Jaipur, India – When you whiz through cultivated farms in India, you see women hard at work in the harshest or sweetest of weather. Ever non-complaining, but can’t say if complacent or not. Perhaps, we have not given her enough reason to be one. She will do balancing all the time with fields and crops on top of the list of her daily chores.
And she is not referred as a farmer, but just a caretaker. It’s high time that we change frames and become women centric immediately, at least for a sector which is practically women-driven, but visibly otherwise because of our failure to weigh her involvement with farm practices. She may be just 32.8% of primary worker in farm sector but between 80-100 million in various roles in agriculture. Clearly, she works harder, tougher, and longer in farm fields.
Our farm and land policies appear to be in tune with ground realities but we have yet to create an enabling environment to bring into the fold all those women who deserve deep attention now. It’s heartening to see that she is getting represented a little better with conscientious efforts of sensitized people at the helm of policies or opinion making.
When one gets to meet farmers from rural India, like Kamla and Asha, one listens with rapt attention as they speak with authority on a whole range of agriculture issues and hands on experiences as farmers. We must also know their stand on hard core agriculture issues of seed selection, farm loans, subsidies, crop compensation, irrigation, harvest methods, farm produce market etc. more than ever. They are no less insightful about major policy implementation gaps.
Goal seven of India’s ‘National Agriculture Policy’ underlines mainstreaming of human and gender dimension in all farm policies and programs. In first ever ‘National report on Status of Indian Women’ in 1974 (title ‘Towards Equality’) agriculture was highlighted as biggest employer and female farmers were identified as a class doubly burdened during the peak time of harvest.
Another report (‘Shram Shakti’ ie Power of Labor) in the 90s, a first ever on India’s women workers in unorganized sectors, recognized the fact about women working in farm sector bearing or sharing most of the burden. Despite that, the female farmer is missing from the larger national discourse on agriculture and the market has also ignored her needs entirely.
This must be perhaps first time that a dozen farmers were awarded with the highest civilian honor (Padma Shree) in India and two among these are female farmers.
Rajkumari Devi from Bihar, who developed small farm business breaking all taboos to sell her farm and cottage products on a bicycle and came to be known as Kisan Chachi (farmer aunt), and another hailing from Odisha, an old tribal farmer Kamla Pujari preserving local varieties of paddy and dissuading the villagers using chemical farming and showcasing skills and benefits of organic cultivation. ‘She farmers’ always had intelligence to change the agro dynamics on the ground, and by example she leads, by passion she wins. Earning an identity of a farmer has also to do with her legal title for the farm land.
Women farmer’s entitlement bill 2011 was introduced in Indian Parliament but never got passed, yet we must talk about it in public debates. Responding to a query in Indian parliament in 2018, the Government of India mentioned 2011 census recognizing 3.60 crore (36 million) women as ‘cultivators.’
Clearly, these are not counted as ‘farmers’ though ‘National Policy for Farmers – 2007’ expanded definition of ‘farmers’ to persons actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities and include all agricultural operational holders, cultivators, agricultural laborers, sharecroppers, tenants, poultry and livestock rearers, fishers, beekeepers, gardeners, pastoralists, non-corporate planters and planting laborers, as well as persons engaged in various farming related occupations such as sericulture, vermin culture, and agroforestry.
Apparently, legal range is wide and all inclusive. Following the conferment of land rights to women under the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, the provision of appropriate support services to women farmers has become all the more urgent. Joint land ownerships deeds for both homestead and agricultural land are essential for empowering women to access credit and other services.
Land ownership of women will have far reaching societal impacts and help track some critical issues like farmer suicides. As per ‘National Crime Record Bureau’ (NCRB) of India, year 2015 witnessed 7566 suicides by male farmers, 441 were by female farmers while suicide by agriculture labour were 4018 by male and 577 by females.
Looking at the distribution of reasons for suicides among female farmers NCRB – 2015 would show clearly that significantly high proportion of 101 out of 472 were because of crop failure, 101 from farm problems, 97 family issues, 49 from crop loans, 51 because of bankruptcy or indebtedness, 58 marriage related and 40 for dowry reasons.
But this all does not portray the true picture as her death will never be put on records unless she earns legal status as a farmer. If more statistics must mean more clarity, ‘National Family Health Survey of India – 2016’ (NFHS) measured land ownership for the first time and shows eastern state of India, Manipur tops the list where 69.9% women own property followed by Bihar where 58.8% women own land and West Bengal with just 23.8% has least number of women with land in their name.
The five yearly Agriculture Census 2010-11 gives us some relief showing that the share of female operation holders increased marginally and it also emphasizes need to look into the holding or area distribution among different sizes, categories, social groups and gender for micro planning.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardren’s idea of running her nation by ‘Well Being budget” to gauge long term impact of policy on quality of people’s lives could be a good approach to have ‘she farmer’ emerging as a visible forerunner of the agro economy now.