A recent Wall Street Journal article discusses the need for technology innovation to provide gender-sensitive solutions for low-income women working on farms in developing countries. A three-day conference in New Delhi that focused on agriculture was set to explore ways of empowering women to achieve greater productivity. Despite the fact that women constitute 43% of agricultural workers in developing countries, most do not have access to necessary resources including water, inputs, and market outlets. Various organizations such as the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering are exploring ways of customizing tools and equipment for women.

Experts say that by providing basic services to women, agricultural productivity could grow 20-25%

Maitreyee Handique

New Delhi: An international conference on agriculture beginning here on Tuesday will debate the multiple challenges faced by women in farms across developing economies, including finding gender-sensitive solutions to reduce drudgery involved in farm work with better technology innovation.

From sowing to selling farm products, women’s role in agriculture has been globally recognized, A. Ayyappan, director general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), told reporters on Monday. The three-day conference will address ways to empower women to achieve higher productivity, and drudgery reduction is an important aspect, he added.

The event, which is expecting to draw over 600 delegates, is being hosted by ICAR and several other sponsors, including the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions, a Bangkok-based non-profit organization that promotes regional cooperation in agriculture. President Pratibha Patil is expected to address the meet on 15 March, the concluding day.

Women constitute 43% of agricultural workers in much of the developing world, most of whom are forced to make do with less access to resources such as water, fertilizer and market outlets than men. Experts say that by providing these basic services to women, agriculture productivity could grow 20-25% to meet food security and reduce hunger at a time when food import bill is soaring.

According to a release by the Rome-headquartered Global Forum on Agricultural Research, one of the event sponsors, improved access to women in agriculture could bring down the number of hungry people by 12-17%, or 100-150 million.

In India, the gender dimension in agriculture and its link with nutrition is revealed by the numbers. Nearly 40% of Indian children and one-third of Indian women are underweight, according to the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey. Some 80% of rural women are involved in farming activities, weeding, transplanting and harvesting with rudimentary tools.

Small efforts are already under way to alleviate the hardship faced by farming women. To promote better designed tools and equipment, the Directorate of Research on Women in Agriculture (DRWA), part of ICAR, is preparing a nationwide drudgery index to measure the time and frequency of the participation of women in agricultural operations.

Improved technology will reduce the work load and improve efficiency in agricultural operations, said Krishna Srinath, director at the Bhubaneswar-based DRWA.

“Today, much of the equipment is not customized for women. Our mandate is to refine technology (with) a gender perspective,” said Srinath. About two dozen farm implements have already been refined in collaboration with state agricultural universities across the country.

Meanwhile, the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering has begun an exercise to customize tools for women. But a far bigger challenge would be to expand the reach of these products, said Pitam Chandra, director of the Bhopal-based institute. “India needs to step up resources to find solutions faster. We need to set up the right foundation to scale up the agenda,” he said.