It’s Time to Recognize Women Farmers in India

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word, I think of a man.

Or, at least I used to think of a man. Before I went to India, that is. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture but due to traditional gender roles they are rarely recognized as farmers. This is no news, but because of severe climate change and male work migration to cities women farmers are now more visible than ever, which creates an urgent need for them actually to be recognized as such.

So, the feminization of farming does not mean that women suddenly start taking part in agriculture work, but rather that they become visible within the agricultural sector. It means that many women across India are now taking care of both their households and their farms, while their husbands move to the cities in order to find another income to make ends meet. It means that women work for 3300 hours, while men work 1860 hours in a crop season. It means that there is an urgent need for women farmers to be recognized in order to be able to maintain a sustainable way of living.

There are a lot of initiatives in India aimed at the empowerment of small farmers. However, they are often formed to fit the average male farmer, which means that they fail to address the specific needs of women farmers. Taking care of the household and the children result in women having less time and opportunity to, for example, take part in farming training and travel to the market to sell their produce. Furthermore, if women are not recognized as farmers in the first place, they will still be overlooked when new projects for farmers’ empowerment are initiated.

Women play a vital role in food production, not only in India, but around the world. However, due to patriarchal structures they do not have equal access to land ownership. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture, but only 9.4% own land. We know that if women could improve their economic and social status it generates more productive farms and decreases child malnutrition. If women were to be given equal access to productive resources, they could yield 20-30 % more.

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I now think of strong women.

In addition to tending to their farms, they are also looking after their children, cooking, cleaning and fetching water and firewood. These women have been discriminated for ages and their skills and knowledge have not been recognized simply because they are women. It has to change. If women farmers are not recognized, if they do not have access to productive resources, if they do not have access to proper education, who will feed the next generation?

The feminization of farming has been going on for decades, and it will most likely continue. Women farmers are the future and there is an urgent need to recognize them as such. Not only in India, but everywhere.

Food Security From the Ground Up

This is a guest post by Debby Rooney, cofounder of BEADS for Education.

Teenagers in Kenya, like 16-year-old Charity, know devastating drought and famine firsthand. Charity can still recall the memories of a devastating drought and famine in 2009:

A great famine befell the land of Kenya, more so Kajiado County (south of Nairobi). By that time I was in class four. I can remember all that had happened to the people, not only the people but also the animals. For the pastoralist’s like the Maasai (my tribe) they had suffered a lot. Their only source of food was dying. We are dependent on our livestock. Sometimes getting a jug of milk from ten cows was a miracle. At times milking cows, sheep or goats was like squeezing water from a rock.

Anywhere you went there were carcasses that occupied most parts of the land. The only lucky animals by that time were the carnivores. Hyenas became a disaster at night. People could not sleep because they feared for their livestock. Water was another problem though people could at least get a little. Days went by and there was no rainfall. During the day it was sunny thus increased hunger. The population decreased day by day. Surely the food shortage brought disaster to our land. The wild animals were not spared either.

Charity noticed that the Kenya government was of little assistance to the drought victims who needed food for their families and their livestock. To her community, food was more than just food- it was their only means of livelihood. Finally, after months of despair, grain arrived from other countries and other non-profit agencies, including BEADS for Education.

The common solution to these familiar catastrophes is international food assistance, with little investment in long-term sustainable projects. People are hungry and in need of assistance so the action is immediate. But what happens when the next catastrophe happens? BEADS for Education works to create sustainable solutions by empowering Kenyan schoolgirls with knowledge and know-how of improved farming methods, food preservation and water management.

Photo c/o Segal Family Foundation
Photo c/o Segal Family Foundation

Over 500 girls in Kenya are either enrolled in school or have graduated from college through the BEADS sponsorship program. Girls from grade 4 through college have been sponsored since 1998. Most are enrolled at a few handpicked schools, but a growing number attend the BEADS-built boarding high school, Tembea Academy. Located in south-central Kenya, Tembea teaches food security and provides a quality education for its students.

Behind Tembea’s classrooms, dormitories, and school library are two large greenhouses where the students grow kale, spinach, tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables, using a drip irrigation system to preserve water and fertilizer. BEADS plans to pasture animals for milk and meat. An onsite well, slated to be finished in the next year, will provide both substantial financial savings and opportunities for student projects connected with water conservation and storage.

In the first term of each school year, Tembea students learn a variety of food preservation practices. Hands-on workshops have include drying foods, storing grains, and canning carrots, tomatoes and other vegetables. In the next year each girl will build her own small greenhouse and later teach the practice in her local community.

Young women in Kenya are excited about food preservation and its lifesaving possibilities. They pass on newfound knowledge and skills to their families and villages, empowering others. Charity and other young women sponsored through BEADS hope to change the future of Kenya by developing practices that encourage food and water security for themselves and their nation.

 More information about BEADS for Education and its many programs in Kenya to improve girls’ education and empower women can be found here or contact Debby Rooney, BEADS Cofounder, at beadsofkenya@aol.com. If you would like to expand the opportunities for a girl in Kenya, explore sponsorship here

Cover photo courtesy of the Segal Family Foundation.