The recent discussion about the changing character of rural India is interesting. As per the Economic Survey Report 2017-18, tabled in the Parliament by Shri Arun Jaitley, there is ‘Feminisation’ of Agriculture’ with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers. However, this is not necessarily connected to women’s social and economic empowerment.
As per the census report of 2011, out of the total women workforce employed in agriculture, 55% worked as agricultural labourers and 24% were employed as cultivators. What makes a very skewed statistic – the ownership of landholdings and operational holdings is a meagre 12.8 %, reflecting the vast gender disparity. The survey thus stressed the need for an “inclusive transformative agricultural policy” which is focussed on gender-specific interventions.
The analysis of this report highlights the growing inclination of women towards agriculture.
With dwindling income from the sector, men of the house from rural areas are increasingly migrating to towns and cities looking for work. Limited opportunities in agriculture, climatic stress, as well as rising costs of living has led to mass exodus of the unemployed and underemployed men from villages to towns/cities. This population is thus straddling between peasant and capitalist economy. Coupled with these factors, better transport and communication facilities are transforming aspirations of youth in the rural hinterland.
After analysing the four sets of occupational data drawn from the Indian Census (1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011), Economic Survey concluded that outmigration of men from rural areas has no necessary relationship with wider indicators of women’s social or economic empowerment. Instead, women’s growing participation in agriculture appears to be strongly related to several indicators of poverty.
Poor rural womenfolk have been traditionally burdened with heavy works in the farms. For maintaining food security and preserving local biodiversity, womenfolk have played a very important role that has largely gone unnoticed.
Women labour is predominant at all levels-production, pre-harvest, post-harvest processing, packaging, marketing – of the agricultural value chain, to increase productivity in agriculture. They have been effectively managing diverse natural resources like firewood to meet daily household needs in addition to working in the farms. Thus, they are adept in rural integrated management.
Thus arises a dire need to recognise the importance of rural women as the ‘drivers’ of economic growth. They must be provided with enhanced access to resources like land, ownership, notable position in farmer associations, right to manage water, seeds, agro market, credit, and judiciously harness the power of technology through training initiatives by the government with support from NGOs. These factors need to be addressed at the earliest for offering women their rightful entitlement for boosting agricultural productivity.
Developments Intended Through the Economic Survey Report 2018
Government of India has understood the need for empowering women in the rural areas and has detailed so in the Economic Survey Report 2018. The Report talks at length about the various schemes launched by the Union Government for bringing women into the mainstream.
The union govt. has earmarked 30% of the budget allocation for women beneficiaries in the ongoing schemes, programmes and development activities.
Self Help Groups (SHGs) have been created to connect rural women to micro-credit through capacity building activities and to provide information. SHGs are also responsible for ensuring that women cultivators or entrepreneurs are properly represented in decision making bodies.
The contribution of women to agriculture, food production and sustaining the rural economy is undeniable and indelible. The measures introduced by the government will go a long way in bridging the gap at both, the policy level and on ground.
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