Dec 2023

Strengthening Resilience of India’s ‘Invisible’ Women Farmers: Learning from PRADAN’s LEAP Project


Across India, 23rd December is celebrated as National Farmers Day to honour and recognise farmers as the backbone of this country. Estimated to be anywhere between 90 - 150 million, India’s farming community is pivotal to India’s economy and ensures food security for millions. However, with the onslaught of the climate crisis, the community stands at peril. Environmental shifts such as erratic weather patterns, rising temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall significantly impact crop yields, resulting in lower productivity, and compromised quality, and thus present a huge threat to the livelihoods of our farming community. 


The impact of the climate crisis on farmers, particularly vulnerable farming communities such as women, is a pressing issue that demands urgent attention. Women farmers, who according to the Food and Agriculture Organization roughly make up 42% of the agricultural workforce, confront unique challenges that are only exacerbated by climate change. According to Oxfam, around 80 percent of farm work in India – including sowing, winnowing, harvesting, and other labor-intensive processes and non-mechanized farm occupations – is undertaken by women. Despite this critical contribution, women farmers remain an invisible workforce. With limited recognition of their labor across the farming sector and policy frameworks, women face fewer prospects of receiving institutional support from banks, insurance, cooperatives, and government departments. Additionally, limited land ownership and restricted access to resources, coupled with cultural norms earmarking most household responsibilities on women, impede women's control and decision-making power over agricultural output. Climate impacts worsen this gender disparity by intensifying distress for women farmers and further increasing their vulnerabilities within the agricultural sector and broader society. 

The empowerment of women in agriculture, coupled with efforts to enhance their adaptive capacities, is not only crucial for mitigating the adverse effects of the climate crisis but also for fostering resilient and sustainable farming communities. Civil Society Organizations in India have been crucial stakeholders in enabling these shifts. These organizations are helping strengthen the resilience of women farmers by introducing sustainable farming practices, training women on climate-smart agriculture, facilitating access to improved seeds and technologies, enhancing credit opportunities, and enabling access to markets. Additionally, these organizations have been influential advocates for catalysing systems change in the sector by advocating for gender-inclusivity in agriculture, ensuring that women have equal access to resources, decision-making platforms, and financial services. Through concerted advocacy, capacity-building, and policy interventions, these organizations are actively working to dismantle traditional gender norms and biases that hinder women's participation in agriculture and exacerbate their vulnerability to climate change. 

An exemplary case study here is Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN).  Through the "LEAP - Livelihoods Enhancement through Market Access and Women Empowerment" project launched in collaboration with Walmart Foundation in July 2020, PRADAN has been helping communities address persistent issues in farm productivity, particularly in hilly and unirrigated regions. The project particularly seeks to empower 45,000 smallholder women farmers in Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal, facing issues like limited land ownership, decision-making power, and minimal access to formal markets, recognizing their crucial role in farming amidst the increasing feminization of agriculture.

LEAP supports women who are already in Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and collectivized into informal production clusters, to take up agriculture and allied activities through synchronized production and market interface. These informal producer collectives are at the cusp of evolving into formal Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), and interventions are directed towards creating and strengthening these evolving institutions and their ability to engage with the market players gainfully. Leveraging PRADAN's established relationships and engagements with stakeholders, especially relevant government departments, both at national and state levels, investments are channeled into the project to enhance resources and livelihood activities. 

The broad programme structure includes engagement with communities to strengthen smallholder production systems leading to a marketable surplus of cereal, vegetable/ horticulture crops, goat and backyard poultry in compact clusters; establishing community institutions to sustain the change process at the grassroots, strengthening market systems for smallholder farmers, and strengthening government and multi-sectoral coordination for smallholder farmer development.

Operating within a multi-stakeholder framework, the initiative emphasizes creating common grounds between the communities, the government, and financial and market institutions to work for holistic smallholder farmer development. 

These informal producer collectives have since evolved into 13 formalized FPOs, and interventions to strengthen these institutions are underway. [RB1] 

Organizations like PRADAN are vital in advancing the collective objective of fostering resilience in agriculture and empowering women in agriculture. By effectively tackling productivity challenges and empowering women in vulnerable regions, this transformative project not only improves market access but also amplifies the voices of women in farming communities and enhances the visibility of their labour, thereby strengthening their long-term resilience.  As we celebrate National Farmers Day, we must make a concerted effort to scale the learnings from programs such as these to a level that matches the scale of the climate challenge we face. Only then can the full potential of these solutions be realized, and the well-being of our communities be ensured. 

To read more about PRADAN’s work, visit here

Image Source: PRADAN

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