On September 25, 2015, at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, and fight inequality and injustice. One of the targets is, “By 2030, end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” Closing gender gaps in agriculture and investing in smallholder women farmers will have a profound impact on the achievement of these goals.
In the last decade, the number of women farmers in India and other developing countries around the world has increased significantly, with men migrating towards off farm jobs and moving to cities. Today, women are over 40 % of the agricultural workforce in India. In fact, 80% of all working women of the country are employed in agriculture. The increasing proportion of women farmers also means that agricultural yields and the overall agricultural output of India depends, to a large extent, on women’s participation. According to some estimates, if women farmers are provided the same resources as their male counterparts, such as land ownership, availability of credit, access to farming equipment and new technologies, yields can increase by as much as 30% per household, and countries can experience an increase of 2.5 to 4 % in agricultural output. To achieve such outcomes, countries need to eliminate gender inequalities in agriculture.
Less than 10% of India’s land is owned by women. The inability to show land in their names deprives women of access to credit and many government schemes. Moreover, women are unable to afford newer technologies that will increase yields, are unaware of or cannot afford expensive and improved seed varieties, do not have adequate knowledge about the new farming systems in India, and also carry the additional burden of domestic responsibilities.
In India, the word kisan or ‘farmer’ is perceived to be addressing a male farmer. As a result, the mindset of the masses, and to a great extent that of policy makers, continues to address issues for the kisan community as catering to male farmers only. As a result, there still exists a wide gap between the policies, plans and related enabling programmes on the one hand and the situational reality of women farmers on the other. To this end, government initiatives such as the ‘Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana’ (MKSP) under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) are a welcome beginning.
It is time to ensure that women farmers in India and around the world get the recognition they deserve as farmers.
Purvi Mehta is senior adviser and head of agriculture, Asia, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The views expressed are personal.