The role of women in agriculture is considered very important from early times. It is women who started crop cultivation around their dwellings when they found their husbands reaching home late after collecting tubers and fruits from the forests. Even today, women contribute 60 % of the agricultural labour.

Most of the times, it is women who look after domestic animals.  Earlier to 1950, even in the European countries, it was only women who took care of the livestock, food processing and marketing. Later, the specialized dairy, poultry and cultivation started.   Men were engaged in cultivation of crops using primarily horses, for ploughing and transportation.  However, owing to a shift towards industrialisation of crop production and animal husbandry involving machinery, women were largely kept away from agriculture. Almost the same practices are being encouraged in the third world countries too, even though we, in India, have huge man power and animal power available for agricultural practices.

In India, women still continue to do most of the operations in agriculture.  It is women who clean the seeds for sowing, do transplanting, weeding, harvesting, threshing, winnowing and seed preservation.  All these are done with an admirable patience and commitment.  Unfortunately, they are paid lesser wages as compared to men.

Agriculture is the main source of survival for the majority of the Indian farmers. The woman in the household knows better what is needed to provide a balanced diet for the family. Therefore she tries to include plants rich in nutrition, along with the regular crops. I very well remember my mother mixing up a handful of mustard seeds, radish and few greens like amaranths with ragi the main crop even against my father’s decision.  It is always the women who manage a kitchen garden. They grow atleast 10 varieties of vegetables and spices, so that they are available round the year.

Besides food security, women are also concerned about the cash needs of the family. This makes them more responsible towards activities like backyard poultry which serves as a source of nutritious food as well as cash income. This makes the family economically stronger and happier.

Rural women are not only engaged in agricultural activities but are also involved in several agri-based activities which require skill and patience. For instance, in sericulture, they raise the chawki worms (rearing just hatched worms upto 2 or 3 stages), collect the cocoons from the chandrikes (mountages), segregate and clean them up.  Inspite of playing a critical role, women have the least access to returns. It is always the men who go to the market and decide to spend without the knowledge of the poor woman waiting at the house.  Similarly, most of the men do not even know their animal population until they are ready for sale.

Women also play an active role in cultivation of plantation crops like coffee, tea and spices. They are involved in most of the nursery operations like preparing manure, filling the polythene bags, sowing seeds or planting, cutting, arranging under shade and watering the plants. Women take care of these tender seedlings like their children, in controlling weeds and protecting them from pests. All these operations need care and patience. Harvesting and processing are also done by women.

Women have traditionally been the preservers of wild species. They collect wild seeds like neem, castor, mahua, pongamia and other forest species, which otherwise would have gone waste.  If our governments have had given subsidies for such wild seed collections, our need for more organic pesticides and fertilizers would have been fulfilled. They could have stopped subsidising chemical pesticides and fertilizers, which are destroying our soil productivity and the environment.

It is very important that the role of women in agriculture is appreciated and respected. They should be given equal importance and wages on par with the men. The rural women who are contributing to the rural economy, should be supported by the government. This could be done by providing more opportunities to women in establishing and managing cottage industries, like bee keeping, backyard dairying and small units of poultry etc. These interventions improve rural economies and enable better social status and security for women. In my personal experience with my family much of the economical stability grows with more contribution from women in agriculture and animal husbandry.

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