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Women In Agriculture: The Potential And Gaps

Agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India, which comprise 48% of the self-employed farmers, and 33% of the agriculture labour force.

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As farmers, entrepreneurs and labourers, women are pivotal to the success of agriculture. In a lot of rural settings, they act as collectors of water, fodder and manure which is an imperative add on to declining soil quality. In addition, they also perform major agricultural tasks such preparing the soil, sowing, and threshing. However, a lot of their labour goes unpaid, due to which they are not counted in the organised workforce, landowners, or primary care givers.

As per India Human Development Survey (IHDS), 83% of agricultural land in the country is inherited by male members. This despite The Hindu Succession Act (2005), which granted coparcenary rights to daughters and equal inheritance rights. The draft release of National Women’s Policy (2016), by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has also recognised the importance of land rights for women.

Enabling women farmers has multiple, positive effects on the economy in India and world over. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), providing land ownership rights has the potential of raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4% and has the potential to reduce global hunger by 12 to 17%. The Sustainable Development Goal 5 (1), of the United Nations (UN) (to which India is a signatory), seeks to grant property rights and tenure security of agricultural land to women world over. Taking notice of the commitments, the Indian government is taking initiative to improve the condition of women cultivators.

With the focus on strengthening community institutions, the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) aims to empower women farmers by enhancing participation and increasing productivity. They are also provided guidance regarding pursuit of sustainable livelihoods through systematic investments, by building their knowledge base, developing skills, and increasing capacities. One of the sub-components of NRLM, named Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana has helped women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) access resources for efficient agricultural productivity. Micro finance institutions of NABARD provide aid to women farmers, collateral free. Feminisation of agriculture is taking place in India and the world. To acknowledge the growing importance of women India has acknowledged October 15 as “National Women Farmers Day”. These initiatives show how important women farmers are.

Despite these initiatives, there are significant drawbacks. As per an Oxfam research, agriculture sector employs 80% of all economically active women in India, which comprise 48% of the self-employed farmers, and 33% of the agriculture labour force. Also, 85% of rural women in India are working in agriculture, yet only 13% of them own any land.

These issues move beyond statistics to real life socio-economic disputes:

· Women continue to face handicaps while accessing land or credit. They also do not have requisite access to latest technology, agriculture inputs, and market opportunities.

· As per 2015 census in India, only 14% women have land rights on the land they are cultivating. This is happening in an era of growing land fragmentation. This includes 86% farmers with less than 2 hectares of land each. Also, land is used as collateral in the farming community to get credit from banks, something women do not have access to. This leads to less investment in farm in general, and women’s enterprise in particular. This harms the food security along with agriculture productivity of the nation, including export potential.

· The women farmers are not adequately trained either. The training is through co-operatives, Self Help Groups (SHG). Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO)have unrealised potential in this regard.

· Women have to face the dual burden of working in the fields, as well as cooking at home, they are thus responsible for domestic and farm activities. Despite this, they are paid lesser than men, leading to subsequent marginalisation. In fact, the Constitution of India mandates under Article 39 that men and women should be paid equally for equal work.

The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI), a well-known non-profit organisation, has provided some practical solutions to this issue. They recommend focusing on adopting a gender, agriculture, social, efficient natural resource management, health nexus approach. Firstly, the women cultivators must be included in the land records. Secondly, it is necessary to enhance available choices, while expressing concerns of women farmers in the areas of seed production, agro-biodiversity, sustainable agricultural practices, and natural resource management. Technological innovation should be gender inclusive, and women collectives must be aligned for impact along multiple SDGs. Lastly, SHGs must be extended as a social enterprise for women.

Women in agriculture are gradually getting the recognition and protection they deserve. However, we have a long way to go before we create a gender equal world.