According to the Economic Survey of 2017-18, the agricultural industry employs more than 50% of the total workforce in India and contributes around 17-18% to its GDP. Talking about women, India’s agrarian industry employs 80-100 million female farmers. From preparing the land, selecting seeds, transplanting the seedlings, applying manure, fertilisers or pesticides, and then harvesting, winnowing and threshing, women work harder and longer than male farmers.
Despite all their hard labour in the field, the National Commission for Women’s data suggests that Bihar’s agricultural industry employs 85% of females, but they are not officially deemed farmers; they’re either labelled “agricultural laborers” or “cultivators”.
It is rare to hear narratives of women working in agriculture and its allied activities in Bihar. Be it farmers’ suicide, drought, flood or any government scheme, the entire media is seen flooded with male farmers’ visuals only. But here, I will tell you how SumArth, a for-purpose initiative is dedicatedly working on feminisation of agriculture.
SumArth is a non-profit social enterprise headquartered in Gaya, Bihar, which supports women farmers in their economic growth by providing 360-degree solutions for crop planning and ensured market linkage. SumArth works primarily in the Gaya district, which has one of the largest Mahadalit populated district of India. It has a number of women farmers from Dalit and other marginalised communities.
SumArth launched a project named ‘Magical Mushroom’ whose focus was giving good livelihood and nutrition, and making women farmers self-dependent with minimal investment. Mushroom can be grown in a closed area that is not exposed to sunlight, it is grown in off-farm conditions under a controlled environment.
The project ensures daily income to farmers and provides a minimum of double return within 45 days. Also, Mushroom’s production is devoid of big land or space. It’s primarily grown within the household, or sometimes, in a low-cost hut. Even its production process can be taken care of by a single person, and doesn’t require many.
Keeping in mind women empowerment, SumArth launched this project for the betterment of women farmers from Dalit and other marginalised communities. As many of the farm equipment are not female-friendly, they possess a greater risk of injuries. This project came as a boon to women farmers. There is no usage of big farm machinery in growing mushrooms. It is grown in mushroom bags that are kept inside the house. This helps women take care of it at their convenience.
Co-founder of SumArth, Prabhat Kumar, said, “In Naxal-affected and rural areas, men primarily do the agricultural activities at the field, as women hesitate to go to the field because of social and security reasons but Mushroom can be grown inside house, therefore it benefits the women farmers to great extent.”
Women are considered the “weaker gender” when compared to men, so they are paid less, despite working for the same time and under the same circumstances. But the scenario completely changes here. Women are the sole stakeholder and the prime decision-maker. This encourages women to work for themselves and feel confident.
Access to education, agricultural training and extension services for women have been predominantly low as compared to men. But SumArth has trained and educated more than 500 women farmers for this project to inculcate confidence to be able to face the community.
Women farmers from small and marginalised communities in India lack adequate access to marketing facilities due to lack of basic infrastructure like market yards, roads and transportation, storage including freezers, and processing units. Further, women farmers have no representation in agricultural marketing committees and other similar bodies.
Thus, SumArth provides the women farmers with local markets to sell their products and earn from them. On average, a woman farmer earns Rs 10,000-12,000 with a small investment of Rs 4,000-5,000. They earn this amount in just 30-45 days in one go. And this process continues for at least four consecutive months. After that, the residue of compost bags can be used are a fertiliser in kitchen garden or fields.
Since ages, women have not been considered tech-friendly and have not been encouraged to use technology. But SumArth introduced their women farmers to agricultural technologies, which reduced the gender gap in agricultural productivity and food security. In this project, women farmers were taught to use laser equipment to detect room temperature and automatic sprinkler for watering the mushroom bags. Also, small videos are shown to them at various stages and interventions of mushroom-agriculture. These technologies and videos ease the women farmers’ work, also allowing them to explore new technology.
Women’s economic empowerment can reduce poverty for everyone and this could only be achieved by fixing the current broken economic model, which undermines gender equality and causes extreme economic inequality. The fundamental drivers of sustainable development and economic growth are the people themselves, but if only one gender is encouraged to participate in any activity, the talent pool simply gets halved.
So, this is the condition in agriculture, as women are not being encouraged to do agricultural activities. SumArth is encouraging a number of women farmers by providing them with all needed things. Team SumArth says, “Given equal access to productive resources and services, women are as efficient as men and can achieve the same yields. Reducing the gender gap is very essential in order to accelerate the growth in the agriculture sector.” According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, if women had the same access to productive resources the same as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%.
To make India a progressive country, it is essential to work on rural India, where agriculture forms the backbone. We cannot afford to ignore that, and need to focus on our country’s women farmers if we want the second Green Revolution in India. In my opinion, everything starts and ends with agriculture as it is impossible to survive without food. Therefore, women need to be given lots of opportunities as men.