Photo Credit: India Program Director, Rucha Chitnis
"According to an old Chinese proverb, 'women hold up half the sky.' In
the battle against hunger and poverty, women, especially rural women,
most certainly hold up the heavier half." --David A Harcharik, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Women are India’s significant food producers, and yet they are not recognized as farmers and struggle to access land rights, training and opportunities. Nearly 72% of employed Indian women are in the agriculture sector, yet they comprise barely 11% of landowners.
Rural women are disproportionately affected by climate change—recurring droughts, floods, changes in the rainfall pattern that affect their farming livelihoods and health, and increase their labor burden as well. Yet women are underrepresented in the design, decision-making and implementation of climate change measures and policies. Agriculture accounts “for 17.6% of India’s greenhouse gas emissions.”
Agriculture is under assault by the industrial agriculture paradigm and unsustainable farming. The chemical farming era is destroying the natural environment, threatening farmers’ livelihoods and is marginalizing the roles of women, including that of seed keepers, who preserve the biological diversity and health of crops. The overuse of fertilizers in combination with irrigation has led to ground water depletion and contamination of the groundwater with nitrates. This has had a severe impact on farmers. In many states a combination of debt, climate disasters and increase in soil infertility has resulted in farmer suicides and a loss of livelihoods.
Women are the traditional keepers of seeds and protectors of biodiversity. Seed saving is a time-honored tradition for farmers around the globe. To ensure the food and economic security and self reliance of women farmers, there is a need to promote low-input, less capital-intensive, natural farming practices and traditional seed saving methods. This reduces the dependency of the farmers to purchase seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides from the market and helps women farmers to reduce costs and maintain the health of their soil, water and other natural resources. Economist Bina Agarwal highlights that in areas where women are the decision-makers within community forests in Nepal and India, the forests are greener, firewood and fodder needs better satisfied and women are more empowered.
"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
- Dale Carnegie
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Women's Earth Alliance is an Earth Island Institute Organization