New Delhi: Private companies venturing into agriculture have to factor in that more women than men are working on Indian farms, shows a new study.
“It is not a great mystery,” said Hans Binswanger-Mkhize, a professor at China Agricultural University in Beijing, who conducted a study on transforming agriculture with a vision for the year 2039. “Women have child-caring and household duties so they choose to be at the farm.”
Photo by Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
While the overall farm workforce in India is on the decline as mechanization and a shift to non-labour-intensive farming has set in, the male labour force is declining faster as men in the villages are opting for salaried jobs or migrating to cities and towns for better opportunities, said Binswanger-Mkhize.
India will see a rapid expansion of food demand by 2039 as economic growth will have ushered in affluence, and agricultural growth rates will need to be faster than the targeted 4% to meet that demand, says the study, which Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia released on Wednesday.
Mint’s Ruchira Singh says companies venturing into the farm sector will encounter more women in the fields, since the men are increasingly moving to cities in search for jobs.
About 70% of India’s 1.2 billion population is involved in agriculture and 80% or more of the farm workforce comprises women, said Harinder Kohli, president and chief executive of US-based Centennial Group that commissioned the study.
“The current generation of women are less educated so they spend more time on the farms. Paid jobs require literacy, so men take more jobs such as that in the services sector,” Kohli said. “However, this trend will start to neutralize when the current generation of small girls who are getting better education, become adults.”
For the private sector that demographic means companies may face more empowered women on the field and they will need to think in terms of working with women’s self-help groups and other issues, Binswanger-Mkhize said.
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Investment in agriculture as a percentage of gross domestic product rose to over 20% in 2008-09 from 15% in 2004-05 as the private sector increased its investments significantly, entering areas such as agriculture research and extension services, under which companies reach out to the farming community with knowledge and equipment.
Yet, for entrepreneurs, agriculture is a sunrise industry with big scope for small and big companies alike, Kohli and Binswanger-Mkhize said on the sidelines of the function, where several businessmen were seen looking for tips.
“People would be looking for answers on how to invest in this market,” said an executive with a company that’s engaged in contract farming of babycorn, sweetcorn and chillies for exports.
Kohli said extension services to farmers such as providing seeds and tractors, contract farming and information services could be “some of the low-hanging fruits” for new investors.
“We need a lot more competition in this sector and ensure that this sector does not get captured by oligopolies,” Kohli said. “There is enough scope for small and big companies.”
The executive, who didn’t want to be identified, said establishing the business had taken three years of research and experimentation with foods such as fruits.
“For us it is a direct relationship with farmers. There are 14 managers in extension services and our realizations are good as we are in the export market,” he said. “But to take such a model for the domestic market may be very difficult.”
Ahluwalia said the government wants to give a push to agriculture in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).
“Inclusive growth can’t happen unless we get an agricultural growth of 4%,” Ahluwalia said. “We ought to provide more value for experimentation. There has to be a degree of flexibility in implementation of the policies.”
Graphic by Venkatesulu/Mint