International Women’s Day: Patriarchy, market-driven economy undermine crucial role of women in Indian agriculture

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The village of Diguvapalli in Anantapur, some 200 km north of Bangalore, has only 100 families. Strangely, very few men are seen around. Most males left in the village are either children or senior citizens. “With rains repeatedly failing us, men go to Bangalore to work as waiters and construction labourers,” said K Nageshwaramma. The 38-year-old owns five acres in the village. With not too many men around, women farmers have not only gained more autonomy over their fields but also more burden. “Farming has been left to us. With unpredictable rains and successive droughts, we are sustaining ourselves by growing more millets,” she added.
Of the 100 households in Diguvapalli, farmlands of 25 households are run exclusively by women. “Women take part of agricultural activities in at least 85 households,” said Bhanuja. The latest economic survey by the ministry of finance points out this growing phenomenon. With rural to urban migration by men, there is a growing ‘feminisation’ of the agriculture sector, said the survey.
The women of Diguvapalli along with 130 of their counterparts in three panchayats — Muthyalacheruvu, Eaguvapalli, and Brahmanapalli — registered themselves as a cooperative society to form the Mahila Raithula Uthpathidharula Sangham with the Union ministry of agriculture. Nageshwaramma is one of the leaders of the society. “The aim of the society is to ensure they get fair prices on their products. The society also acts as the connection between the government and women farmers, especially with the implementation of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF),” said founder president of the Rural & Environment Development Society (REDS) C Bhanuja. The NGO often works with the government to implement pro-poor policies in Anantapur district.
“With women predominant at all levels — production, pre-harvest, post-harvest processing, packaging, marketing — of the agricultural value chain, to increase productivity in agriculture, it is imperative to adopt gender-specific interventions,” read the economic survey. “An ‘inclusive transformative agricultural policy’ should aim at gender-specific interventions to raise the productivity of small farm holdings, integrate women as active agents in rural transformation, and engage men and women in extension services with gender expertise,” it added.