Women farmers are at the forefront of agriculture and are ready to embrace organic farming, observes Priti Narasimhan after meeting farmers in southern Andhra Pradesh.
Earlier this year, in end of February, I spent two days with women farmers in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh, as a part of a field visit to the Women Farmers’ Rights Project implemented by Women’s Initiative (WINS).
The main impression as we travelled village after village was that women were at the forefront of farming activity. However the face of Indian agriculture continues to be the male farmer, which is apparent even with a simple google image search for “Indian farmer.”
That invisibility of the woman farmer is not the only aspect of gender discrimination, was obvious from a discussion during a workshop with women farmers in Madanapalli on “Gender Differentiated Roles in Farming.” Women spoke with courage, candor and humor: We learnt of their 18-hour work days including the 9.30 PM or 3 AM trips to water the fields when the power was provided; of the indignities of being chided “for doing nothing” in spite of starting work at least 1-2 hours ahead of everyone else in the household; and of how men loved to do the “cooler” farming tasks such as spraying chemicals or using the tractor.
They also provided great insight into how gender roles worked against them- in spite of contributing equally if not more to the production process, men still controlled all the market functions and therefore income from the sale of the produce. They explained that this is not just an issue that can be solved by acquiring new skills such as numeracy, rather it was social issue since women open themselves up to criticism over their character once they leave the confines of their homes/fields.
The other constant theme throughout the trip were the woes we heard about plant disease and all kinds of crops dying in spite of spraying of pesticides, fertilizers, etc. Many women were also beginning to connect the dots between pesticides use and health and mentioned that doctors have been asking about pesticides usage in cases of infant abnormalities. It did seem like there was an appetite to try out a new way of farming, without the use of chemicals that could help them save on input costs as well as protect their families health.
I left the visit feeling very hopeful: the women I met are resilient and full of humor in dealing with their situation; they are persistent and patient in trying to understand how they can organize to get the necessary information and tools to improve their situation; and they are flexible and open to try out new ways of farming. More than anything else, I am thankful for the shared moments with these wonderful strong women!
The women farmers’ rights project is being implemented by Women’s Initiative (WINS) to assist women farmers in Chittoor District in A.P, to better understand their rights and utilize the resources available to them, at the same time increasing gender sensitivity in the Agriculture (extension) Department. Ms.P. Anitha and P. Alivelu, community workers are collecting baseline data on women tenancy details which well help WINS work with the agriculture department on development of training/workshop modules for sensitizing extension officers on rights of women farmers, producing a handbook for women farmers and setting up gender responsive cells at the Panchayat level.
Priti Narasimhan works in the field of regenerative agriculture and volunteers for AID in Seattle and with the AID Agriculture Cell. She visited Tirupathi, Ramachandrapuram, Chinnagorupadu Panchayat- Pakala Mandal, SC colony, Diguvapalle, Pakala Mandal, Kotha Vaddepalli (BC village), Venkatramapuram and Madanapalli in Andhra Pradesh.
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