Visitors at our orchards near Devgad, often marvel at the effort put in by my father in transforming a once hard rocky land into a thriving mango orchard. I always make it a point to inform them that it was my mother who played a bigger role in setting it up while my father was away in the Middle East.
She had the foresight to invest her savings in small parcels of land, building them one piece at a time, which eventually led to where our orchard stands today. Another accomplishment was to ensure the right documentation for the land title ownership, an element often overlooked back in the day and one which many women are still denied a right to under some pretext or another. The orchard may have been small in size, but it is a testament to her grit and determination in building, transformation, generating employment and providing an economic support system in whatever way she could.
Like her, there are thousands of women across the country, who play a significant role in supporting the economy but don’t get the due recognition they deserve.
India’s agricultural sector is amongst the largest in the world with an estimated 180 million hectares of farmland under cultivation. The average Indian farm is just about 1.5 acres in size as compared to 50 hectares in France or 178 hectares in the United States. Small land holdings have often been attributed to the economic unviability of Indian farming, leading to men migrating to cities in search of a livelihood, leaving women folk behind to manage the small farms. Estimates claim women make up almost 33% of cultivators and 47% of the agricultural labourers. Despite these large numbers, their contribution goes unrecognized not only in terms of due credit, but also land rights, access to credit, representation in local farmers organizations, but also in terms of pay, with daily wage labourers earning almost 50% less than their male counterparts.
So what can you do at an individual level to make a difference at your farms and within your families? Start with the basics. Promote women’s literacy, educate them about their rights, provide growth and leadership opportunities and an equal say in decision making. Support access to credit, their share in land rights and pay parity.
What I speak about is from personal experience … and I’ve seen it work.