She the farmer

Closing the gender gap in agriculture will ensure economic equity for all

The word ‘farmer’ typically evokes a picture of a man, not a woman. World Food Day (October 16) follows International Day of Rural Women (October 15), drawing attention to how women farmers are indispensable to our food security. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization says that 43 per cent of the global agriculture workforce, and 50 per cent of that in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, are women.

If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30 per cent.

However, worldwide, every development indicator reveals that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women, and that they disproportionately experience poverty, exclusion and the effects of climate change.

Why close gender gap?

Two primary motivators to close the gender gap in agriculture are equality and efficiency. These goals are not mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing.

A woman who is better-informed about farming grows more and earns more. One billion of the world’s poor live in rural areas. Eighty per cent of what we eat is produced by smallholders. In fact, farming supports 2.5 billion lives in Asia and Africa. Women farmers may be as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, but are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs and markets, and they get lower prices for their crops. This should change. Control over and ownership of assets are critical components of a farmer’s well-being. Despite accounting for half of the workforce in agriculture, less than 10 per cent of women farmers are land owners. As the land owner takes most of the decisions on the land, a woman working on the land is clearly the one with less power, contributing to the gender inequality.

Gender and markets

The gender gap exists in access to markets, too. Many women participate in labour markets as wage workers on farms or as processors and traders along the agricultural value chain, but much of their work is informal or unpaid, and goes unrecorded.

There is a keen interest among agricultural development policy circles in enhancing value chains as a means of raising incomes. But most approaches to value-chain development do not address how to organise markets in gender-equitable ways. Improving women’s participation in agricultural value chains can help ensure steady flow of quality goods, improve efficiency of business, ensure dignity of work and economic equity for all, and lead to broad-based economic growth.

Kudumbashree in Kerala and SERP (Society For Elimination of Rural Poverty) in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which work with 4 million and 10 million farmers, respectively, have shown that marketing models with women can work at scale.

UN Women expects 124 countries to cut their Budgets this year alone, eroding social protection measures and essential services on which many rural women and girls depend. It is a matter of political will to change this. But what can we do about it?

Way forward

Better data: Accurate, up-to-date, region-specific information and analysis is necessary for good gender-aware agricultural policy-making. Data is needed to better understand gender roles in agriculture and how they change over time and in response to new opportunities.

Policy change: All existing agricultural land held by men should be transferred from single ownership to joint ownership with the women in the family. Today, such transfer of land attracts payment towards property registration fees and taxes — stamp duty — of about 10 per cent. This should be waived and such transfers should be made mandatory. Without this, agricultural subsidies should not be granted .

Women farmer centricity: We should reimagine agriculture to make it women-friendly. Sprayers should be made light-weight. Tractors should be made convenient for women to drive. Ultimately, women should be nurtured to be farm entrepreneurs, not just farm labourers.

The writer is co-founder and president, Kheyti, an agri-tech start-up

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