Farm Women – Breaking barriers

Rural women traditionally have been entrepreneurial. Women as a part of their livelihoods and lives have been involved in several tasks related to farming like dairying, sericulture, processing and local marketing of vegetables. However, they are not recognised as entrepreneurs as their efforts do not fit within the conventional definition of an enterprise.

The rapid feminisation of Indian agriculture with men leaving for greener pastures has in a way forced women to take on entrepreneurial roles, besides managing farms.  They do not however have an easy path to traverse, when they begin their journey. They are faced with numerous challenges. For example, the pressure to stick to their traditional gender roles, lack of family and social support which further leads to lack of confidence, lack of access to training, finance and other support systems.

There is a growing realisation that the nation cannot achieve the desired economic growth by ignoring half of its population. The government has devised a number of schemes and policies to support women entrepreneurs in India.  With substantial support from the government as well as handholding support from various other institutions working towards rural development, rural women entrepreneurship is finally gaining momentum. This issue celebrates the grit and courage of some of the rural woman farm enterpreneurs, in creating a space for themselves, both as individuals as well as a collective.

Passion to excel

Fierce determination to pursue one’s passion can also defy advancing age and can result in achieving spectacular success as an entrepreneur. This is proved by two women – One, Ms. Subhadra Kumari, a 63-year-old visionary behind Nila Garden, who has nourished an enterprise nestled in the serene landscapes of Wayanad, Kerala embodying her passion and a deep-rooted love for orchids. (Archana Bhatt, Sreeram V and Abdulla Habeeb, p.15). Similarly, Smt. Indumathi, starting as a hobbyist and evolving into an entrepreneurial farmer, has come a long way. Defying advancing age, she has proved that farm incomes could be enhanced by diversifying, practicing organic farming and using drudgery reducing farm machinery. Her enthusiasm for farming suggests that learning new skills and engaging in agricultural endeavour is not age-related. (Vijaya Hosamani and Mala Patil, p. 21)

In the pursuit of producing safe food, women are the forerunners in embracing organic farming. Mrs. Hitesh Choudhary of Uttar Pradesh and Mrs. Savitha Yelne from Maharashtra,  with a deep interest in organic farming, got trained and started using organic farming methods. By developing connections with markets, generating income, and enhancing their own and their communities’ quality of life, these entrepreneurs have also received several awards. Additionally, they are encouraging and supporting other women to pursue organic farming as a viable and long-term career. (Pawan Kumar, Manohari Rathi and Apurva Tiwari, p.30)

Supportive systems is the key

 In order to conquer the challenges faced by rural women wanting to pursue entrepreneurship, a supportive environment that offers mentorship along with skill training, value addition, improved financial access, risk sharing and market collaborations must be nurtured. Several institutions are supporting in various ways in nurturing women entrepreneurship. GRAVIS has been able to overcome some of the challenges by mobilising farmers as a collective. The emergence of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) has proven to be beneficial for small and marginal farmers and have enabled them to come together, access better markets and enhance their economic potential. GRAVIS, currently working with 2 FPOs and 50 FIGs, has ensured that at least 33% of the members are women, participating fully in decision making and market related activities. Around 1000 small and marginal cumin and coriander growers of Osian and Phalodi Blocks in Jodhpur district, Rajasthan, have begun to conduct business collectively through the FIGs and FPOs. There has been a substantial increase in the individual and group capacity of the spice farmers. (Krupa Gandhi, p.8).

With a little support from BAIF, Champion farm women in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have shown that women can be empowered to handle farm operations as well as farm machinery with confidence and pride. The farm machineries access enabled timely farming operations and efficient use of inputs; adoption of climate resilient practices and technologies by farmers; drudgery reduction; increase in cropping intensity; crop residue recycling and prevention of burning of agricultural crop residues; reduction in cost of cultivation and creating work opportunities for skilled labour and small artisans. (Sujata Kangude, p.6).

Odisha Millets Mission and Mission Shakti department have been successfully promoting WSHG-led millet-based farm enterprises across Odisha, strengthening livelihoods and improving household income. The revival of millets in Odisha has instilled a sense of confidence among women groups, helping them to beat poverty and malnutrition. (Abhijit Mohanty, Bhesaja Choudhury and Trinath Taraputia, p.33)

The convergent model promoted by the local KVK has broken the barriers of development and unleashed the potential of women groups of South Paraganas district. Women have successfully taken up turkey farming. The assured marketing linkages along with technological backstopping by KVK, ICAR -IVRI and Animal Resource Development Department of Government of West Bengal have made the program a successful one. (Sarbaswarup Ghosh and Narayan Chandra Sahu, p.24)

Smt. Manjula, trained and supported under the Nutri Smart village of University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka, has adopted farm diversification. By integrating various enterprises into a farming system she could meet multiple needs like food and nutritional security, enhanced incomes and optimal utilisation of resources. (Rajeshwari Desai and Geeta Channal, p.19)

With handholding and training support from BAIF, women entrepreneurs in Maharashtra have developed confidence to provide quality goods and services. Kalsubai Parisar Biyane Sanvardhan Samajik Sanstha (Kalsubai Seed Savers’ Group) was formed in Akole block of Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in 2015 to conserve and revive agrobiodiversity. This group has established three seed banks and conserved 118 accessions of 40 crops including rice, millets and pulses. The group has also been involved in production and sale of more than 21,600 kitchen garden kits and around 39 metric tons of quality seeds. Women from the community have been trained as resource persons, called Poshan Sakhi. From an invisible contribution which was limited to the confines of their homes or on the fields, they have now emerged as visible, successful entrepreneurs with greater social acceptance. (Rajashree Joshi and Santarpana Choudhury, p.12).

Promoting women led agricultural enterprises will have an effect far beyond the economy. is no more a choice but a necessity for sustainable development. It will help reduce poverty, generate employment, unleash social development and move towards a more gender-equal society.


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