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Indian Women Farmers Need Policy Attention

Indian women have made significant contributions to agriculture. The current situation of rural transformation has brought to light women’s roles in agriculture. Typically, any discussion on this topic tends tor focus on the most obvious trends; the proportion of women working in the agricultural sector as self-employed, unpaid helps or wage labour.

Women are increasingly participating in farms as managers and decision-makers. Male out-migration from rural to urban areas in search of a better life is one of the principal drivers pushing women into farm management.

In India, short-term migration, not permanent migration, is responsible for worker mobility, with studies showing men are more likely to migrate than women.

Researchers analysed data from the National Sample Survey Organisation’s (NSSO) Survey on Land and Livestock Holdings, this survey was conducted in rural India from January to December 2013 covering 35,000 households across two visits.

For the first time in India, the NSSO survey collected information on short-term migrants and if any household member was an operator of the land cultivated by the household. An operator could be either a main or an associate operator and is one who makes major or minor decisions, respectively, about the household operational holdings.

In this estimates from our data show that in 2013, 11.8 million women and 85 million men aged 15-65 were the main operators. Interestingly, in households with a short-term migrant, women are more likely to be an operator.

This suggests that in the absence of men women are making farming decisions. Furthermore, we see that with higher education levels, men are more likely to move out of agriculture. Presumably, they are looking for lucrative employment options beyond farming.

Unfortunately, national agricultural policies are not geared to cater to these women farmers. Often, women are not given due recognition as farmers which hampers their ability to access productive input. Extension services typically engage with male farmers, while ignoring women as it is assumed that women do not manage the farm.

The potential downside to women taking on the responsibility of managing farms is the increased workload accompanied by no reduction in other duties.


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