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Building Women Leadership In India’s Farming Sector

This can help to pave the way towards empowering women farmers to further accelerate economic growth and have a real transformative impact on the agriculture sector as well.

Photo Credit : ShutterStock

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Women are of vital importance to the rural economy and the agriculture sector. Around 75% women in rural areas work full-time as farmers, but only 13% have any land ownership and continue to be underrepresented in the sector. They also spend more time on the field; but have little or no decision-making power in spite of their vital contribution to the economy.

The global COVID-19 pandemic increased pressures on India’s smallholder farmers, limiting direct support offered at the farmgate and curbing post-harvest activities, but as the country moves to a post-pandemic future, it is important that the growth of the agriculture sector is inclusive. Growing the role of women farmers is a critical goal. As they become financially and digitally empowered, this has a multiplier impact on their families and the community at large.

Aggregation models, knowledge and training on sustainable practices adoption, expanding access to technology-enabled solutions, improved crop and marketing plans that account for women’s livelihoods, and access to institutional support and financing can all play a collective role in making this happen.

Strengthening aggregation models like Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) can help women farmers boost their capacity and market linkages. Women have traditionally had low levels of membership and leadership within FPOs. Ensuring women’s representation on Farmer Producer Company (FPC) boards helps to build their capacity to engage in value chain activities and can help lead to improved and more inclusive FPC governance. Also, the formation of self-help groups (SHGs) can help provide trainings to women in skill building, around different agricultural practices such as improved livestock rearing, financial literacy and market exposure, also increasing their collective bargaining power. These groups can be starting points to unlock pathways to FPC membership which is more formalized. Connecting women farmers to legitimate buyers via FPOs can help them avoid making distress sales for cash crops. Crop choices can also increase women’s rates of agricultural participation, in addition to providing nutrition.

There is immense potential for technology and innovative solutions to help women farmers increase their income as they become informed participants in a more efficient, transparent and resilient technology-enabled supply chain. FPOs and service providers to FPOs also have a critical role to play in bringing smallholder farmers into the digital era, through interventions that help them monitor market and weather information and access financial services. They can also help facilitate digital methods of payment that are both quicker and readily acceptable.

Despite limited equitable participation, women have made strides in joining leadership roles in FPOs, but they need clearer pathways to grow. Inventions are required to increase women’s representation, voice and decision-making within FPOs with the goal of promoting better access to markets, technology and finance. Making the transition from measuring inclusion to empowerment requires more attention and additional efforts of various public and private stakeholders in the ecosystem, to develop women-centric institutional models for agriculture development and farm-allied activities and adopting a value-chain approach. This can help to pave the way towards empowering women farmers to further accelerate economic growth and have a real transformative impact on the agriculture sector as well.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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women leaders agriculture

Sherry-Lee Singh

Director, Sustainability - Walmart Foundation

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