Waiting for Women Farmers’ Bill

Hema Yadav | Updated on January 25, 2013 Published on January 25, 2013

Women farmers of Mizoram walk 20 km, carrying heavy loads of ginger, to reach the APMC market in Assam.

A study on the status of women farmers in Uttar Pradesh by Oxfam International shows that only 6 per cent of women own land, less than 1 per cent have participated in government training programmes, 4 per cent have access to institutional credit and only 8 per cent have control over agricultural income.

Women farmers across the country continue to labour in farms to produce food, with unequal rights to land, credit, benefits and training. The dismal condition continues even when women comprise 33 per cent of the agricultural labour force. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of the Women Farmers’ Entitlement Bill, 2011 presented in Parliament in May 2012.

Assets other than land

The Bill defines ‘women farmers’ as also the certification of women farmers by the gram panchayat. It also has a provision to acknowledge and certify group women farmers.

The Bill holds good only when women farmers have entitlement to land. What about women who have assets other than land, but who are beyond the ambit of defined entitlements? The livelihood-generating resources of women farmers such as fish, ducks, ruminants do not qualify to secure a loan or support from Government programmes. Such women farmers do not have certification of being a farmer and hence are marginalised by various Government programmes or services which aim to benefit farmers.

In cases where women own land, the question is how much control the woman has in terms of decision making. Decision-making regarding sale, mortgage, purchase of land and other productive resources remains in the hands of men. Her access to control land is constrained by many informal barriers.

There has been a favourable amendment in the Hindu Succession Act but this does not stop women from voluntarily forgoing rights over land and property. If it is not voluntary, they are forced by family members to relinquish their share to maintain ‘harmony’.

It is also expected from women to give up right over property to ward off tension in family. In such circumstances, informal barriers and customary practices make women lose the opportunity to exercise rights over entitlement.

Market facilities

The Bill has a provision for establishment of Central Agricultural Development Fund for Women Farmers (CADFWF). This fund is to be utilised for support services for women farmers.

A national survey of 5,000 markets in India showed that none of the markets had a rest house for women producers who come to markets. The markets are lacking in basic facilities such as toilet blocks. Appropriate market infrastructure for women farmers is grossly missing in the market yards, which reduces market participation of women.

In the North-East and hill areas, proper market infrastructure and civic facilities have been the biggest hindrance to market access. Women farmers of Mizoram have been coming to Katlicherra market, an Agriculture produce market (APMC) of Hailakandi district, Assam, to sell ginger once a week.

These women farmers carry ginger and turmeric on a basket and walk a distance of 20 km in the early hours of the morning to reach Katlicherra market to sell their produce when the market opens at 8 a.m. The APMC has no resting place or a toilet block for women farmers who travel on foot with head load of 20 kg to reach this market.

While designing markets and marketing infrastructure, due cognisance needs to be taken of facilities such as rest rooms, waiting rooms and toilet blocks for women producer sellers.

Capacity building

The fund under CADFWF needs to be utilised in capacity building and training of women farmers. Equipping small and marginal women farmers with the skills to improve production and marketing is an important step towards securing livelihood, reducing poverty and increasing entitlement.

It is hoped that the Bill will help in removing imbalances in distribution of resources and benefits that accrue from various schemes. Further creation of funds for support service and capacity building of women will increase access to knowledge and information, and thereby increase opportunities to enhance income and well-being of her family.

(The author is Deputy Director, National Institute of Agricultural Marketing, Jaipur.)

Published on January 25, 2013
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