In India, food is celebrated, whether its production, preparation or consumption, it is an integral part of family traditions, customs and rituals. Hence, agriculture touches the lives of every single individual in the country, whether he is an agriculturist or not. With over 70% of the population engaged in this profession, the sector was predominantly male dominated, even though women manage much of the work on the farm. This corroborates with the fact that as per the National Sample Survey (NSS), the agrarian sector employs 80% of women workforce. However, despite their contribution, women in agriculture face extreme challenges with regard to land rights, wages, quality of work, and representation in decision making. Their limited role also has consequences on lower educational and health outcomes for the family, especially children.
While 33% of women work as agrarian labourer, 48% are self-employed farmers contributing to the entire value chain (including sowing, cropping, harvesting, only 12.8% of women actually own land. This reality becomes most critical as female workforce in agriculture has been on a continuous rise (54.2% in 2001; 63.1% in 2011 as per Census of India; 80% as per NSS) with minimum benefits. Given their contribution to agriculture, women therefore become an important demographic group, whether as a labourer or decision maker, working in small-scale farm or at an industrial level.
To help elevate their condition, a multistep approach is a must:
Access to technology: The Economic Survey 2018 proposed an agricultural policy aimed at integrating women as active agents in rural transformation. It concurred that women need timely access to technology in agriculture. Technology adoption and mechanisation must also be viewed from a gender-aware perspective. While it is seen that women mostly do all the farm work, tools and machines are either predominantly used by men or not designed for women.
Access to credit and schemes: Women need better access to credit if they have to be empowered to run farms by themselves. It will also enable them to invest in technology and self-support. Access should also be given to beneficiary-oriented schemes to ensure allocation of resources and flow of benefits to them.
Training: Women can be at the fore-front to fight malnourishment and climate change. However, to make a long-lasting impact, they need to be trained in technology and other socio-economic aspects of agriculture (like soil health, irrigation, finance)
Network: If models such as self-help groups and farmer-producer organizations are more encouraged and promoted, women will be able to find a network of like-minded individuals, they will have greater intervention in capacity building, it will enhance their access to information ensuring their representation in decision making bodies at various levels.
Land Ownership: Land titles in most Indian states are predominantly owned by men. Although, the law allows a woman to be rightful inheritance of the land, while following some customs and age-old traditions, married daughters, widows, unmarried women are often denied their land share. Such discriminatory provisions in community practices will have to be removed. Women should be made an equal partner in land inheritance and ownership, ensuring effective implementation through sensitisation of land officials and adjustment of forms and procedures.
Women have shown success when they are given an opportunity and a role in decision making. Padma Shri Rajkumari Devi is one such heroic example. When she was forced to help her husband in the fields, she spent some time learning and familiarizing herself with the industry. Upon acquainting herself to sow other crops, she divided her one-acre land to grow vegetables and local fruits while her husband and other farmers only grew tobacco back then. She also started involving other women in the area, who used this local produce to make pickles, jams etc. By understanding the role of soil, crop rotation and other harvesting practices, she was able to not only make herself financially independent but also help her fellow women farmers.
To help create more Rajkumari Devis’, the above said steps must be taken to close the gender gap. Studies have established that when women farmers have equal access to land ownership, credit, farming equipment and new technologies, farm yields can increase by 30% per household and countries can experience an overall increase in output by 2.5-4%. Women also reinvest up to 90% of their earnings back into their households—that’s the money spent on nutrition, food, healthcare and education. According to FAO, closing the gender gap in agricultural yields could reduce the number of people suffering from malnourishment down from 925 million to 100–150 million people!
When women scientists, doctors and teachers can ace in their fields, why shouldn’t a women farmer get the opportunity and tools to ace in hers?
 Foreword of http://www.fao.org/3/i2050e/i2050e.pdf