Women and Agroecology

With growing rural to urban migration by men, there is ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector, with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers. Economic Survey 2017-18 says that 70% of all women engaged in cultivation are from households witnessing migration. 

Women are the backbone of present day agriculture, but largely remain unseen and unheard. The Indian agriculture sector employs a whopping 80 per cent of all economically active women; comprising 33 per cent of the agricultural labour force and 48 per cent of self-employed farmers. According to The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) the participation of women is 75 per cent in the production of major crops, 79 per cent in horticulture, 51 per cent in post-harvest work and 95 per cent in animal husbandry and fisheries. The union government too has admitted that agriculture, the largest production endeavour in India which contributes substantially to the GDP, is increasingly becoming a female activity.

Men are into farming when there is sufficient land, irrigation and availability of credit. Small and marginal farming is thrusted on the shoulders of women as men migrate to cities in search of jobs leaving behind families. Lack of operational rights for land, unequal wages, lack of access to extension, training and credit and confinement to labour-intensive jobs are some of the challenges which women continue to face. Also, conventional chemical input intensive farming often has a negative impact on women.

Agroecology, the way forward

Agroecology is the model best suited to overcome gender barriers in agriculture. Women’s knowledge on seeds and agricultural biodiversity holds a central place in agroecology. The participatory, farmer-to-farmer knowledge-sharing methodologies embedded in agroecology provide an excellent platform to recognise and value women’s contributions to farming and biodiversity and make them visible.

Besides promoting diversified, resilient, and sustainable production system agroecology helps boost the livelihoods of family farmers and reduces farmers’ dependence on external inputs. For example, the shift to agroecological farming started with a small step in Kalamunda in Odisha. Women farmers through Farmer Field Schools, learnt the techniques of natural farming and made the transition towards safe food production. Launched by just 20 farmers in 2018, in a span of 4 years, six hundred women farmers had joined the safe food campaign. (Amar Kumar Gouda and K C Sahu, p.33). Similarly, women farmers in Madhya Pradesh, together prepared Jeevamrit, Amritpani and Dashaparni ark etc. to improve microbial count in the soil, promote growth of the crop and avoid the pest infestation. (Prithviraj Gaikwad et al., p. 18)

 Adaptation is fundamental given the precarious nature of smallholder livelihoods. Traditionally, women farmers have adaptive capacities, in terms of knowledge, networks, and management practices to cope with vagaries in the weather. Adaptive measures undertaken by smallholder women farmers in Odisha included on-farm diversification, adoption of water technologies and management, choice of crop varieties to sow, and strategies to reduce risks.

 Including millet crops is fundamental to help increase climate resilience. The local women innovators in a brief span of three years became Master Trainers on Natural Farming. Not only they introduced millet cultivation in their fields, but also promoted consumption of a range of millets by creating new recipes. They have shown how to produce more and diverse food while nurturing the ecosystem. They have further spread agroecology and natural farming by building and sharing of knowledge through HimRRA Network and different media. (D K Sadana et al., p.15).

Women’s knowledge and skills are invaluable in promoting the sustainable
farming practices that align with their community’s needs and cultural values. Empowering women in the field of agroecology can not only transform the status of family but also their pattern of predominant farming system. Rehana’s story serves as an inspiring example of how passion, dedication and creativity can transform lives. Through agroecology, she not only transformed her farm’s productivity but also contributed to environmental conservation and community well-being. Her journey from learning the art of mushroom growing to creating an agroecological farm, showcased the power of turning challenges into opportunities and making a positive impact on community. (Mahak Khatri et al., p.24)

The extensive knowledge of local ecosystem, traditional farming techniques and seed preservation method has been passed down through generations. Certainly, women have made significant contribution in creating sustainable and inclusive food systems. They are also good at integrating various systems which result in multiple benefits. The integration of agroecological practices with beekeeping provided a unique opportunity for women in Maharashtra to promote sustainable farming methods that nurture biodiversity and generate income. Fostering bee flora as a major aspect of the Beekeeping programme has helped women beekeepers economically and ensured increase in bee population and agriculture yields. a substantial increase in yields of fruits and vegetables within one year of beekeeping have been reported(Natasha Sharma Dogra, p.27).

Women have an innate nature of working together in groups and reaping benefits not only for themselves but for the community as a whole. Shifting towards collective farming, women are gaining access to land, learning agroecology, acquiring food autonomy, and turning into independent, bold, leaders and farmers of today. Seven women in Maharashtra developed a Group Kitchen Garden, wherein various SHGs came together, divided responsibilities and harvested safe vegetables for the communities. These experiences have also changed their position in the household (Natasha Sharma Dogra, p.27).

Providing the necessary support systems in terms of generating awareness, training and initial funding helps women in kick starting their initiatives. For example, Maa Hingula women’s SHG in the Mayurbhanj district, with financial support and technical guidance of Jashipur Farmers Producers Company Limited (JFPCL) started a bio-input unit in the year 2020. Also, Odisha Millet Mission set up support systems for researching farmers’ preferred landraces through participatory varietal trials. Production and consumption of millets were decentralised. To ensure the accessibility of superior quality seeds of different landraces community-managed seed centres (CMSCs) were set up in each block.  An alternative millet food system has been successfully developed by creating market demand along with highly successful behaviour change campaigns. This has been achieved by making policy shifts for procuring millets in bulk and including them in state nutrition programmes.  Women SHGs were supported to be entrepreneurs to cater to private markets. WSHGs serve millet-based street food and supply ready-to-cook or ready-to-eat millet items to state nutrition centers as well as to private outlets. (Bindu Mohanty, p.6)

Driving investments towards skill development, enterprise forming, and income enhancement can help women engage in more profitable activities and add value to their productivity. Such investments have the potential to create avenues for income enhancement and encourage agricultural entrepreneurship. Also, recognising the contribution of women in food production and ecology conservation is of utmost importance. Celebrating 15 October of every year as Women Farmer’s Day as declared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, is just a beginning of this long journey towards women’s empowerment in agriculture.



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