By Bhuvaneswari Ramesh, Central University of Kerala.

Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana (MKSP) is a sub-component of the Deendayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) announced by the Government of India in 2011, aimed at improving the participation of women in agriculture and to help them achieve socio-economic development.

The primary objective of the MKSP was to make systematic investments to boost the participation of women in agriculture and strengthen small-hold agriculture by creating and promoting sustainable, climate-resilient agricultural practices, thereby enabling women to gain access to various services and aid offered by the government, which could improve their productivity. This move was supposed to warrant food security for these women’s families and communities.

An agricultural practice that was implemented under MKSP was the promotion of sustainable regeneration and harvesting of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) which significantly reduced deforestation. Another initiative under this scheme is the Pashu Sakhi Programme wherein women undergo technical training based on livestock rearing practices to help farmers by serving as animal doctors. So far, over 4712 Pashu Sakhis (friends of livestock) have been promoted in more than 16 States reaching over 2.5 lakh small livestock farmers.

MKSP is a membership-based program wherein women farmers are formed into groups, referred to as samiti at the village level. Membership requires that the woman should be a resident of the same village and should be actively engaged in farming. A range of issues relating to the formation and management of samitis, skills for engaging with officials, awareness on rights, including local self-governance along with awareness sessions, hands-on training sessions, workshops, etc. are covered as means of skill development of women farmers to enable them to function as empowered individuals as well as a group. They also undergo training on land preparation, soil and water conservation, nutrient and pest management, along with sessions on nutrition, health, hygiene, and establishment of kitchen gardens to provide them with overall knowledge about food security awareness.

Concerning its objective of empowering women in agriculture, MKSP provides funds to various stakeholders to implement projects that focus on capacity building of women in the farming community and promoting sustainable agricultural practices. 75% of this funding is provided by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) for the projects submitted under MKSP. Balance 25% is contributed by the respective State governments or independent donors like national and international agencies. Project proposals are submitted by the Project Implementing Agencies (PIA), responsible for the execution of projects, to State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) where they are assessed and forwarded to DAY-NRLM to be evaluated by experts for their adherence to MKSP guidelines, after which the project is sanctioned by the Project Approval Committee. Improving market access and ensuring remunerative prices to women in agriculture should be a key element under these projects. MKSP seeks to build upon the marketing expertise of women. 

In 2013-14 the total funds for MKSP went up to 548.78 crores. Its then coverage was in 14 states, 117 districts, and 17,000 villages. Under the program, the total number of proposals approved between 2011 and 2014 is 65. This scheme is being implemented to ensure the net income increase for women in agriculture, on a sustainable basis; this is being ensured by promoting only those agro practices that eliminate threats to the health of women/children.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, during the Question Hour, stated that as of March 31, 2019, a total of 35.97 lakh women farmers had been covered under the Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana in 24 States, and 84 MKSP projects had been sanctioned for implementation. He also said that a total allocation of Rs 847.48 crore had been made for the implementation of the approved projects, out of which Rs 570.26 crore had already been released. Only projects that address soil health and environmental issues are sought to be approved under this scheme.

In India, almost 84% of women depend on agriculture for their livelihood. They make up about 33% of cultivators and about 47% of agricultural laborers. According to NSSO Reports (2009-10), about 18% of the farm families in India are headed by women. Even though rural women form the most productive workforce in the agricultural sector, contributing up to 16% of the nation’s GDP, they are generally not able to access production resources like seeds, water, credit, subsidy, etc. And this occurs mainly because most of them are not recognized as farmers for want of ownership of land, or as beneficiaries of various government programs/services, denying them of institutional support (banks, insurance, cooperatives, to name a few).

Owing to the multiple roles that a woman has to undertake within the family, her access to information is constrained; therefore her opportunities are limited. Gender norms in rural societies define women’s role as largely being confined to the home, bearing the burden of unpaid domestic work including household chores, firewood and fodder collection besides being the caretaker of the family. All these time-intensive demands limit women’s choices of other higher income-earning opportunities. This often leads to mothers sacrificing their health or even their daughter’s education, recruiting them early on to take care of siblings or share household tasks.

The gender discrimination and wage difference between men and women creates a situation wherein even though women farmers perform big farming tasks, their labor-intensive work only yields meager economic returns and their access to resources is less than their male counterparts, which is why schemes like Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana play a crucial role in uplifting the status of women farmers in the society by providing these women with funding support, skill training and better options in general, to become self-dependent. Such schemes help educate women about the maximum utilization of government resources to help increase their income and access to environment-friendly technology, productive land, and market information. MKSP is also centred on reducing the drudgery as a result of the assigned traditional gender roles, through effective use of gender-friendly tools and transfer of technologies to women in agriculture.

Agriculture is the backbone of India’s economic development. Since it is a labor-intensive sector and largely a household enterprise, it provides a lot of job opportunities for both women and men. M.S. Swaminathan, during the First J.P. Naik Memorial Lecture, pointed out, that as men went hunting in search of food, it was women who began collecting seeds from flora and began to cultivate those for food and fuel, thereby domesticating crops and initiating the art and science of farming. Women play a central role in all agricultural activities, from planting to post-harvest activities like sowing, irrigation, weeding, harvesting, winnowing and storing. They also take part in other non-farming activities such as poultry farming and livestock rearing (milking animals, fodder collection, cleaning of animals and sheds). The involvement of women in such activities is in no way less than men.

The government of India has marked October 15th as Women Farmers Day to acknowledge the remarkable efforts and tremendous contributions of women farmers. Such endorsement by the government helps spread a positive message among people about the importance of inclusion of women in farming. According to a recent report of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, if women get the same access as men to agricultural resources, the economic yields on their farm would increase by 20% to 30% which would boost the total agricultural production up to 4% which will, in turn, lead to a 12% to 17% reduction in the number of hungry people worldwide.

The role of women in the agricultural sector is multidimensional- it goes beyond labor- to farmers, co-farmers, managers and entrepreneurs. They help in ensuring food security and preserving the biodiversity of the nation. People need to be made aware of the fact that the inclusion of women in the agricultural sector leads to self-sufficiency thereby increasing agricultural productivity of the entire nation. It is imperative to seek gender-specific involvement to ensure that women are predominant at all levels of agricultural production, from pre-harvest and post-harvest processing to packaging and marketing of food products. Implementation of such schemes, that are directed towards women in agriculture, provides the necessary boost to women entrepreneurship, and ensures the promotion of strategies that help enhance biodiversity and the natural resource base.