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Women in Marathwada go against the grain

Radheshyam Jadhav Recently in Marathwada region | Updated on April 25, 2019 Published on April 25, 2019

These farmers from Latur have become masters of their own destiny

Take up farming, long considered a man’s job

“You cannot fight drought and destiny. When men can’t do anything what are you going to achieve,” was the question Malan Raut faced from family members when she insisted on cultivating a patch of family land.

Anjali Masurkar ruffled many feathers when she dared cross the threshold of her husband’s home, ignoring the tradition of ghungat (wearing a veil) to join a self-help group and take up farming.

Vaishali Ghuge was all alone in her struggle to cultivate the land with meagre water, while Mangal Waghmare was ridiculed by her family and villagers when she claimed that farming could be a beneficial venture.

These brave women farmers are heralding a silent but significant change on the ground in Maharashtra’s drought-hit Marathwada region. Malan, Anjali, Vaishali, Mangal and hundreds like them have developed oases in their parched villages by using traditional techniques and organic farming and by creating parallel sources of income such as poultry, goat rearing, dairy etc so that their families survive, even in a drought.

Mangal Waghmare from Latur explains the silent change that is taking place in Marathwada. She says that women have realised that men run after cash crops such as cotton and sugarcane and are interested in farming when abundant water is available. Women step into farming when there is little water and little money to cultivate.

Feminising agriculture

A few years ago, Malan Raut and her family struggled for survival like others in the region. “Village women used to discuss what we can do to save our families from drought. We realised that we have to cultivate at least for our own livelihood. This is how it started,” recalls this woman farmer from Nagarsoga village in Latur district.

The Economic Survey 2017-18 observed that with rural to urban migration by men growing, the agriculture sector is witnessing ‘feminisation’. More and more women are taking on multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs and labourers.

Malan and other women turned to organic farming and started cultivating indigenous varieties of vegetable and foodgrains that required less water and no fertiliser. The women had a very clear objective: they didn’t want to cultivate for the market, but for survival. Malan’s family members first opposed and then ignored her and then decided to leave her to her fate. But today she is the lead player in farming wheat, jowar, onion, soya and vegetables in her 32 guntha land.

“But one must not completely depend on agriculture. I have poultry and even if the crop fails, I am able to sustain my family,” she says. Adds her husband Sambhaji: “Like other men, I always believed that farming is a man’s job, but my wife has proved me wrong.”

“There are many women like Malan, who have taken up farming. In villages, it was not easy to convince men that women can do a better job. Today, women cultivate for family and also for the market,” says Anjali, who is playing an active role in galvanising women to join self-help groups.

Sitting in her lush green farm in Andur village of Osmanabad district, Vaishali Ghuge remembers the day that changed her life. “After every few years, there is a drought and people migrate to cities. A few years ago, I was travelling and I saw a family where young children were crying, hugging their parents who were migrating to the city leaving the kids with relatives. Drought inflicts tragedies,” she says with tears in her eyes.

Vaishali started cultivating vegetables and then met a group of women who added her to their self-help group. “I also produce organic fertiliser, which has good demand,” she says proudly showing off her newly-built house.

NGOs and government agencies have played the role of facilitators, while the women themselves are a driving force to bring about change. “There is rising number of farmer suicides in the region, but at the same time thousands of women are working to combat drought and poverty,” says Vikas Kamble of Swayam Shikshan Prayog, a local NGO working with women farmers.

Published on April 25, 2019
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