Women Farmers Are Still Struggling For Survival

Published: Mon 20 Dec 2004 11:20 AM
Women Farmers Are Still Struggling For Survival
By Kamala Sarup
Sunita Thapa a local farmer, is one of million women in South Asia who live in desperate poverty with an income of less than a dollar a day and no access to food, basic health or drinking water. The lives of women farmers like Sunita living in remote villages in South Asia typify the extent of poverty. She said " We are still struggling for survival".
Nara Roy a local woman activist in New Delhi says "Women are the food producers in South Asia but women farmers voice is still not recognized. This is especially true for female headed households in South Asia. This is because income distribution is very unequal in South Asia, largely as a result of weak policy".
"Cash-cropping became a way to enter the international arena of market and trade. In fact, this strategy has already been followed by women farmers in Tikalore Clubs in Zomba and Blantyre in southern Malawi.
This solution has also been tried in Uganda where women farmers who interplant coffee with subsistence bananas are now one-third of coffee growers and in Western Kenya where women maize producers now also plant staked tomatoes". She argued.
"May be women's cash cropping the only way to increase their food production and thus aggregate food production in South Asia". she says.
"The payment for cash crops is immediate as vegetables sell at a premium nowadays," remarks Bimala Thapa. However, not all women farmers have the land or the capacity to shift to cash crops as it requires solid investment initially".
" Women's access to cash crops does not ensure their use of soil-fertility amendments, but does help relieve women's cash constraints, so that cash-allocation decisions may be made about fertilizer use". She said.
In fact in South Asia the indiscriminate use of fertilisers was the cause for the degradation of the soil fertility.
Economist Dr. Jiwana Mehata while speaking with in Washington DC said "Poverty in South Asia largely means rural poverty because in rural areas most vulnerable of the rural women farmers are there. The causes of our poverty are clear. There is not enough land to absorb the available village labor force in agriculture. Starvation deaths are often reported in rural areas. Now we have a question are poverty reduction benefits enough to justify the substantial financial and human resources investment required to establish women farmers' markets?"
She further says "Even the contribution of agriculture to Nepal's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) presently stands at around 40 per cent and absorbs 80 per cent of the total work force".
" Lack of easy access to rural financing, poor delivery system of modern agricultural technologies, poor quality of agriculture inputs mainly fertilizer and lack of effective institution to facilitate agricultural marketing are some of the major causes for the low competitiveness of women farmers". She said.
"On the other hand inadequate rural roads and insufficient electrification as other bottlenecks that has resulted in the increase in the cost of production of the Asianagro-products. Governments in the region should establish guidelines for credit allocation. More rural financial institutions are needed to be mobilized. Special funds should be designated for loans, sometimes at subsidized interest rates" She says.
Also, women, do not have enough tools because of the tools' expenseand they rely on hand tools such as hoes. For instance, it is estimated that women farmers in South Asia have less than one half of the total farming equipment.
"lower yields should not be interpreted as indicating lower productivity among women farmers. The gender differences in yields are not a result of biological differences in productivity between women and men". She added.
In South Asia, women do most of the inland fishing and handle most of the work associated with fish farming. They also raise livestock and manage dairy production. Studies demonstrate that in most communities throughout South Asia much of the agricultural work and in many cases much of the trading and many of the cottage industries are carried out by women.
"Women are essential to improving nutrition, increasing the production and distribution of food, and enhancing the living conditions of people in rural areas. Yet, women farmers are often among the poorest". Urmila Karki in Villas argued.
According to FAO estimates, women produce more than 50% of the food grown worldwide. This includes up to 80% of food produced by women in African countries, 60% in Asia and between 30 and 40% in South America. But still women are getting poorer: the percentage of women below the poverty line has increased by half since the 1970s, while the comparable figure for men increased only 30 percent.
A recent World Bank study found that if women received the same education as men, farm yields could rise by as much as 22 percent. But, women farmers still receive only five percent of all agricultural extension services worldwide.
"Because of this gender bias, policy-makers have very little data or analytical tools to measure the true social and economic value of women's farm labour," says Marie Randriamamonjy, Chief of FAO's Women in Development Service. "As a result, rural women are ignored when national agricultural policies are designed.
"One of the reasons for the decline in women's access to resources is that both land redistribution and subsidized agricultural inputs are in the hands of men who see women as dependents rather than individuals". She says.
"For women farmers, the cost of being 'invisible' will be particularly high during the current international trade negotiations, which favour economic liberalization and privatization. Over the long-term, these reforms are expected to bring greater global food security, but in the short-term, they are likely to cause difficulties for small-scale and poor women farmers". A locan resident in Villas Binu said.
"Women farmers have to struggle together to get social and economic justice". Halen, a economist from India who is also a women analyst in the US for the last 5 years, says.
Nepali Women farmers
"When government will increase women farmers' participation in market management and considering longer opening hours improving bus services genuinely poor women farmers are able to sell their goods. Because women farmers in Nepal can produce saleable surpluses, they have to struggle to gain sales in the rich markets.
What we need are policies that make agriculture an attractive proposition, a viable proposition for them, so women farmers can survive and produce food for themselves and for the country. Nepal as agriculture is lifeblood and the heart of its economy . Prosperous women farmers mean more employment. What we lack is proper targeting of pro-poor schemes, cutting down bureaucratic hurdles and a clear roadmap for reforms". Dr. Badri Khadka also said in Arlington.
A country which largely depends on agriculture, it has failed to cope with the rise in demand for food grains. The provision of cheap and reliable efficient transportation, adequate power, water management and sanitation, to the entirety of the land-area of a nation, is the absolute precondition for successful economic growth of the agriculture sector as a whole. However, The conflict, political instability, contradiction in the policies formulated by the different governments, which only disturbs the smooth flow of agriculture activities in Nepal.
The other problem that has been existing for decades is the irrigation canal systems. There is practically zero maintenance and adaptation of new technology to improve water distribution canal systems. On the other hand a few hand pumps are the only source of water.
In 2002, the economy contracted 0.6%, posting its worst performance in 2 decades as domestic security problems hit the important tourism sector and an irregular monsoon hurt agricultural production. With the slowdown squeezing government finances, the amount of funds spent on development fell 40% below the 2002 target. With less money for new programs, efforts like the Rural Microfinance Project, which targets poor women in rural areas, become increasingly important.
However, due to various constraints women in general and rural women in particular have not been able to build up their capacities for fuller productive contributions in formal economic activities in Nepal.
As poverty is closely associated with lack of opportunities or access to facilities that improves knowledge and skills and is very difficult for rural woman to access resources such as land, credit, agricultural inputs, technology and other services, their productive capacities have remained limited and unrecognised.
One of the biggest production problems in Nepal is the large number of diseases that attacks the crop, but women farmers also have to fight off insects and contend with poor soils and drought.
"As land is the primary source of income and employment in Nepal, rural women need to have access to and control over land". She further argued. "We are the principal force in the struggle against dependency." International University's student Nona Chaudhari, who is an international expert on agriculture and women said.
"There is still a big gap between good intentions and effective action," said Tara, a gender and water expert. "Policy makers need new tools to help diagnose gender issues in irrigation schemes and design appropriate interventions." She says.
"Trying to ensure all women participating in farming get equal access to irrigation water, without regard to the type or level of participation, is unrealistic and in the end fails to reach even those women whose livelihoods depend on having equal access. Better regulatory systems, underpinned by effective information and education on crop protection methods, are essential". She says.
If India moves forward with the export subsidies, Nepali women farmers will have a tough time surviving since the prices of Indian agro-products in the Nepali markets are already lower. It is high time that Nepal resolve subsidy issue. There is a need for subsidy not just in irrigation facilities, but also in fertilizers and exports.
Basundhara, a local residence in Kathmandu says " Women farmers losses due to cyclones, droughts, etc. must be compensated for".
(Kamala Sarup is editor to )

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