Strengthening Women’s Leadership in India’s Agriculture Sector -Sherry-Lee Singh
Women are of vital importance to the rural economy and the agricultural sector. About 75% of women in rural areas work full-time as farmers, but only 13% own land and continue to be underrepresented in the sector. They also spend more time in the field; but have little or no decision-making power despite their vital contribution to the economy.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has increased pressures on Indian smallholder farmers, limiting direct on-farm support and hampering post-harvest activities, but as the country moves towards a post-pandemic future, it is important that the growth of the agricultural sector is understood. Increasing the role of women farmers is a key objective. As they become financially and digitally self-sufficient, it has a multiplier impact on their families and the community as a whole.
Aggregation models, knowledge and training on adopting sustainable practices, expanding access to technological solutions, improving harvesting and marketing plans that consider women’s livelihoods, and access to institutional support and funding can all play a collective role in achieving this.
Strengthening aggregation models such as Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) can help women farmers build their capacity and market linkages. Women have traditionally had low levels of membership and leadership within FPOs. Ensuring women’s representation on the boards of agricultural producer companies (FPCs) helps build their capacity to engage in value chain activities and can contribute to improved and more inclusive governance of FPCs. In addition, Self-Help Group (SHG) formation can help provide women with skills-building trainings around different agricultural practices such as improved animal husbandry, financial literacy and exposure to climate change. market, also increasing their collective bargaining power. These groups can be entry points for opening pathways to more formalized FPC membership. Connecting women farmers to legitimate buyers through OPAs can help them avoid making distress sales for cash crops. Crop choices can also increase women’s participation rates in agriculture, in addition to providing nutrition.
There is immense potential for innovative technologies and solutions to help women farmers increase their incomes by becoming informed participants in a more efficient, transparent and resilient technology supply chain. FPOs and FPO service providers also have a critical role to play in bringing smallholder farmers into the digital age, through interventions that help them monitor market and weather information and access financial services. They can also help facilitate digital payment methods that are both faster and easily acceptable.
Despite limited equitable participation, women have made progress in joining leadership roles in FPOs, but they need clearer pathways to develop. Inventions are needed to increase women’s representation, voice and decision-making in FPOs with the aim of promoting better access to markets, technology and finance. Moving from measuring inclusion to empowerment requires more attention and additional efforts from various public and private actors in the ecosystem, to develop women-centered institutional models for the development of agriculture and agriculture-related activities and adopt a value chain approach. This can help pave the way for empowering women farmers to further accelerate economic growth and have a real transformative impact on the agricultural sector as well.
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