Women in agriculture

The major challenge facing farmers is the economic viability of farming. The economic survey of India has drawn attention to the need for making agriculture profitable. The National Commission on Farmers also emphasised the importance of giving an income orientation to farming. The prime minister has announced that every effort will be made to double the income of farmers. While the recognition of the urgency of imparting economic security is recognised the pathway through which this can be accomplished have not been articulated in detail. Therefore, it is necessary to identify a few areas which can help to achieve the goal of farm prosperity.

An area with the large untapped potential is the peri-urban horticulture revolution. Peri-urban areas are available for use to grow high value crops like vegetables, flowers and fruits. Many years ago an agro-industrial complex was set up in Bangalore under the Indo-Bulgarian collaborative programme. The idea of the agro-industrial complex is the addition of value to all primary products and to promote farmer driven marketing strategies. Peri-urban horticulture involving the cultivation of onion, tomato, potato and other crops in demand in urban areas will help to achieve both price stability and produt availability.

Another area which needs to be taken up seriously is sea water farming. Sea water constitutes 97 per cent of the world’s water. We have a long coastline extending to nearly 8,000 square kilometres. It will be useful to initiate in this area a sea water farming for coastal area prosperity programme.  Fortunately we have varieties of rice and other crops which can grow in areas with sea water inundation. The technology should be sylvi-horticulture — aquaculture, so that annual crops perennial shrubs and marine aquaculture are all promoted in the farm of an integrated coastal agriculture programme.

Women play an increasingly important role in agriculture. At present, they do not get credit without title to land. It is important that public policy can be developed which can help to empower women engaged in crop and animal husbandry, fisheries and forestry. For this purpose, I introduced a Private Members Bill in Rajya Sabha in 2012. Following are few suggestions for assisting women in agriculture

The Central Government shall set up a Central Agricultural Development Fund for Women Farmers (CADFWF) under this Act, which shall be used to empower women farmers like, incentives for development of women farmer friendly technologies, training and capacity building, creation of market facilities, organisation of crèches and day care centres, social security for women farmers, old age pensions and other related issues as may be prescribed in the rules.

The fund shall operate at the Central, state and district levels and shall be administered under the guidance of an appropriate Authority appointed by the Central government at the central level and offices of the authority appointed in consultation with the state governments at the state and district level in such manner as may be prescribed.

The authority shall support individual and groups of women farmers organised in the form of registered women’s cooperatives or Mahila Kisan Kendras as per the guidelines framed under the Act.

The appropriate authority shall frame guidelines with the previous approval of the Central government by notification in the official gazette for distribution and utilisation of the fund.

The Central government shall frame a scheme for social security of women farmers, especially old age pension as may be prescribed in the act.

The appropriate authority of the fund shall also have the power to secure lands from the government and other sources for distribution of lands to women farmers as prescribed under this act.

The appropriate authority of the fund shall organise regular and periodical training and capacity building programmes for woman farmers in different parts of the country to make them aware of the provisions of this act and to help them in realising their entitlements and empowerments envisaged under this act.

It is important to examine the unutilised opportunities for ensuring that farming is an economically viable occupation. In particular I would like to emphasise the need for peri-urban horticulture, sea water and below sea level farming and the technological and economic empowerment of women in agriculture.

(The writer is an agricultural scientist who led India’s Green Revolution)

M S Swaminathan