NEW DELHI: Marrying women’s empowerment with the quest for good health, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has found a unique way of empowering female agriculturalists by encouraging them to branch out into organic farming.
Beginning November 13, women organic farmers will descend on the capital for 12 days to showcase their wares, which range from pillows and quilts made of organic cotton to cosmetics, tea, baby care products, food items, clothing and a variety of fair-traded spices, grains and handicrafts.
As part of the special plan, the ministry will meet the women’s travel and accommodation expenses and will allow them to keep all the income from the sale of organic produce.
“The main aim of the exhibition is to support and encourage organic farming, thus supporting local community’s economy, creating jobs and keeping women farmers thriving. Many of the participating women’s groups are bringing food material ranging between 500 kg and a tonne,” a ministry official told Express.
Participants at the exhibition at Dilli Haat will come from as far as Ladakh and the Northeast. “The Northeast is sending a team of more than 40 people to sell organic products at the exhibition,” the ministry official said.
Although nascent, the Indian organic food market has begun growing rapidly. According to a YES Bank report in 2012, it was estimated at Rs 1,000 crore ($170 million), of which Rs 700 crore came from exports. It is also growing at 30 to 40 per cent annually. India has 4.43 million hectares under organic cultivation, with a total organic certified production of 1,71,100 tonne.
According to data from the National Sample Survey Organisation, the total number of women cultivators who own land in India is 41.30 million, and the total women agricultural wage labourers are 50.09 million. The number of women involved in livestock, forestry, fishing and orchard-related activities is 1.32 million.
The data shows that higher the land holding, the smaller the number of women heading farming households. On an average, out of 1,000 households of women cultivators, 909 are led by women having less than one hectare of land.
Post-liberalisation, as men migrated in search of better-paid work, women in rural India have taken over agricultural work in villages. They face meagre wages, long hours, hazardous work and sexual harassment.
Figures from the census show that, among rural women, the percentage of marginal workers (defined as working for less than 183 days per year) has increased significantly. “It is these women that the government wants to bring into organic farming sector,” the official said.
The ministry officials said there is a misconception that anything organic costs an arm and a leg to cultivate. But the actual costs are minimal. These farmers do not have to shell out large amounts of money for expensive chemicals and massive amounts of water, unlike industrial farmers, they said.
Ayesha Grewal, owner of Altitude Store, Meharchand Market at Lodhi Road, who is one of the participants at the exhibition, said the demand for organic products is growing substantially. She grows her own raw material for products at her farm in Rajasthan, 90 km from Delhi.
“Most of those who help in farming the produce and making the products such as jams and squashes are women,” she said.