[Burning Issue] Feminisation of agriculture sector


Since 2017, October 15 is celebrated as Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas in India.


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  • Economic Survey 2017-18, says that with growing rural to urban migration by men, there is ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector, with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers.
  • Globally, there is empirical evidence that women have a decisive role in ensuring food security and preserving local agro-biodiversity.
  • Rural women are responsible for the integrated management and use of diverse natural resources to meet the daily household needs. This requires that women farmers should have enhanced access to resources like land, water, credit, technology and training which warrants critical analysis in the context of India.
  • In addition, the entitlements of women farmers will be the key to improve agriculture productivity.

What is feminization of agriculture?

The term ‘Feminization of agriculture’ refers to increasing participation of women in agricultural activities. It can be interpreted in the following ways:

  • An increase in the percentage of women who are economically active in agricultural sector either as self-employed or as agriculture wage workers or unremunerated family workers
  • An increase in the percentage of women in agricultural labour force relative to men, either because of more women are working or because of fewer men are working in agriculture.
  • The extent to which women define, control and enact the processes of agriculture

Women in Indian agriculture: Statistics

  • Participation of both men and women in agriculture has declined, but the rate of decline has been faster among men than it has among women.
  • Decline among women has been specifically in relation to their roles as cultivators, however their numbers as agricultural labourers have increased
  • The Agriculture Census (2010-11) shows that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators, 30.3% were females. Similarly, out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural labourers, 42.6% were females.
  • According to Census 2011, there has been a 24% increase in the number of female agricultural labourers between 2001 and 2011.
  • As per Census 2011, out of total female main workers, 55% were agricultural labourers and 24% cultivators.


Role of Women in Agriculture and Allied Activities:

Rural women are engaged in agricultural activities in three different ways depending on the socio-economic status: They are work as:

  • Agricultural Labourers.
  • Cultivator doing labour on their own land.
  • Managers of certain aspects of agricultural production by way of labour supervision and the participation in post-harvest operations.

Functions performed:

  • Agricultural Activities: Sowing, transplanting, weeding, irrigation, fertilizer application, plant protection, harvesting, winnowing, storing etc.
  • Allied Activities: Cattle management, fodder collection, milking etc.
  • Women play an important role in agricultural development, in ensuring food security and preserving local agro-biodiversity.
  • Rural women are also responsible for the integrated management and use of diverse natural resources to meet the daily household needs.

Causes of Feminization of Indian Agriculture:

  1. Poverty: Poverty is a major factor due to which women are women are forced to work as agricultural labourers to supplement the family’s income. Women also work as unremunerated workers in family fields.
  2. Agrarian Distress and Shift of men to Casual work: Agrarian distress is a predominant factor for disruption of farm labour or de-pesantatization i.e. migration of males from agriculture towards casual work. According to a 2013 report published in The Hindu, between 2001 and 2011, a total of 7.7 million farmers left agriculture. With rising shift of men from farm to non-farm activities, women have got absorbed in agricultural and allied activities.
  3. Migration to Urban Areas: According to the Economic Survey 2017-18, with growing rural to urban migration by men, there has been ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector; there has been an increase in participation of women as cultivators, labourers and entrepreneurs.
  4. Mechanization of agriculture: With increased mechanisation of agriculture, men have moved to other non-farm activities while women have been confined to traditional roles such as winnowing, harvesting, sowing seeds and rearing livestock.
  5. Mobility: The upward mobility of women for employment is restricted and is further constrained by gender wage differentials. As per Census, about 33.7% of rural males migrate for reasons of employment and better economic opportunities. However, in the case of females, it is as low as 3.6% for rural females.


  1. Access to land: Lack of access to land is the major challenge faced by women in Indian agriculture. As per Census Agricultural Census (2015-16), out of a total 146 million operational holdings, the percentage share of female operational holders is only 13.87%.
  2. Access to credit: A lack of ownership of land does not allow women farmers to approach banks for institutional loans as banks usually consider land as collateral.
  3. Access to agricultural inputs: When compared to men, women generally have less access to resources and modern inputs (seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) to make farming more productive.
  4. Access to technology: Mechanization of agriculture has resulted in confinement of women in low paying traditional works. Further, most farm machinery is difficult for women to operate.
  5. Access to education, training and extension services: Access to education, agricultural training and extension services for women has been predominantly low as compared to men.
  6. Managing different roles: In addition to intensive work on the farm all day, women are also expected to fulfil domestic obligations like cooking, child rearing, water collection, fuel wood gathering, household maintenance etc.
  7. Wage: Despite more work for longer hours when compared to male farmers, women farmers have lower wage rates and at times remain unpaid.
  8. Marketing: Small and marginal farmers in India lack adequate access to marketing facilities due to lack of basic infrastructure like market yards, roads and transportation, and storage including freezers and presence of middlemen. Additional constraints for women include seclusion, lack of literacy, knowledge and information. Further, women have no representation in agricultural marketing committees and other similar bodies.
  9. Feminization of poverty: Women lack viable livelihood alternatives, and are forced to undertake farm activities that have been left by men due to agrarian distress. According to scholars, feminization of agriculture in India is actually “feminization of agrarian distress” or can also be termed as “feminization of poverty”.
  10. Violence: Violence and sexual harassment at workplace is a major issue faced by women agricultural labours and cultivators in India which mostly goes unreported.
  11. Health and Occupational Hazards: Women face health hazards in the cultivation of many crops and plantations due to lack of training, lack of protective gears and long working hours. Lack of nutritional security further perpetuates health issues.

Government efforts

The following measures have been taken to ensure the mainstreaming of women in agriculture sector:

  1. The government has earmarked at least 30% of the budget allocation for women beneficiaries in all ongoing schemes/programmes and development activities.
  2. Women centric activities have been initiated to ensure benefits of various beneficiary-oriented programs/schemes reach them.
  3. The government has been focusing on women self-help group (SHG) to connect them to micro-credit through capacity building activities and to provide information and ensuring their representation in different decision-making bodies.
  4. Since, most farmers including women farmers are marginal farmers, the government has proposed that crop land holdings must be consolidated to reap the benefits of agricultural mechanisation including enhanced productivity, promote the rental model of farm machinery and reduce the cost of operations.
  5. Recognizing the critical role of women in agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has declared 15th October of every year as Women Farmer’s Day.

Way Forward:

  1. A gender analysis is important for development policies and programs directed at agriculture. The Economic Survey (2017-18) recommended that there is an urgent need for ‘inclusive transformative agricultural policy’ aimed at gender-specific interventions.
  2. The government should ensure access to secure land and property rights. A formal access to land will help increase productivity by facilitating investments and would ensure household food security and nutrition
  3. Provision of credit without collateral under the micro-finance initiative of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development should be encouraged
  4. The training of rural women to help them adopt modern agricultural techniques that are tailored to local conditions and that use natural resources in a sustainable manner. Krishi Vigyan Kendras in every district can be assigned an additional task to educate and train women farmers about innovative technology along with extension services.
  5. It is important to have gender-friendly tools and machinery for various farm operations. Manufacturers should be incentivised to come up with more women-friendly machineries.
  6. Legal measures should be taken to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. Women should be made aware to help them negotiate equal wages and women organizations and unions can play an important role in this. The ILO has developed a program named Women’s Education for Integrating Women Members in Rural Workers’ Organizations with the objective of increasing empowerment of rural women in Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.
  7. To achieve the full economic benefit from employment, rural women should be provided a greater choice over their occupations so that they are not forced to do the work left behind by men. It is thus important to have overall women empowerment through education, awareness and doing away with gender biases.


  • With women predominant at all levels-production, pre-harvest, post-harvest processing, packaging, marketing – of the agricultural value chain, to increase productivity in agriculture, it is imperative to adopt gender specific interventions.
  • An ‘inclusive transformative agricultural policy’ should aim at gender-specific intervention to raise productivity of small farm holdings, integrate women as active agents in rural transformation, and engage men and women in extension services with gender expertise.

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