Women’s ownership of land in rural areas can help cut poverty

Increasing women’s ownership of land in rural areas can help cut poverty and boost agricultural output in a country like India where dependence on agriculture is high


Women constitute 30.3% of the total number of cultivators and 42.6% of the agricultural labourers are women in India—leading to what can be called as the feminization of agriculture. Photo: Bloomberg
Women constitute 30.3% of the total number of cultivators and 42.6% of the agricultural labourers are women in India—leading to what can be called as the feminization of agriculture. Photo: Bloomberg

New Delhi: Increasing women’s ownership of land in rural areas can help cut poverty and boost agricultural output in a country like India where dependence on agriculture is high.

Women constitute 30.3% of the total number of cultivators and 42.6% of the agricultural labourers are women in India — leading to what can be called as the feminization of agriculture. Nearly two-thirds of the Indian population depends on agriculture for a livelihood.

These remarks were made by Bina Agarwal from the Institute of Economic Growth and University of Manchester at a discussion organized by Niti Aayog and the Research and Information Systems for Developing Countries think tank in New Delhi in collaboration with the United Nations.

Agarwal was one of the panellists in a discussion on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations on 25 September 2015 (SDGs) to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Agarwal quoted from a study by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization which said that minimising the constraints faced by women farmers will raise total agricultural output by between 2.5% and 4%.

India’s Census 2011 figures also seemed to support Agarwal’s view with data showing that 65% of the total female workers in India were engaged in agriculture. Of the total cultivators (118.7 million), 30.3% were found to be women and out of 144.3 million agricultural labourers 42.6 % were women. In 2001, female agricultural labourers were 21% which increased to 23% in 2011.

According to Agarwal, broadly, land holdings by women remained restricted to 15% in north India and around 30-35% in south India.

Increasingly, men in rural areas are moving out of agriculture to non-farm jobs, leaving the agricultural space open for women. However, “many institutions (cooperatives who extend loan facilities, fertilisers and technology) don’t reach women farmers at all. When we think of a farmer we don’t think of women,” Agarwal said.

The contribution of women towards agricultural output can be substantially improved by increasing the private property resource access (or changing inheritance laws allowing women to inherit land) and allowing joint ownership of agricultural land.

The lack of data which disaggregates information according to gender at household levels was, however, one of the factors impeding the introduction of measures to ensure increased participation and empowerment of women in the agricultural sector, Agarwal said.

For example, data regarding the proportion of land owned by women as compared to men could help identify the various openings in the system, which, if acted upon would lead to a substantial increase in the agricultural sector output, she added.

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