The Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII) and Alliance for Agri Innovation hosted a webinar on ‘Women Leadership Building a Sustainable and Inclusive Food System’ on International Women’s Day. Eminent speakers from Asia Pacific included, Dr Usha Barwale Zehr, Director and Chief Technology Officer at Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited (MAHYCO); Dr Purvi Mehta, Asia Lead – Agriculture, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Dr Mary Ann Sayoc, Public Affairs Lead, East-West Seed Group.
“Efforts must be made to mentor young women in careers in agriculture,” Dr Usha Barwale Zehr, Director and Chief Technology Officer at Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Private Limited (MAHYCO), said in response to the lack of women leadership in agriculture. We’ve done things like creating outreach programmes and on-field demonstrations to promote the benefits of biotechnology.
A lot of women are engaged in biotechnology and are engaged in a majority of lab-focused activities. Further biotechnology tools need to be applied for the benefit of small-holder farmers as they are crop, scale and gender-neutral. In some cases, they have a greater positive impact on female labourers engaged in agriculture.
“The industry will have to push forward with a greater vigour for facilitating new products as it will help to reach out to more women farmers.” Dr Zehr further added that digital media can be used to reach out to more women farmers for their participation in the farming sector.
Dr Purvi Mehta, Asia Lead – Agriculture, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said, “Women play a crucial role in the food value system, but their participation varies in different sub-sectors. About 43 per cent of agriculture work is generally done by women.
In sub-sector like livestock, over 70 percent of work is done by women. About 12 percent of the recognized client of input purchase is women. In market participation, women’s involvement in crops like cotton, sugar is 20 percent. But in diversified commodities like vegetables, women’s participation is higher, about 50 percent.
In livestock, especially dairy, women’s participation is at about 60 percent. In market participation, there are differences where women have less comparative advantage and places where they play a major role.
The fundamental factor for inequality in women’s participation in agriculture is lack of access to land, knowledge, market, and technology. About 15 percent of women farmers get access to any traditional extension service. The fundamental factor for this inequality is ownership of land as less than 10 percent of India’s farmland is owned by women.
While property rights are equal for women, the challenges lie in social factors.” Seeking the right balance for the empowerment of women farmers, Dr. Mehta said, “It should not come at cost of men farmers’ sustenance in farming since 86% of men farmers in India are small-holder and they struggle with no less problem,” added Dr Mehta.
Dr. Mary Ann Sayoc, Public Affairs Lead, East-West Seed Group said, “Women’s leadership is found to be better and sought a slew of measures for their empowerment in leadership. A study found that outcomes related to COVID-19 were systematically better in countries led by women. A sustainable and inclusive food system highlights the contributions of women in the value chain. Women in leadership in the traditionally male-dominated field such as agriculture are seldom properly recognized for their success. Education, and promoting diversity, inclusion, and equality besides strong family support, access to resources, representation and policy support are needed to address the inequality.”
Expressing concern over limited representation of women in leadership despite being half the population, Ram Kaundinya, Director General, Federation of Seed Industry of India, said, “We want to change this in future. And when we talk about inclusiveness and sustainability, women are by nature more inclusive and sustainable in nature. As we bring and support more and more women in leadership positions, inclusiveness and sustainability get a boost. Women are involved in the production and consumption levels of food.”
“Men have a huge role to play in supporting women to achieve what they are capable of achieving. This calls for a huge mindset change in men. Women farmers can produce 20-30 percent yields than men. This is of great relevance to us when we talk of feminization of agriculture. We should make them responsible for some of the leadership positions.”