Fran Wilde (Action Village India), forwarded an account of women’s collective farming in Kerala to us recently. Devinder Sharma was contacted and his friend and colleague from Kerala confirmed that this cheering initiative ‘has helped the state in many ways’. She continues:
One: as the report says 2.5 lakh women are involved. Women are now recognised as food producers.
Secondly the fallow land is utilised in a productive manner without much individual investment.
Thirdly the production of food is increased. This is very relevant for Kerala because the state produces only 15 % of the requirement. Vegetable production has increased in the last 5 years. A lot of improvement is needed and govt has to invest in infrastructure and capacity building (especially on organic techniques) in women, etc etc.
Groups of women taking up collective farming in the State under Kudumbasree – a summary
Prof. Ananya Mukherjee, who was interviewed by a journalist from The Hindu newspaper (link above), said that collective farming is by far the best method to ensure food security, especially when women are the producers, The advantage is access to food in the hands of those who need it (are food insecure), she said. She has studied100 groups spread across the State and those who had been doing ‘steady work’ for more than three years, but in all, about 2.5 lakh women in the State in about 30,000 groups are engaged in collective farming in the state.
Together they cultivate over 27,000 hectares growing paddy, tapioca, pineapple, plantain, vegetables and other items that are used to ensure that the growers get enough to eat and the surplus is sold in the open market.
Most of the groups, who started with small areas for cultivation, have increased their production by taking up more fallow land, rejuvenating it and cultivating it. Land tenure is the major constraint of the women engaged in collective farming. They are unsure about retaining the leasing rights of the vacant, fallow land that they rejuvenate and prepare for cultivation. About 21% of women groups expressed a wish to become landowners and some have managed to buy land. Organic farming is the aim of at least 45% of the 100 groups Prof. Mukherjee has studied. Some groups make organic manure for their cultivation.
The survey found that most of the women who have been able to leave wage labour are very happy. “There was no end to work earlier”, they said. Now they have control over production, more money and time on their hands. In fact, their economic empowerment has made them confident, Women who did not go out of the house for any activity are now fully engaged in collective farming and inspiring other women to achieve economic independence in this way.
Kudumbasree (family prosperity) groups – launched by the state government in 1998 to work at local level to eradicate poverty through ‘concerted’ community action, have bonded women together regardless of caste, religion and party affiliations, providing a strong support system.
Prof. Mukherjee, whose works include ‘Exploring the Paradox of Profits and International Political Economy series’ believes that this collective farming initiative offers a lesson for the world which will be needed to address any forthcoming food security crisis.
Read more about the groups’ waste management, other products, access to microfinance and more in an article published by the Inter Press Service Agency (photograph above): http://www.ipsnews.net/2008/09/india-empowering-women-is-about-basic-funding/
See Fran’s videos on a range of initiatives in India here: http://www.actionvillageindia.org.uk/videos