About 15 women farmers from Gaur village in Osmanabad recently dispatched the first consignment of fruits and vegetables to the Washi, Nashik and Mumbai markets. In the last few months, they have been working on a model to cultivate fruits and vegetable to sustain themselves and their families in this time of the Covid-19-induced crisis.

But these women from Osmanabad are not alone in this effort. Hundreds of women in rural Maharashtra have taken charge of farming, playing a decisive role in ensuring food security for their households. With men losing jobs as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, women in Maharashtra are taking the reins of farming into their hands.

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Feminisation of agriculture

The term ‘feminisation of agriculture’ was first seen in the Economic Survey 2017-18. It acknowledged the fact that rural women were moving into agriculture in a big way. And Maharashtra’s women are seen as leading this change.

“Women have always played a major role in agriculture. However, their contribution has never been recognised. Covid-19 brought with it several challenges, and women faced them with determination. In the last few months, men (in large numbers) lost their jobs, and the young boys working in the cities returned to the villages. Now women are finding new ways to make agriculture profitable and land is the only resource here,” says Shailaja Narwade a farmer and entrepreneur from Masla village.

She had taken a lead to establish the Vijayalaxmi Sakhi Producer Company which is producing and marketing pulses. She and other women are operating the seed business they started soon after the Covid-19 crisis panned out.

“You will find many examples where women who were playing a supporting role in agriculture earlier, are now taking the lead. Men are more interested in cash crops and they cultivate when there is ample water, as well as money to buy fertilizers and pesticides. Women cultivate when none of these inputs are available,” observes Vikas Kamble, who works with Swayam Shikshan Prayog, an NGO working with women farmers.

In Nashik, women farmers are playing a lead role in grape cultivation. In Marathwada, various women groups with the help of NGOs and other organisations have joined hands to start collective farming and marketing. In western Maharashtra, women farmers have strengthened the self-help group (SHG) movement to support each other.

Also read: Grape Expectations: Women’s labour bears fruit in Nashik

Economic Survey 2017-18, tabled in Parliament by late Union Minister for Finance Arun Jaitley, had said that with the growing rural to urban migration by men, ‘feminisation’ of the agriculture sector was taking roots, as an increasing number of women were moving into multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers.

In the last few months, an increasing number of women have moved into cultivation, pre-harvest, post-harvest processing, packaging and marketing activities. Parts of rural Maharashtra are becoming a laboratory of feminisation of agriculture amidst the Covid-19 crisis.