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SM Sehgal Foundation has undertaken several initiatives for empowering women farmers in the villages of Rajasthan and Bihar. Sarah Berry writes on these success stories
What does the word ‘women empowerment’, actually, mean? The number of answers one would receive to this question would, indeed, come as a surprise, only to go ahead and emphasise one point: the perceptions of women empowerment are kaleidoscopic.
Almost 70% of India’s population resides in villages or rural India; of this number approximately 50% are comprised by women. The primary sector of India’s economy is predominantly agriculture. So, let us look at what this word means for the women of rural India – specifically, for ‘women farmers’, which is predominantly an unorganised sector that includes women farm labourers, or women who help their men in the fields. Laws such as the Land Ceiling Act or provisions such as the exemption of stamp duty for women do enable more women to own lands, but their ownership value is never considered and men control the decision making rights.
The challenges in either scenario are obvious; for women labourers, the strife is unending: irregular wages, no fixed wages, casteism, bonded labour, lack of skills amongst others. In the second scenario, minimal access to information, which ultimately leads to lack of awareness, is a major challenge. Decision making capabilities, participation and collaboration are, thus, affected, resulting in a rather lop-sided balance between the role of men and women on the same piece of land. Apart from this, social hindrances interfere with a more active and dynamic role of ‘women farmers’.
Under the Jagruk Krishak initiative started by the SM Sehgal Foundation in Umrain block, Alwar, Rajasthan, women are involved in training sessions, which build their awareness about soil quality analysis, balanced soil nutrition, drip irrigation, mulching, bedding techniques and much more. The idea is to generate awareness, based on proven facts and figures, which can be translated into enhanced crop quality and yield for all to see. The sessions help answering questions like: What should be added to the soil besides Urea and DAP? Why is Zinc and Boron important for the quality of the soil? How can drip-irrigation save water and cost? What are the various government schemes and subsidies available? How does mulching help in a better quality of crop? And many more such questions.
The initiative is tailor-made according to the region. In Muzaffarpur in Bihar, crop diversification, animal health camps, amongst others, are the main focus areas.
Mintu Devi, a resident of village Ratanpura, Muzaffarpur, Bihar, elaborates: “Before the quality of fertilisers used resulted in a low yield, despite efforts. This demotivated me from farming. Attending a training session helped me understand that soil quality can be enhanced by proper soil nutrition. Besides this, sowing potatoes with the help of machines proved to be more productive than manual processes. In fact, I will try and buy the machine too. The training by the foundation has helped me and my neighbours too.”
Highlighting about the initiative, Arvind Rana, Program Leader, Agriculture Development, Sehgal Foundation says, “The idea is to have both women and their husbands present for the training. This also facilitates ease in decision making processes, besides enabling women to attend the training sessions. Gradually, with joint participation in decision making processes, the confidence of women grows, primarily because a ‘joint say’ is encouraged. The sessions are based on ‘learning by doing’ and with the more focus on graphics than text. This pedagogy supports any form of target audience.”
“We are initiating another important initiative called Krishi Sakhi, which encourages sustainability, so that post the intervention, the cause does not dwindle. Krishi Sakhis are, basically, women in the age group of 30-40 years, who have the time and drive to carry forward the initiative post the intervention. They are trained and even provided relevant information material, soil health cards among others in order to facilitate their work,” Rana adds.
“I did not know much about agriculture, as farming was carried out, mainly, by my husband. I attended a meeting and subsequent training conducted by Sehgal Foundation. That is when I began to develop a certain amount of awareness, which helped boost my levels of confidence. I could actively propose new methods and techniques to my husband, who besides being pleasantly surprised, took pride in the fact that I was aware and took interest in his work. Now, I am actively asked for my opinion and am happy about this. The capacity building and training I received had resulted in this change,” says Sangeeta, a resident of Kodarkatta village in Bihar.
In former Secretary-General of United Nations, Kofi Annan’s words: “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” This quote can be aptly applied to the success stories of these women - women who have fought against odds, changed themselves for the better and empowered their society besides themselves to be able to sustain the efforts they put in. “Kudos” is the one word that comes in mind for them and their journeys.
(Sarah Berry is the Communications and Media Consultant with SM Sehgal Foundation. The views expressed in the article are author’s own)