Women’s role and leadership in agriculture and producers organisation is governed by various sociological, psychological and economic variables. Therefore, it is imperative to understand different aspects of sociological, psychological and economic perspectives on women.
Economically, women constitute 49.6 per cent of global population, but they share only 40.8 per cent global labour market. About 48.4 per cent women’s productive potential is underutilized, but in case of men it is only 22 per cent. According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2010) most female household work is classified as non-economic activity, and they are classified as outside the labor force. More than six in ten women remain economically ‘inactive’ in three regions of the world- North Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East.
Women in Agriculture
Globally, 35.4 per cent women are employed in agriculture, as compared to 32.2 per cent of men; this figure is 60 per cent for Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. Agriculture sector employs 4/5th of all economically active women. Women constitute 1/3 of the Agricultural labour force and 48 per cent of self employed farmer (ILO 2009). In context to India, nearly 84 per cent of all economically active women in India are engaged in agriculture and allied activity (Agricultural Census 2011). About 60 per cent of agricultural operations are exclusively done by women except ploughing. Rural India is thus witnessing a process called as ‘feminization of agriculture’. There is high number male migrate to seek better jobs in cities with shrinking land holdings’ size and decreasing family income. This leaves women overburdened with additional farming responsibility apart from household responsibilities. Moreover many women are not so well equipped with the technical knowhow because of lack of literacy and poor extension contacts.
Producers Organisation or Farmers Producers Organisation (FPO) is a group of rural producers coming together based on the principle of membership, to pursue specific common interest of their members and developing technical and economic activities that benefit their member and maintaining relations with the partners operating in their economic and institutional environment (Anonymous, 2004).
Many times yields of small farmers are low and less market prices limits their motivation to improve production yields. They also have limitations in providing continuous supply of products. As individual farmer, they have very limited access to information, agricultural services and improved technology. Moreover financing services institutions consider them as high risk group. All these aspects reflect need for establishment of farmer’s organizations.
FO are the essential institutions for the empowerment, poverty alleviation and advancement of farmers and the rural poor (FAO,2000). FOs should be promoted to combine the advantages of decentralized production and centralized services, post harvest management, value addition and marketing (NCF,2004).
Why women FPO
The following points illustrate the need of women’s farmers’ organization in India.
- i) Nearly 84 % of all economically active women in India engaged in Agriculture and allied activity.
- ii) Most women are marginalised, resource poor, lacks social and financial capital
iii) Changing social and cultural dynamics: Women are ready to assume bigger roles and responsibilities, leadership position
- iv) Feminisation of agriculture: Because of migration of male members to the city for job searching.
For achieving desired social change in rural society, rural women are key agents and can play important role. In the wake of global demand for agriculture produce, opportunities are available for diversifying markets and earn competitive price for produce through food processing and value addition. FPO can help rural women to organize themselves for action, share the resources and get access to new markets and technology through collective action. Through FPO, they can influence policies and programmes of the government. FPOs provide opportunities for the rural women to participate in the decision making process of the developmental activities and provide more effective learning environment.
What kind of services can be provided by the women FPO?
Women FPO can provide following types of services.
- a) Marketing services: consultancies, input supply, marketing of produce, processing, packaging, market information etc.
- b) Financial services: savings, loans and other forms of credit
- c) Educational services: business skill, advanced technologies, entrepreneurship development skill training etc.
- d) Technology services: training, extension , education, literature etc
- e) Welfare services: Health, education to the members
Role of Extension agencies and professionals
According to Chamala 1990, extension agents and agencies can play following role in strengthening the women’s producers organization.
- a) Empowerment
- b) Community organizing
- c) Human resource development
- d) Education and problem solving
Challenges faced by women
While working in Women FPO, women are most likely to face following problems.
- Lack of social capital and network
- Less mentors and local role models
- Lack of access to infrastructure
- Limited access to education and appropriate skills training, availability and cost of child care provision
- Household and family responsibilities
- Inadequate social protection
- Patriarchial mindset
- Lack of ownership over resources
- Self fulfilling prophecy
- External locus of control
- weak bargaining power within the household
- Domestic violence, and sexual oppression.
Vicious cycle of povertyTowo (2004) studied the relationship between gender and rural producers in Tanzania where he found clear differences between the experience of women and male farmers within producer organizations. Lack of sensitization of gender issues, restricted participation of women in meetings and the difficulties associated with balancing heavy domestic workloads were major factors behind the low female participation in producer organisations. Most of the organsations lacked the necessary lobbying and advocacy skills to encourage the participation of women in forums and expand outreach. These constraints and limitations of the FO can be overcome by forming FO exclusively for the women.
Opportunities available to women
Though women face different types of problems and challenges, there are multiple opportunities available with them which can be exploited for empowering hitherto neglected half population of the rural India.
- Congenial policy environment
- Success stories and role models
- Increase in education level of women
- Changing socio cultural patterns and norms
- IT revolution, automation: Decline in physical work
- Multiplicity of agencies like NGO, government, international organisations, religious groups to act as catalyst for formation and sustenance of groups
- Declining fertility rate-less time for household activities
- Changing consumer preferences: value addition through group activities
- Economy of scale: collective production and marketing; less transaction cost
Good practices for implementing women’s participation in FPO for agricultural development
A book “Gender in agriculture, a source book” by WB, FAO and IFAD (2008) suggests some good practices for women’s participation in groups. These are as follow.
- a) Use group formation strategies that are easily replicable and lead to scaling up.
- b) Provide long term, high quality capacity development and mentoring over at least one to two years from inception of groups.
- c) Explicit efforts to include women with different resource endowments in governance and decision making.
- d) Specific policies to alleviate gendered work and power relations unfavorable to women.
- e) Develop group management and leadership skills as well as technical skills for women as well as for men in the early stages of group organization.
- f) Asses the need for intensive social awareness and gender sensitization training for women and men to build mutual confidence, esteem, and capacity to negotiate.
- g) Selective targeting to enable women to control some key inputs and resources critical to projects success.
- f) Mechanism in group that include women and men in performance evaluation of groups and their leaders, and some enforceable sanctions such as the ability to withhold membership fees. Promote inclusive information sharing that enhances women’s understanding of the rights and opportunities.
Women FPO is a key factor in empowering large number of marginal and small farmers and women in agriculture to mobilise and organise them. FPO can effectively used to break the cycle of poverty, reducing transaction cost, increasing economy of scale and giving advantages of collective bargaining. Extension policies and programme should focus on formation of more number of women FPO. Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) should be given responsibility to form at least one FPO in a district with emphasis on women farmers.