Women in agriculture

Women in agriculture

Women are heavily involved in seed selection, sowing, planting, harvesting and other aspects of farm management. In fact, there is hardly any activity in agricultural production, except ploughing in which they are not actively involved1. Yet their contributions have been marginalized for centuries, particularly in Indian agriculture. And though they form 43%2 of the agricultural labour force of developing countries, contributing considerably to their families’ livelihoods, they have little power in the decision making processes that concern their households.

Only recently has the development world begun to consider the socio-economic implications of this stark gender divide in agriculture. Bridging that gap is becoming critically important in view of recent studies which indicate that closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone could lift an estimated 100 to 150 million people out of the clutches of hunger3. Shifting migration patterns of an increasingly urbanized world only emphasize this point. As greater numbers of men migrate to cities in search of jobs, women are left behind to manage farms and households. The woman farmer therefore contributes significantly not only to the food and economic security of her own family, but to the agricultural productivity of our country as a whole. Forming such a necessary component of the sector, it follows then, that any intervention program which fails to account for their role or address their concerns will only be partially successful.

GREEN’s own experience has shown that intervention activities centred on women have, in the past, acted as catalysts that usher in the message of sustainable agriculture and biodiversity conservation, to entire communities. In fact, it was thanks to the efforts of a handful of women farmers that GREEN Foundation first established itself; through the years the contributions of women have been essential to the success of our initiatives.

To tackle the question of the gender divide one must first understand the societal and cultural restrictions that limit women’s access to essential resources; this lack of access adversely affects productivity and economic returns. When compared to men, women possess far less land and livestock holdings, some of the most basic necessities required for the success of agricultural endeavours. Even when they do have control over their land and environmental resources however, women are further restricted by reduced access to services essential for good agricultural productivity. In fact, over 85% of rural women in India are farmers, yet they own less than 5% of the land4. And with close to 70% of employed women in South Asia working in agriculture, removing the gender gap in the sector would mean a victory for working women as a whole.

Many studies, such as the State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011, have shown that improving women’s direct access to financial resources leads to higher investments in human capital in the form of children’s health, nutrition and education.

Even when they do have control over their land and environmental resources however, women are further restricted by reduced access to services essential for good agricultural productivity.

Credit and savings facilities, for example, are gender biased, often because women have far less access to their families’ fixed assets to meet loan requirements. This leaves them with reduced access to formal credit and without a means to meet cultivation costs or household expenses during times of need. Though Self Help Groups and micro-credit facilities have, to a large extent, narrowed this gender gap, our experience shows that women still have little say in how that money is spent and utilized for the benefit of their families.

In India the disparity in education levels among men and women is further exacerbated by cultural norms that severely restrict women’s exposure levels to communities outside their own and reduce their knowledge of new farming methodologies. This isolation makes them more dependent on their male counterparts and excludes them from making informed decisions regarding farm management.

An empowered women capable of efficiently managing her family’s farm, establishing good market linkages and then securing the best prices for her farm produce, would significantly strengthen the livelihood, food and economic security of her family. And with close to 70% of employed women in South Asia working in agriculture, removing the gender gap in the agrarian sector would mean a victory for all working women as a whole.

Even when they do have control over their land and environmental resources however, women are further restricted by reduced access to services essential for good agricultural productivity.

Credit and savings facilities, for example, are gender biased, often because women have far less access to their families’ fixed assets to meet loan requirements. This leaves them with reduced access to formal credit and without a means to meet cultivation costs or household expenses during times of need. Though Self Help Groups and micro-credit facilities have, to a large extent, narrowed this gender gap, our experience shows that women still have little say in how that money is spent and utilized for the benefit of their families.

In India the disparity in education levels among men and women is further exacerbated by cultural norms that severely restrict women’s exposure levels to communities outside their own and reduce their knowledge of new farming methodologies. This isolation makes them more dependent on their male counterparts and excludes them from making informed decisions regarding farm management.

An empowered women capable of efficiently managing her family’s farm, establishing good market linkages and then securing the best prices for her farm produce, would significantly strengthen the livelihood, food and economic security of her family. And with close to 70% of employed women in South Asia working in agriculture, removing the gender gap in the agrarian sector would mean a victory for all working women as a whole.


1 http://ncw.nic.in/pdfreports/impact%20of%20wto%20women%20in%20agriculture.pdf
2 State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011, FAO
3 State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011, FAO
4 http://www.womensearthalliance.org