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Women have pivotal role in agricultural growth: need to strengthen their contributions

Women are throughout the world performing productive roles in all spheres while the agriculture sector is exceptional. Women play a pivotal role in agriculture as about 70 percent of the agricultural workers 15 percent of those who process basic food are women. They comprise 41 percent of the world’s agricultural labour force, which rises to 78 percent in some countries. The fact is that women produce a larger share of food in the developing world, in various rural societies; unfortunately they eat less than men do.

Village women play a key role in agricultural sector production. They work vigorously in production of crops right from the soil preparation till harvesting and food protection activities. Women as farmers in subsistence production ensure the survival of millions of people in every part of the world. More than half of the world’s food is grown by women. Women’s work is wide-ranging that continues throughout the year. The majority of rural women neither do own land, nor have access to productive resources. The dependent allow women’s exploitation as agricultural workers and farmers.

In 2007, women made up about 41 percent of total employment in agriculture globally. A recent FAO survey found that female farmers receive only 5 percent of all agricultural extension services worldwide. The census data that are available suggest that in most regions of the world one out of five farms is headed by a woman. In the rural areas, where most of the world’s hungry people live, women produce most of the food consumed locally. Their contribution could be much greater if they had equal access to essential resources and services, such as land, credit and training.

In developing countries, women tend to work far longer hours than men. In Asia and Africa, studies have shown that women work as much as 13 hours more per week. A study in Africa found that, over the course of a year, women carried more than 80 tons of fuel, water and farm produce for a distance of 1 kilometer. Men carried only one-eighth as much, an average of 10 tons for 1 kilometere each year.

Studies have shown that women use almost all that they earn from marketing agricultural products and handicrafts to meet household needs. Men use at least 25 percent of their earnings for other purposes.

In Africa, women perform 80 percent of the work associated with rural domestic tasks, including collecting water and firewood, preparing and cooking meals, processing and storing food, and making household purchases. In 15 European countries, women hold 20 percent of agricultural land, compared to the 77 percent held by men and 3 percent by government. In Africa, women provide nearly 90 percent of the wood for household consumption and 70 percent of wood collected for sale.

In India and Thailand, fewer than 10 percent of landowners are women. Asia in particular has a family farming system in which women’s roles are central as they supplement the family income by working the fields. In the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, for example, women perform half the labor in rice production. This goes up to 80 percent in India and Bangladesh.

In several countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the number of female-headed households is increasing, largely due to male migration, divorce, illness (especially AIDS) and conflict.

Pakistan’s agriculture sector is said to be the backbone of the economy. Rural women are central to this agro-based economy. They are major participants in food production in rice and wheat-growing regions, as well as in cotton-picking processes. Rural women are caught in poverty due to little access to productive resources and credit, which limits investment in technology and impedes farming productivity.

They usually engage with agriculture in two ways: they either work on landlords’ farms as peasants or manage their families’ farms. Working for landlords is largely based on payment in kind. For example, farmers, including women, in northern Sindh are paid 40 kilograms of wheat upon the harvest of half an acre, which is used up in household consumption and is central to the family’s survival.

 

Much of the work involves manual labor that consumes time and energy. Since their work is not registered, women face extreme exploitation. The mode and value of payments are decided verbally, and there is no concept of meeting the national minimum wage. While 72 percent of working women are involved in agricultural activities, most are not involved in post-harvest activities, such as processing or grading of fruits and vegetables.

Some NGOs in Sindh have started this to ensure flow of credit to rural women as well as the smooth return of credit, but on a larger scale such networks are practically nonexistent. In this regard, Pakistani rural women’s access to and control over capital and finances is very important because it helps them form social networks.

Financing in the formal and informal sectors has increased over the years, yet farmers’ access to financial services in developing countries is limited. The absence of a well-integrated credit system specifically for women farmers in Pakistan has reduced social capital and networking opportunities.

Farm labor that Pakistanis rural women are engaged plays a vital role not just for the country’s economy but also for their families’ wellbeing. Studies show that women invest more in children’s education, health and nutrition than men. Rural women continue to be poor. Their engagements with farm labor only help them access enough food for survival.

Empowering Pakistani rural women will have a durable positive impact on agriculture productivity and families’ food and social security. The Government of Pakistan should introduce gender-sensitive agricultural policies. Engaging rural women in targeted trainings and enabling them to access flexible loans will also improve livelihoods.

Pakistan women in the rural areas work in the entire operations interrelated to crop production such as sowing, rearing, transplanting, and harvesting. They in addition to their agricultural duties work in cooking and maintaining the house, besides looking after the entire household up-keeping and maintenance. Women participation and efforts in agriculture in Pakistan is often unrecognized.

Pakistani agricultural rural women have to walk, moreover, long distances to carry water and fetch firewood, which is harmful for the health of humans, causing high rates of infant and maternal mortality.

Many African countries have adopted new land laws in order to strengthen women’s land ownership rights. This has helped improve the situation of rural women. Despite the important roles they play in agricultural economies, rural women in Africa suffer from the highest illiteracy rates and are the most visible face of poverty.

Women guarantee livelihoods, especially in rural areas. As a result of their great efforts in agricultural production, women’s production helps to guarantee their self-sustenance. Agriculture is the major option for rural women. Agriculture should come with better access to land and resources. In many countries, the role of women in agriculture is considered just to be a ‘help’ and not an important economic contribution to agricultural production.

It is true that agricultural activities should lead to rural women increasing their income. Mere financial support however is not sufficient. We must undertake joint efforts to create favorable conditions in agricultural areas, including the reinforcement of road networks for the transportation of produce from production areas where rural women work, as well as the processing and commercialization of such products.

There is a need to adopt policies which are less favorable to rural women, focusing on the appreciation of their role as producers of wealth and strengthening the network of public services in rural areas, including health, education and welfare services. The training of rural women is important, especially with the adoption of modern agricultural techniques with a view to achieving economic development without degrading the environment.

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