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Feminisation of Agriculture

Namratha S. Bhat

“Sixty per cent of the Indian population is still dependent on agriculture as a source of revenue. Yet up to 200,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, due to debt and distress” notes P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, in his documentary film Nero’s Guests. Generally, when a situation goes out of hand, the government promises to provide for the family that has lost its sole bread winner. Whether or not this promise is kept is a question for another day.

Government records in relation to this matter show numbers that one could say are misleading. Though most of the suicides get recorded in the register, there is one factor that is usually left out. Women working on fields, alongside their husbands, aren’t considered farmers per say, and therefore suicides committed by women are rarely considered farmer suicides, thus leaving them out from benefitting from the government schemes.

It was during the 1960s that women’s participation in the agricultural sector increased considerably. Several families have women as the heads of household who run farms without any help from men. Though these households are poorer than their male counter parts, they are mostly self-sustained. The sizes of their plots are smaller and they have less access to productive resources like education or tools. Women farmers are not given many benefits and do not hold social connections such as credit or market networks. They are even denied irrigation rights because that is provided by the government only to those male farmers who have agreed to grow commercial cash crops on their land and women, on the other hand, use the irrigation water for household use and also to grow subsistence crops. Female headed households are more often than not subsistence oriented and therefore poorer than the export oriented, male headed households. Although commercial crops get the farmers more land endowments and riches, they are at the same time, more vulnerable to price shocks.

Higher paying jobs in the city in combination with high tax on agriculture drew men from their farms into cities, hunting for well-paid jobs. This kind of migration of men leaves the woman in charge of the farm and household. As if the brunt of carrying out the daily house work wasn’t enough, the women now have to even take care of the land. Despite the numerous challenges faced and overcome by women everyday in almost every aspect of their lives, ranging from education, occupation to sanitation, they are still backward when it comes to their self-identity. This discrimination prevails just because a woman’s work, though never done, does not contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

On the upper side, several organisations have expressed their concern over the detrimental effects and have sponsored projects to help overcome this sort of discrimination based on gender. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations stress upon the increasing access to many inputs to productive agriculture, including credit, education and land, and at the same time, promote the development of rural female farmers’ organisations. There has also been a move towards updating the legal codes of countries to give women the legal rights of property ownership and credit, which can allow for increased food security.

The author is a student pursuing a master’s degree in Medical and Psychiatric Social Work in Mangalore, India, after completing a 3 year Bachelor course in Journalism and Communication. Not having had as many experiences as the others claim to have, she merely looks for a platform to express her views as well as her ideas. She believes in expanding her thinking and knowledge through the means of writing, experiencing and researching. Drop a mail at [email protected], for she always open to suggestions, comments and constructive criticisms.