Emergence of Women Farmers as Change Makers in Agriculture: The BAIF Approach

Women are born to inspire.  They are also born to excel.  The motif woven by them and their brethren in every field has left an unquestionable imprint on the socio-economic fabric of society. Their recent role as dynamic change-makers in the male bastion - agriculture - has been amply demonstrated by the Prerana Project supported by Mahindra and Mahindra and implemented by BAIF Institute for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development (BISLD).  This project is creating a silent revolution in the lives of grassroots women farmers through the promotion of farm mechanization as a viable means for crop productivity enhancement. 


Women workers happy to engage in crop productivity enhancement

The project is the outcome of the Agriculture Census (2010-11) which revealed that out of an estimated 118.7 million cultivators across the land, only 30.3% were women.  Similarly, out of an estimated 144.3 million agricultural laborers, 42.6% were females. The Project covers six clusters spread over Barwani and Sehore in Madhya Pradesh, Sinnar and Shirur in Maharashtra and Mysore and Tumkuru in Karnataka.  More than 6000 women farmers are being empowered to function as champion women farmers. Statistics has further demonstrated that women farmers hardly have any representation in rural societies and least in farmers’ organizations. Majority of farm engagements of women are labor-intensive and often considered ‘unskilled’ thereby curbing the aspirations of women. 

The Prerana Project drew inspiration from the tribal development programme locally known as the wadi programme. Efforts made by BAIF to make development actions gender-sensitive and inclusive, date back to the early eighties when the wadi programme was evolved at Vansda in South Gujarat. The programme tried to mainstream the marginalized tribal communities by facilitating them to establish a one-acre plot (wadi) of agri-horti-forestry plantation on barren uplands. The progamme was built on the unique tribal custom, locally known as wavli. The earnings were used by the women for food, clothing and procurement of utensils and ornaments. This custom turned out to be a golden opportunity for implementing the orchard development programme successfully, while enlightening men about the role of women in economic development.  

Traditionally, women had engaged themselves in vegetable cultivation near a water source and men had never staked their claims on the earnings of these women. Thus, this custom ensured exclusive right of women over their earnings. Realizing that wavli can be an excellent opportunity to empower women, several new activities such as nurseries of fruit and forestry plants, mushroom production, large scale vegetable production and sharecropping by women’s groups, were introduced. These women were trained in nursery management, grafting and budding. Subsequently, they were able to raise fruit and forestry plants in their backyards for expanding their orchards for sale. Wavli attracted a large number of women, with men extending their cooperation. 


An empowered woman is a happy woman

The emergence of a strong cadre of women champion farmers including Rekhabai Chauhan from Morgun village, Rajpur block of Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh are testimony of the successful implementation of the Project. This trailblazer had never stepped out of her village.  After associating with the project, she realized her contribution and impact on the rural community and overall economy. Today, Rekhabai is functioning as a confident and proud trainer of women farmers and as a Community Resource Person with National Rural Livelihoods Mission and earning sustainable income.  She is convinced of the hard work of her husband and her in ushering in nutritional security through vegetable cultivation. Her story resonates with power, confidence and potential. 

There are many other beneficiary women farmers like Rekhabai who have carved a niche for themselves in rural society.  Peer learning, intensive networking and communication skills are the three steps to success apart from registering a 40% increase in farm income. This Project has also emboldened them to drive into the future.  Mustering courage, some of these women have shown interest in driving as well as learning to drive heavy vehicles such as tractors while operating it with bulk machinery used for sowing or land preparation. It has become a common sight indeed. 


 Women can do anything with a little skilling

The Project endorses scientifically proven methods such as soil testing and soil health card, land preparation, overall requirements of crops, knowledge of regional variety with suitable climatic requirements, pH of soil, appropriate soil conditions for specific crops, nutrient management and water management and recommended dosage of fertilizers and pesticides. Demonstration on seed treatment has ensured seed protection from pests that strike early in the season when seedlings are most vulnerable and in improving yield and quality. These initiatives address the second objective of the project which envisages demonstration of improved agricultural practices with over 600 champion women farmers who develop the capability to sensitize more than 6000 women farmers on efficient farming practices.

The third objective which is to build capacities of women farmers and empower champion farmers as influencers in day-to-day agriculture, has resulted in an innovative model to promote farm mechanization. Each Champion Farmer has disseminated information and is closely supporting 10 other women resulting in the emergence of 100 Champion Women farmers in every cluster and 10 in each village. Meetings of self-help groups twice a season has facilitated knowledge transfer and led to the adoption of improved agricultural practices, package of practices and farm mechanization. Presently, 5973 women farmers are addressing grassroot realities and transforming 53 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. 

The Project aims at bridging knowledge gaps, building a strong women farmers’ network, enabling adoption of improved agriculture practices and playing an effective role as influencers and change makers in agriculture. Since the inception of the project, an attempt to celebrate social events such as International Women’s Day, Agriculture Day, Farmers’ Day, Environment Day, Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Divas, and Cancer Awareness Day has met with enthusiastic participation among these women who are shifting gears and heading towards a brighter future. 

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Shilpa Tiwari

Shilpa Tiwari is a New Delhi based Content Specialist with three decades of experience. She has worked extensively on a variety of researches and curricula across K12, Higher Education, Corporate and Social Development sectors. A Master’s degree in English Literature and a degree in French from Delhi University, alongwith International Business Programme from IIFT, most certainly provides Shilpa an added expertise to work as a Consultant on various research and consulting projects with Corporates, Educational Institutions, Publications, CSR Foundations and NGOs.