Making strides in women farmers' income in India

Women are responsible for 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, but they do not always reap the benefits. A nonprofit is working with women farmers in India to take control over their incomes. 

Himanshu Sharma/Reuters/File
A woman farmer drinks water from an earthen pot in a wheat field on the outskirts of Ajmer in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan. A nonprofit is working with women farmers in India to take control over their incomes.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, women are responsible for 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Yet women rarely reap benefits from their contributions. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a nonprofit organization promoting sustainable agricultural practices in India and Africa, is working to change that. ICRISAT has made notable strides for women in India, working against gender inequality in the rural sector. The organization has supported 23 watershed projects in nine Indian states, expanding accessibility to services that “financially empower women farmers.”

In India, 70 percent of the population is dependent on agriculture, while 51 percent of agricultural land exists in areas with low rainfall and poor soil composition. ICRISAT’s Integrated Watershed Management Projects work to bring water to these arid lands—structuring its initiatives to promote economic growth for female farmers to transform them into businesswomen. Through partnerships with public and private sector institutions, the ICRISAT watershed projects provide poor female farmers with low-interest loans, financial guidance, and training in nutrition, health, and crop management.

In 2002, ICRISAT brought GreenSIM—a mobile technology that greatly enhances farm operation efficiency—to Ardash Mahila Samakhya, an all-women farming collective in Telanga, India. Farmer Jawadi Vimalamma shared that after just three years of using GreenSIM, “profits have increased from 5,000 to 20,000 rupees (US$80–232 dollars) each season.”

In the semiarid state of Madhya Pradesh, the Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed project helped bring Janki Bai's “dream of growing rice in her field” to fruition. After securing a loan through the watershed project, Janki built a water-harvesting pond to help cultivate her rice field. The project has brought financial stability to Janki’s family, and also provides water for the rest of her community.

Hari Bai, another female farmer living in Madhya Pradesh, has also benefited from the Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed project, especially from the initiative’s self-help groups. ICRISAT Self-Help Groups aim to educate women on farming techniques and provide them with the tools for financial independence. Through the watershed initiative, Hari constructed a rainwater harvesting pond that has allowed her to increase crop yields despite erratic weather conditions. As a result, Hari expanded her agriculture business to include goat breeding, which feeds her family and creates an additional revenue stream.

In January, the newly appointed ICRISAT director general Dr. David Bergvinson proclaimed, “In tackling the poverty challenge persisting in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, innovation has to be driven by the demands of farmers and markets, and must recognize the important role of women and youth to enable inclusive market-oriented development.” Bergvinson believes that gender equity and scientific innovation are essential if global agriculture is to achieve sustainable advancement.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to