Women’s Farming Collectives – The Maharashtra Story
Written specially for Vikalp Sangam website
“I am not only a farmer, but an artist. If this art is not passed on by my parents to me, then how would I know? I feel close to land when I farm. And yes, I can finally eat vegetables thanks to the collective!” said 21 year old Pradnya Gurav, Tiware, Sindhudurg. Pradnya is one of the youngest farmers in the farming collective formed in the village which have undertaken organic farming in the state of Maharashtra.
India is primarily an agrarian country with approximately 70% of its labour force associated with agriculture as its main source of livelihood. Women account for more than 84% of the agricultural labour force who perform 70% of agriculture allied activities especially those associated activities like sowing, weeding, harvesting, except ploughing (due to cultural norms). But despite this, the Indian woman farmer owns a measly 13% of the agricultural landholding. Why? Because it’s not in her name. Land ownership is a significant aspect of asserting an identity as a farmer, as in the absence of it, women farmers not only are unable to participate in decision making but also are faced with limited access to health, education, nutrition and social as well as economic security. Land acts as a metaphor, for power, wealth and status and in the context of farmers a necessity to access various other extension services.
Created by Anupama and Roshan Rathod, 2016
In the sad and heart aching backdrop of increasing farmer suicides, long prevailing drought and restricted access to landholding, a few interesting experiments that women collectively are undertaking in organic farming through collectives and are creating an economic as well as a social collective space for themselves must be highlighted. This article’s aim is just that – to share stories of hope, of love and of the strength of collective action in Maharashtra.
Collective action and family farms:
The collective of Tiware in Sindhudurg comprises of ten women with the youngest one being 21 years old. The land arrangements that this group had adopted were extremely interesting. The collective was cultivating over a third person’s private property who had undertaken cashew plantation on that piece of land. There was no written agreement between the collective and the owner of the land. Since the cashew plantation was in its first year of production, there was a lot of space that was present between two cashew trees. It was the space between them in which the organic vegetables were grown. No rent was paid to the owner of the land, but a certain part of the produce was shared with the owner whenever he visited the land. This collective was also responsible to water the cashew plantation from time to time. The Gurav’s, which was the family that lived closest to the farm where the organic vegetable were produced, together believed in organic farming. They had propagated the benefits of organic farming and ills of chemical farming around their village and tried to encourage people to join them in their farm. As and when they needed additional hands on the field, they hired labour but from the group itself. This way they economically valued labour and paid the women according to the daily wage rate. As Sujata Gurav says, “Labour isn’t free and shouldn’t be free either. At the end of the day it is work, whether performed by a man or a woman and it should be paid for.” “More than an increase in profits, there has been an increase in my self -confidence. I never thought I’ll ever go to market and sell my produce. But this collective has helped me do that.”
Sujata Gurav, 42 years, Tiware
Collective Market Spaces
The most important aspect of the farming collective of Ambejogai in Beed district was the sharing of the economic space. With the help of Ankur Pratishthan – a local not for profit, the women farmers came together on a weekly basis in the local market of Ambejogai to sell their organic produce. It was spectacular to see that this weekly bazaar consisted of almost 80 percent of women sellers only.
Market spaces and technology access are two key factors which can ensure sustained rights to earn a livelihood. In Feminist Political Ecology Framework, gendered spaces like that of the market denotes the patriarchal nature of the market spaces which provides restricted entry to women. Rajni Bakshi (2012) in her work on market spaces follows the evolution and trajectory of the market from a weekly bazaar which revolved around human relationships and interactions to a more capitalist patriarchal set-up. But in the case of these collectives it was interesting to see how the weekly bazaars which had almost become absent still existed in this village and more so were dominated by women both as sellers and buyers. Upon inquiring further, it was found that the vegetable market was more the space of the woman as this market space involved human interactions and where buyer engaged in bargaining. As Umesh Lemte from Ankur Pratishthan puts forth, “Men cannot handle bargaining, they are unable to negotiate prices on a daily basis like this whether as a seller or a buyer. Hence you will always find only women coming and selling their vegetable produce here”. Further probing on where were all the men then he said “Men sell cash crops. You will find them in the mandis, not here. The volume of the transactions and hence the money is high there and they control those transactions”
When you share, you care:
The farmers of Ratnagiri both in Devdhe and Kondye believed in the power of sharing of natural resources whether it was seeds, water, land, labour or knowledge. The Mauli Swayam Sahayta Gat in Kondiye that comprised of 15 women from homogenous socio-economic backgrounds, was in its first year of organic cultivation as a collective. They cultivated collectively on a piece of land which is owned by the families of the members of the groups itself. This was carried on a rotational basis i.e. each year a different member’s land was taken under collective cultivation. There was no rent paid to the member for the use of the land but the produce was shared equally between each member. The group emphatically believed that even though none of them had land in their own name, they could have control over their earnings if they sold their own produce. The women farmers of Devdhe had been acquainted with the art of collective farming since the year 2000. This was one of the only groups that had a written lease document for the land they had rented out from a third party. Along with this leased plot of land they also engaged in farming on a member’s plot (which was owned by her household) on a rotational basis. Sangeeta Tai from Radha Krishna Swayam Sahayta Bachat Gat said, “Having the bond paper ensures our security in terms of the land for at least 2 years. If we are working hard on maintaining the land, we should have a legal proof for it. It is a protection shield for our future.”
The above inspiring and encouraging stories help us understand that amidst all the obstacles, there is still hope and collectively we can work towards providing healthy, organic and fair priced produce to people. Groups of women who are engaging in alternatives in livelihood security in agriculture should be given priority in terms of access to land in enabling them to assert their identity as farmers. Collective action is key in this fragmented world of ours, and we need to move towards that.
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