Women and youth agri-preneurs still face challenges that prevent them from leading progress towards just and resilient agri-food systems, including lack of access to finance, limited land ownership, informal and unpaid work, and few opportunities to voice their needs. A panel of business leaders, model farmers, and scientists highlighted this during a conference.
The ongoing international gender conference at ICAR-NASC Pusa has shed light on the persistent gender disparities in the agri-tech sector, despite women forming a substantial part of the workforce.
Vision towards 'Inclusivity and Diversity' echoed throughout the event as experts and entrepreneurs highlighted the challenges that women and youth agri-preneurs face, hindering their progress towards more equitable agri-food systems.
Gender Disparities for Agri-preneurs
"Inclusivity and Diversity" is a buzzword, but in the agri-sector, it's often more rhetoric than reality. While women play a significant role in agricultural work, they are rarely found as field owners or recipients of fair compensation for their labor.
One startup founder emphasized that women constitute the primary workforce in the fields, yet they neither own the land nor reap the benefits of their hard work. Many times, their efforts go unnoticed and uncompensated.
The ongoing gender conference, titled "From Research to Impact: Towards Just and Resilient Agri-Food Systems," is hosted by the CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). The conference, inaugurated by President Droupadi Murmu, featured discussions, presentations, and scientific posters that delved into various aspects of gender disparities in agriculture.
Key challenges highlighted by Agri-preneurs
Access to Finance: Women and youth agri-preneurs face difficulties in securing funding for their ventures. Many banks remain hesitant to provide loans until entrepreneurs have already achieved success.
Limited Land Ownership: A significant barrier to women's involvement in agri-tech is their limited land ownership, preventing them from making key decisions.
Informal and Unpaid Work: The vast amount of informal and unpaid labor undertaken by women in agriculture goes unrecognized and uncompensated.
Lack of Decision-Making Opportunities: Women's involvement in decision-making roles within the agri-tech sector remains limited, despite their substantial presence in the workforce.
Calling for a Change
Jyotsna Kaur Habibullah, CEO of Lucknow Farmers Market, lamented the unfair situation in the fields. "It is women who you see working there, but they neither own the land nor get the proceeds from their hard work. Most of the time, their contributions go unnoticed and uncompensated."
Entrepreneur Anusha Jookuri, Founder and Director of Bee Fresh Products who expanded her business from five to 1,500 beehives in four years, emphasized the need for a change in the finance landscape. Banks were initially reluctant to grant her loans, only showing interest once her business had achieved success.
Dhruv Tomar, Founder and Managing Director of M Lense Research Private Limited, an outfit that produces single-use milk adulteration testing cards highlighted the importance of persistence and patience in successful entrepreneurship. Capacity-building and technology assistance were also suggested to support farmers in becoming agri-preneurs.
A Vision for Change
The panelists' experiences were complemented by a keynote presentation by Dr. Soma K Parthasarathy, a policy analyst at MAKAAM (Mahila Kisan Adhikari Manch). She proposed that women and landless tenant farmers could redefine and drive resilience in agri-food systems through a 'basket of activities,' encompassing farming, gathering, and environmental care work.
Dr. Parthasarathy advocated for circular economies that grant women access to spaces where their voices are heard, make women count in data, and promote exchanges of seeds. She also stressed the importance of enhancing women's roles and voices in climate discourse and in the formulation of policies on land and forest conservation.
Eleanor Dean, General Manager, Outreach & Capacity Building at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), emphasized that poverty and inequality are underpinned by unequal power relations, not exclusive to gender. The organization has expanded its work to encompass gender equality and social inclusion, as outlined in its Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) Strategy and Action Plan.
The gender conference continues to be a platform for discussions and initiatives aimed at addressing the systemic gender disparities in the agri-tech sector. While progress has been made, these challenges remind us of the importance of genuine inclusivity and diversity, not just in words, but in action. It is clear that the path to equitable agri-food systems must be paved with opportunities, ownership, and recognition for women and youth agri-preneurs.