As we head towards the presentation of the Union Budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 on February 1 (Friday), there are various speculations and assumptions as to what the finance ministry will bring to the fore for different sectors. This year’s Union Budget is also crucial since it is also the year of General Assembly Elections and people are expecting benefits for larger sections of the society.

Over the past few years, women farmers have created an uproar, demanding land rights, loans and equal rights from the government.

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Even as the Economic Survey 2017-18 talks about feminisation of agriculture, the Budget 2018-19 failed to address the many pending issues of women farmers, stated Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM). “We feel highly disappointed that in the end, the issue of women farmers has only become a box item in the Economic Survey, used as a publicity tool by the Government to make it appear that they are sensitive to women farmers,” said Soma Parthasarthy of MAKAAM.

Talking about the cause of feminisation of agriculture and the top recommendation for the Budget, Parthasarthy told SheThePeople.TV, “Before one can even begin to create a gender-responsive budget, it is essential that the data collected by the government for all schemes be gender-disaggregated.”

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There is a large scope of improvement and impact if the government diverts its attention to the uplift of rural women and women farmers. Census 2011 shows that more than 40% of all female workers are agricultural labourers, and constitute close to 65% of all agricultural workers. Yet, the budget makes no provisions for any actions/investment to support women farmers and single women widowed due to farmer suicide or struggling alone.

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In fact, the increase of migration of rural men from villages to urban settlements in search of livelihood has actually left women to work on agricultural lands. “Since land is generally not recorded in their name, the women farmers are unable to access institutional credit and other benefits made available by the Government for agriculture,” said Dr Shobha Nagnur, Senior Scientist, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.

Nagnur believes it would help if the Government shares the model provisions with the states to amend the State Revenue Acts, and promote land titles in joint names, making it compulsory for recording of women (spouse, daughter, sister, etc) as one of the record holders. “The Budget may include this, along with the creation of a Farmers’ Database by offering financial support to build such a database,” she added

MAKAAM calls for a recognition of the work and worth of women farmers. It seeks specific measures to address the status of women farmers, given the crisis of rural distress, food insecurity and feminization of agriculture without recognition of women’s labour and resource rights.

“Recognition, incentives and priority in access are the key issues that we wish to raise from MAKAAM as necessary for women farmers in the context of the budget,” said Parthasarthy.

“We seek recognition of our entitlements and allocations of at least 30% of all schemes under DAC to women, rather than the present limited focus on women in about a dozen schemes. All agriculture schemes must allocate 30% to women as part of gender budgets. The related task is for monitoring of expenditure to ensure that the 30% has indeed been spent,” she added.

Their demands are:

• Waiver for women SHGs/women’s collectives in disaster situations such as drought, floods etc. need to ensured, as they are primary risk takers in their borrowings to support their household livelihoods.

• Assurance of maternity entitlements for women farmers as per earlier guidelines, as a right.

Dr Nagnur suggests the programme of having a farmers’ friend in villages. Also, it must be made mandatory that at least 50 per cent of the farmers’ friends are women. “All women farmer-friends may be encouraged into a national level self-help group so that experiences and learnings are readily shared among the women.”

“The digitisation of SHGs is currently implemented in 100 districts through NABARD. The budget can support to scale up this project into all districts in the country, provided at least 50 per cent of the expenditure is on women SHGs,” she added.

Last year, we saw women farmers along with men come out of their houses and participate in protest marches asking the government for benefits and schemes that cater particularly to them. So as we discuss Budget expectations, it is hard to neglect women farmers and their hopes from it.

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