Kumaon and its Women Farmers
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plough is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
Farmers are the backbone of a nation. India is majorly considered as an agricultural country. Agriculture and its sister activities provides livelihood to more than 80% of the population. It provides employment to over 52% of labour. However, its contribution to GDP is only between 14 to 15%.
In major parts of Uttarakhand the farming sector is looked after by women. The state is facing out migration problems for the past 40 years. Government survey finds 50% of the villagers left gram panchayats in search of jobs. In some cases the women of the families are left behind to look after children and families while the men move out from villages for better employment opportunities. In rural areas, agricultural lands are passed on by families through generations. These lands then are managed forth by the ladies in the house.
Parvati, an elderly lady of the village shares with Kumaon Khand, that the women have always been working on the fields. There was not a time when she did not see her mother, or her mother before, going to the fields as farmers. When the job prospects had been minimal in the hills, the men would help with farming or even professionally be farmers. But today, irrespective of whether they have a job or not, men consider it women's work and are hardly seen engaging in agriculture.
Sapna is a 27 year old lady, a resident of Pithoragarh district in Uttarakhand. She runs a small boutique she own alongside her husband, Deepak’s general store in a small village called Panda. In addition to managing her shop, Sapna has to look after her family. She does the agricultural work right from preparing the soil, sowing seeds, ploughing and harvesting, all by herself. She rears cows and milks them to then sell it. Sapna comes across as an extremely hardworking lady. To say the least, the women of not only this village but all of Kumaon and beyond, push their hardest to make for a productive living.
The women farmers of the region are propelled to various degrees, as for a grinding labour. Sapna, for instance is trying to build up on her finances and be economically self-sufficient. Her neighbour, Janki on the other hand, is a victim of difficult circumstances at the hands of life. She lost her husband to alcoholism, who has left her with loans to repay, no savings and a family of 6. Janki works at a nominal stipend of Rs.5,000 in DRDO. Her work there includes looking after the fields in the DRDO premises, ploughing when needed, keeping in check the weeding and toiling through the day from 8 in the morning to 4 in the evening. She also works on her family owned fields, has domesticated cows and sells the milk to make some extra bucks.
The fields are, at the moment, brimming with tall maize crops and maduwa. The farms are giving off beautiful green chillies, zucchini, cucumbers, beans and gourds. Local vegetables include linguda (Diplazium esculentum, the vegetable fern), cholayi (amaranths) ,meetha karela (sweet bitter gourd), gaba (Arbi) etc. Speaking to Sapna, she tells Kumaon Khand that rains and harsh monsoons washes the crops away that is why this time of the year is mostly rest or leisure days for the ladies. The rains however, aids green grass on the barren fields and that works as fodder for the cattle. So the work is to procure that green fodder once or twice a day. Heavy work will resume from November when it's time to sow wheat and pulses.
These women farmers are actually the ones keeping the agriculture of Kumaon in place. Had it not been for them, an impoverished Himalayan region would have been an inevitable reality for Uttarakhand. Kumaon Khand is also extremely thankful to all the women farmers who are helping us achieve success on an everyday basis.