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Women in agricultural sector

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Md. Sazedul Islam :
Agriculture is the lifeline of the economy of Bangladesh and the single largest sector contributing more than 16% to national GDP. According to Agriculture Information Service, about 1.10 crore women are engaged in the country's agricultural sector, which includes crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry.
In Bangladesh, women are engaged in different types of work in the sector. Women have been performing many tasks ranging from crop management to domestic works of new cultivation. They work as farmers in their own farms, as unpaid workers on family farms and as paid or unpaid labourers on the farms and plantations of others.
Not only in Bangladesh but across the world, women's contributions to agriculture are significant. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%. This could raise total the agricultural output in developing countries by up to 4%, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17% - that's 100-150 million people.
Bangladesh National Women Development Policy 2011, called for properly recognizing works of women in social and economic field for their development, but women agriculture workers are yet to get any legal identity.
Women are key contributors to our economic growth, but they face many challenges. They do not have access and control over all land and productive resources. Female agriculture workers are appointed without due process, they have to work for long, get less wage and face various type of repressions.     
Money earned through rearing of domestic animals and works in other side of agriculture, is not given to the women. Hence, contribution of women in agriculture sector is not considered in the national income.
The role of women in agriculture is considered just to be a "help" and not an important economic contribution to agricultural production.
Social customs dictate that women should - in addition to agricultural activities - be responsible for cooking, carrying water and fetching firewood, limiting their participation in decision-making processes and their exposure to those economic opportunities that arise, thus increasing the level of inequality vis-à-vis their partners.
Women venturing in agribusinesses continue to face many barriers, including having less access to: land, agricultural markets, recent innovations in farming technologies, agricultural inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, credit and training.
Studies by FAO showed that throughout the world, women farmers control less land and make far less use of improved technologies and inputs. They tend to have less access to credit and are less likely to receive extension services, which are the main source of information on new technologies in the developing world.
Bridging the gender gap would not only boost the yields and therefore food and nutrition security globally, but would free women up to participate in other economically viable activities that contribute to the economy.
Michelle Bachelet, former Executive Director of UN Women, said "When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced and prospects are improved for current and future generations".
An Economic Survey by Indian Ministry of Finance, has acknowledged that "For sustainable development of the agriculture and rural economy, the contribution of women to agriculture and food production cannot be ignored… The differential access of women to resources needs to be addressed".
Ensuring the rights of female farmers is a must for accelerating and sustainable development of the country.
Rights activists said, necessary support should be provided to female agricultural workers for their capacity building in promoting household food and nutrition security. Their participation should be encouraged in decision making process of agricultural management and their equal access to agricultural inputs and management be ensured.
Research on identification of problems in agriculture encountered by women farmers and the ways to overcome those problems ought to be facilitated. Women should be given credit support from the government on easy terms at all level of agriculture. Private organizations should be encouraged in this regard  
Efforts need to be made to eliminate gender discrimination in wages. Women should be involved in planning, execution and distribution of resources for attaining food safety and their contribution in food safety to be duly acknowledged.
There should be quota for women farmers in any sort of the government support for the farmers and it should be specified in the National Agriculture Policy.  
There should be representation of women farmers in all the committees regarding agriculture, including Union Krishi Committee and Upazila Krishi Committee. It would help them get the updated information in agricultural support services taken by the government and thus to get the benefit out of those services.
Steps should be taken for forming organizations of female farmers and increasing their efficiency.  
Dealership priority for fertilizers, seeds, pesticides and agricultural equipment/tools, which is given by the Department of Agricultural Extension of the government, can be distributed among the women farmers based on their capability.
A special corner in all markets needs to be marked and specific for the women farmers. Market toll should be waived for them. A proper vigilance and monitoring should be done so that the women farmers get the fair price of their product.
Female farmers should be allowed to participate in market monitoring system. A subsidized vehicle support needs to be ensured by the government for their easy transportation to the market. There should be proper arrangement for storing food grain.  
There must be a sustained effort to introduce policies to help close gender discrimination in land ownership. Women's lack of access to land ownership affects their ability to access financial services and other development schemes.
In Tanzania, for example, women with strong property and inheritance rights earned up to 3.8 times more income. There's a similar trend in Latin America where in Honduras and Nicaragua, women with equal land rights contributed a greater proportion of income to household than men.
Policies must be put in place to ensure that women have access to programmes that allow them to train and retrain so that they can continuously upgrade their knowledge and crop production skills while staying updated on recent agricultural innovations; innovations that would allow them to increase productivity and allow them to fulfill market demands.
A more enabling environment should be created for women to fully and more efficiently participate in agricultural markets. This has to involve removing the legal and cultural barriers to ownership and access to land, agricultural education, supply chain logistics, technology, finance, and policy-making and implementation, information and extension services, inputs and other resources.
In addition, more women need to participate further along the value chain.
Closing the gender gap in agriculture and supporting women in their quest to have land ownership rights and access to the right tools will see their efforts quadruple, and will help us achieve Sustainable Development Goals #2 and #5.
Special steps should be taken for giving agricultural facilities to women and keep its provision in the agriculture policy. Investing on women in agriculture makes good economic sense and also contributes to strengthening food security. The government has, therefore, to recognise the need to empower women in the sector.
We must march in support of the hands that feed us.
(The author is a freelancer).

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