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 this special plan, the ministry will meet the women’s travel and accommodation costs 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 women’s groups participating are bringing food material ranging between 500 kg to nearly a tonne,” a ministry official told The Sunday Standard.
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 participate and sell organic products at the exhibition,” the ministry official said.
Organic products are made entirely from natural substances that have been grown eschewing the use of artificial chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides.
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 30-40 per cent annually. India has 4.43 million hectare under organic cultivation, with a total organic certified production of 171,100 tonne.
The programme is also aimed at spreading awareness about the benefits of organic products.
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, smaller is the number of women heading farming households. On an average, out of 1,000 households of women cultivators, 909 are headed by women having less than one hectare of land.
Post-liberalisation, as men in India 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 tap into for organic farming,” the official said.
Ministry officials say there is a misconception that anything organic costs an arm and a leg to cultivate. However, 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 the Altitude Store, Meharchand Market at Lodhi Road, who is one of the participants at the exhibition, said that 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. Pragati Anand of Biobloom Organic products in Greater Kailash procures raw material from as far as Jammu & Kashmir and Karnataka.
255 Organisations of women farmers or traders of organic products would participate in the exhibition starting November 13.
States represented include: Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and almost all northeastern states
41.30 mn Is the number of women cultivators who own land in India
50.09 mn Is the number of total women agricultural wage labourers
1.32 mn Is the number of women involved in livestock, forestry, fishing and orchard-related activities
Rs 1,000 crore Was the estimated worth of Indian organic food market, of which Rs 700 crore came from exports
4.43 mn ha Of land is under organic cultivation in India.
171,100 tonne Of total organic certified production
30-40% annual growth
Source: YES Bank report, 2012