Female farmers are central to India’s agricultural economy: Yet, are they still invisible?

Women farmers are invisible as far as the state and society are concerned. They perform most of the ‘big jobs’ like sowing and harvesting, yet, their access to resources is less than that of men. To accelerate the pace of growth in India’s agricultural sector, there is a need to bridge this gap and give equal access to men and women (Munshi, 2017).

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture organisation; if access to productive resources for women is similar to that for men, they can increase yields on their farms by up to 30%. This can raise the total agricultural output of developing countries by 4% which means that it can reduce the number of hungry people by 12-17%, which is almost 100 million people (Munshi, 2017).

We must empower women farmers at the grassroots level by providing them with an established identity and knowledge on the technical and financial aspects of agriculture. Issues like lack of physical accessibility of female farmers to various public spaces dominated by males, such as markets, is therefore an obstacle in the reform. There is an urgent need to make communication and information tools easily accessible to women (Unnati, et.al, 2012).

How is India empowering its women?

Marking 15th October as women farmers’ day by the government of India has helped to provide a legitimate identity to female farmers. The awareness campaign launched by the government as part of the initiative looks at how Agricultural Science centres can play a significant role in empowering women farmers and shifting the existing biased perceptions regarding women’s role in agriculture (Munshi 2017). It could be a game-changer in the near future, if celebrated in its true context.

Women have made significant contributions to agriculture in India, but they do not actively participate in the decision-making process (Jha, 2015). They do not participate in farms as managers. Women in a patriarchal society are normalised as the weaker sex. Tribal women and those belonging to the lower castes face worse marginalisation although they comprise 81% of women farmers in India according to a study conducted by an International Labour Organisation. (Bala, 2010).

How does migration, education and lack of recognition affect women farmers?


When men migrated to urban centres in search of better prospects women took their place in the agricultural sector. An essential strategy for livelihood diversification is migration, especially for rural households. Research show that men are more likely to migrate than women and in India. Short-term migration is responsible for worker mobility. Data taken during short term migration shows that in the absence of men, women are more likely to make decisions regarding household’s farm holdings (Swaminathan, 2017).

Women vs. men in education

A higher educational level in men as compared to women suggests that men are more likely to move out of agriculture; the presumption being that they look for better employment options beyond farming. There is also a steady decline in the women’s labour force participation rate in the farm sector.  Increase in the level of literacy amongst females is a reason for this. Education allows them to explore other activities besides agriculture, such as establishing small businesses like salons or delivery of packaged meals which is popular amongst the student and worker populations of India . There are several NGOs and self-help groups that help them accomplish this. 

The lack of recognition

Women in patriarchal societies, especially in rural/remote areas, does not get the deserved recognition as farmers. This destructs their ability to access productive input. The backdrop of women taking on the responsibility of managing farms is increased workload accompanied by no reduction in their duties. This affects their leisure time, impacting their sense of well-being (Singh, 2013). As much as women’s access to physical and financial resources needs to improve, so does the attitude of people towards the role of women in agriculture.

Are there any existing initiatives triggering changes?

Makaam, an organisation working for the rights for women farmers, has formed a charter of demands by conducting extensive studies on discrimination of women on the basis of caste and class. The charter proposes several changes in the system;

1) Women need to be included in accessing the services of Financial institutions. It proposes to have customised terms and conditions for loans to women farmers in existing financial institutions.

2) All women farmers should have access to bank accounts and credit, irrespective of land title deeds. Implementation of Kisaan credit cards is another proposal. For capital inputs to promote ecological agriculture, the government should make policies favourable for women farmers.

3) Promoting and supporting women farmers’ cooperatives and collectives have to be prioritised. 

4) Women leaders of farmer cooperatives and producer cooperatives should be trained in financial, legal and market literacy.

5) Small and marginal women farmers should be recognised and supported in developing their lands.

6) Worksite facilities that are safe and easily accessible to women, should be created through convergence with different government schemes.

How should we move forward? 

The budget for the Ministry of Agriculture increased from Rs 57,600 crore (£580 Billion) in 2018-19 to Rs 1,40,764 crore (£1400 Billion) in 2019-20. The total allocation for women farmers in 2018-19 was just 2% of the total expenditure under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare for the same year. This amount is too little to provide coverage even for the conservative number of 80 – 90 million households (Rai, 2019)

India’s policy framework fails to address the invisible and open unemployment of women despite the increase in the feminisation of the sector. Being identified as a ‘farmer’ is the first ask of women in agriculture

These and other public policy topics in India will form the basis of discussion at Bridge India’s upcoming Ideas For India conference



Bala, N. Selective Discrimination against women in Indian agriculture- A review. Agicultural Reviews, 2010: 224-228.

Ghosh, Dr. Munmun, and Dr. Arindam Ghosh. Analysis of women Participating in Indian Agriculture. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2014: 01-06.

Jha, Rupa. Pioneering Women Farmers in India. Comp. BBC News Hindi. 2015.
Munshi, Sugandha. World Econoimic Forum. 1 October 2017. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/indias-women-farmers/

Rai, Sakshi. The Wire. 20 February 2019. https://thewire.in/agriculture/no-budget-for-indias-invisible-women-farmers 

Swaminathan, Hema. Women farmers need policy attention. With men migrating to cities for better jobs, women are now playing a critical role in farming, but they face many odds.
Delhi: The Hindu, 21 November 2017.

Unnati.A, G.S Ankush, and AV Mande. Extent of Participation Farm Women in Decision Making. Journal of Dairying Foods and Home Sciences, 2012: 72-74.

Vinay, Singh and. Gender participation in Indian agriculture: An ergonomic evaluation of occupational hazard of farm and allied activities. International Journal of agriculture, Environment and Biotechnology, 2013: 157-168.

Anushka Chauhan Author


Anushka Chauhan is studying MSc International Relations at the University of Bristol. She has a BA in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a PGD in International Refugee and Humaniatrian Rights. She has keen interest in conflict, security and gender related issues.

Published Date

March 25, 2020

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