarian economy. Women are the backbone for the rural development and they are considered as the vital part of the Indian economy. Women farmers contribute enormously to the Indian agriculture and allied sectors such as livestock production, post-harvest operations, horticulture, fishery, forestry, sericulture etc. This has been proved by various studies. Women comprise the largest percentage of the workforce in the agricultural sector but they do not have control over all the land and productive resources.
Women constitute the 43 per cent of the world’s agricultural labour force which increases to about 70-80 per cent in some countries like India. Women are the major producers of food in India. Around 70 per cent of the agricultural work is performed by the women. Women farmers contribute enormously to the Indian agriculture and allied sectors such as livestock production, post-harvest operations, horticulture, fishery, forestry, sericulture etc. Agricultural extension is one such effort taken by the government and non-government organisations that aims at reaching to farmers. The efforts include bringing about a positive change in knowledge, attitude and skills of the farmers by providing training and technical advice and also assisting them in taking decisions in adoption of new research results. Importantly, the clientele of such programmes and efforts is inclusive of both farmers and farm women. Managers of these programmes often consider men as farmers and women as farmer’s wife thereby systematically marginalizing and underestimating women’s productive role in agriculture. The agricultural extension service in India mainly focuses on male farmers and it has failed to tackle the great structural problem of invisibility of female farmers. Women farmers are bypassed by male extension workers. It would be correct to state that women farmers in India have failed to get their due share in extension services apropos their contribution to the Indian agriculture. Extension services in India need to be refined, modified and redesigned so as to reach farm women effectively. The purpose of agricultural extension services can be achieved for sustainable rural development only if sincere attempts are made to provide and improve farm women’s access to the available extension services thereby leading to their technological empowerment.
It has been observed from the last three decades that both the male and female labour force in agriculture is declining .The number of men in agriculture has decreased from 81 per cent to 63 per cent and women from 88 per cent to 79 per cent. The extension machinery in India can be classified in four heads namely(a)Extension services offered by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research(ICAR),(b)Extension services provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare(c)Extension services provided by the Ministry of Rural Development and(d) Extension services offered by Non-Government Organisations(NGOs).Out of four extension systems, training and visit is the major extension system operating in India under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare for more than 30 years. Although this programme is in operation for so long, it still lacks necessary inbuilt structural arrangements for reaching female farmers. Contact farmers involved in this very programme are mostly male farmers and the numbering of female farmers is very low. It was reported that the extension needs of women were often perceived by the extension agents to be in the disciplines of home science, nutrition, childcare, tailoring etc. The information regarding to new farm technologies was seldom passed on to them. Various rural development programmes were launched in India from community approach in 1950s’ to special target group approach in 1970s’.None of these programmes addressed to the specific needs of women farmers and remain concentrated on male farmers. In 1980s’ integrated approach was started that attempt to integrate women in the mainstream of development by structurally making them beneficiaries up to an extent of 40 per cent. A number of services supportive for women’s socio-economic empowerment were implemented. These approaches were not directed towards fulfillment needs for agriculture-related services and concentrated mainly on the issue of employment and social empowerment. In 1993-94, a project aimed at gender-gap reduction among women farmers of the Northern India was launched by the government of India. The limited coverage of this project shortens its impact. Such programmes need to be appreciated for being the pioneering one in this regard. ICAR is another important system for transfer of farm technologies all over the country. This system has operated through various frontline extension programmes, all of which now have been merged with the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) since April 1996.In KVKs, provision for special training programmes for women are made. These programmes restricted mainly in the areas like home economics and ignored women’s productive role in agricultural operations. The efforts made so far in this direction appear to be localized and remain largely invisible. Involvement of women in agricultural development process by ICAR has been further strengthened when the concept of Farming Systems approach to research/extension was institutionalized by several ways including assessment and refinement of agricultural technologies through institutionalizing village linkage programme. Still these efforts are very limited to make a substantial dent on the overall agricultural scenario. From the very beginning Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) have involved women component in their mandate. They too have given more emphasis on issues related to social empowerment of women. They also have given little attention on women’s role in agriculture. Therefore, all the major extension systems in India, the participation and benefits accrued to women farmers are minuscule.
There is a need to delineate and discuss the reasons attributable to poor access of farm women to extension services in India. The causative factors found were-lack of approach of farm women to extension centres, less communication channel of farm women, less income to purchase farm inputs by farm women, lack of land, inconvenient time and location of meetings, gender biasness by extension staff, lack of gender-appropriate technology and lack of authority to them. The other factors were low farm women literacy, lack of tendency to innovate and make decisions in farming, less women workers in extension services and lack of structural arrangements for women farmers in extension programmes. Indian women despite playing an important role in agricultural production, processing and storage, generally lack the right to property and the control of resources usually pass on from men to men keeping women out of the chain of inheritance. This makes them the largest group of landless labourers.Certain structural changes need to be done in the existing extension machinery of India. Changes in attitude of professionals towards women need to be done. In order to improve the access of farm women, it is prime importance to sensitize the concerned extension workers, extension managers, development administrators and policy makers with the realities of farm women, so that they can be considered as an equally strong force for agricultural and rural development on the same footing as men.
Attitudinal changes of extension workers, extension managers and all other concerned with agricultural development efforts cannot be ruled out in order to bring significant improvement in the women’s access to extension system in India. In India, where these functionaries are mostly males, gender sensitization training can be one of the methods to bring out these attitudinal changes. The efforts for improving the women’s access to extension services need to be directed towards bringing out some institutional changes in the present machinery of extension in India. Farm women should be provided with greater access to credit facilities and other inputs by simplifying the existing procedures suiting to the educational levels of women folk. Flow of credit, inputs and marketing facilities to farm women can be done through women’s cooperatives and mahilla mandals. Different extension agencies are focusing on a limited scale to integrate farm women in mainstream of development efforts. The efforts of these agencies need to be managed more efficiently so as to have a synergistic effect to solve the problem of poor women access to extension services. The planners should give due recognisation to women farmers in designing the development programmes. There is also the need to recruit more extension functionaries in all levels of agricultural extension system. Certain institutional adaptations in the present extension system should be made for a positive step in this direction.
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