Hard work, but low wages for women farmers

Women farmers earn 22 per cent less than their male counterparts

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 18 September 2018
Credit: Agnimirh Basu__

As farmers and agricultural labourers, women contribute significantly to food security of the country, but they are paid 22 per cent less than their male counterparts, shows a report on agricultural statistics  released by the Minister of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare. While wages of both male and female farmers increased in the last decade (2006-17), the wage disparity continues and the women farmers continue to earn less.

The wage gap was the highest during 2012-14 when women farmers received nearly 27 per cent less than the men during the period.

Even though there has been a marginal reduction in wage gap (by 4.43 per cent) between 2012-13 and 2014-15, nothing much seems to have changed, shows the data on All India Annual Average Daily wage rate covering 20 major states (see table below). In fact, the wage disparity once again figured prominently during 2015-16 when women farmers received 25.37 per cent less than the male farmers.

All India Annual Average Daily wage rate (In Rs)


































Source: Directorate of Economics & Statistics
Note 1. All India annual average is calculated for 20 major states.
        2. Average agricultural wage is taken as average of five operations: i) Ploughing (ii) Showing (iii) Weeding (iv) Reaping & Harvesting (v) Transplanting 

Women involved in important but less-skilled job

In 2011, women formed 75 per cent of the agricultural sector workforce. In rural India, around 80 per cent of women depended on agriculture for their livelihood. They formed about 33 per cent of cultivators and 47 per cent of agricultural labourers.

In India, work of a woman agricultural labourer or cultivator is limited to less-skilled jobs like sowing, transplanting, weeding and harvesting. Many women also participate in agricultural work as unpaid subsistence labour.

But women continue to work for low wages

Agriculture is seasonal and has been often unprofitable, forcing a majority of male members of households to migrate to cities to find an alternative source of livelihood. While men migrate, the responsibility of taking care of the family lies on women’s shoulders. They prefer to stay and complement family’s income by working on the fields. Migration, hence, has been one of the major reasons for women getting involved in this sector, even though it pays them less.

Further, women cultivators are at loss without land titles. They participate in agricultural work as unpaid subsistence labour and are not recognised as farmers. Hence, they are unable to access credits and government benefits.

Recognising this, the government-appointed Dalwai Committee  called for enlisting women as “cultivator” in revenue records, making them eligible for all privileges received by farmers.

Co-benefits of reducing wage disparity: women empowerment, food security

According to a statement by the Union agriculture minister in the monsoon session of the parliament, women's contribution to Indian agriculture is about 32 per cent, while in some regions—hill  states, northeast and Kerala—their contribution is more than men. Women are involved in 48 per cent of agriculture-related employment; about 7.5 crore women are playing a significant role in milk production and livestock management.

Recognising women’s multi-dimensional roles in agriculture, he said that women's contribution towards reversing  climate change and managing natural resources cannot be denied. Besides contributing to every aspect of agriculture—sowing, irrigation, plant protection, harvesting, weeding, and storage—women are also engaged in cattle management, fodder collection and other allied activities like beekeeping, mushroom production, suction farming, and goat and poultry rearing.

According to FAO, if women farmers had equal access to land ownership, credit, farming equipment and new technologies, yields can increase by 30 per cent per household and countries can experience an increase in agricultural output by 2.5 to 4 per cent. Women also reinvest up to 90 per cent of their earnings back into their households—that's the money spent on nutrition, food, health care, school, and income-generating activities that help in breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Investing on women in agriculture makes good economic sense and also contributes to strengthening food security. The government has, therefore, recognised the need to empower women farmers in India and will celebrate second Women Farmer's Day on October 15, 2018.

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

India Environment Portal Resources :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.