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A school for women farmers changes lives, and how

Village women in a backward Haryana District who were hitherto unaware of modern and safe farming methods are reporting exponential increase in yields after getting specialised training and inputs

Sunita (32) from Raniaki Village in Tarou Block of Haryana’s Nuh District may be a school dropout, but today she can teach a lesson or two on modern farming. A school for women farmers organised by an NGO in her village last year was what brought about the amazing transformation.

“I used to get a yield of nearly 50 maunds of wheat for the acre of land that we own, but after adopting modern methodology taught at the school, the last season’s wheat production was nearly 70 maunds,” Sunita says. She is among nearly 150 women farmers from ten villages in Tarou Block who have benefitted from monthly sessions for a year at the school.

In most places in the backward Nuh District, it is mostly the women who toil day and night in the fields, taking care of the whole process, right from sowing to harvesting, in addition to managing their homes. However, with men taking decisions on the inputs, the women, who actually work in the field, are not aware of modern sustainable farming methods or how excessive use of urea and DAP (diammonium phosphate) have damaged the soil, resulting in low productivity.

They are also not aware of how salinity in the water in this particular area is affecting the production and quality of crops. People here still stick to traditional methods of agriculture and animal husbandry, their main livelihood. As a result, crop production has been going down, and so also the incomes.

“Since it is the women who labour in the fields, we decided to start farming schools exclusively for them”, said Debika Goswami, working for SM Sehgal Foundation, an NGO. A pilot project was undertaken in the block by the NGO under its Gram Uday Project in partnership with Publicis Sapient India, with the twin objectives of increasing crop production through sustainable agriculture and equipping and empowering women to take independent decisions and not depend on the menfolk.

Like Sunita, Warsina from Padehni Village has not only benefited from the sessions at the school but has been able to motivate other farmers, both men and women, to go for modern and sustainable agriculture. A Class V drop out, Warsina decided to use the seeds provided by the NGO on half of their land and sowed gharke (home grown) seeds in the other part. “The result was amazing. People wanted to know if the crop grown was wheat in both parts of the fields because the two looked so different,” she says.

Warsina has learnt not only about enriching the soil through micro-nutrients and adopting sprinkle irrigation but also about using quality seeds and alternating crops. She grows wheat, bajra, sarson (mustard) and vegetables in her three acres of land. She does not own a tractor but hires one for ploughing as well as taking the yield to the mandi (market) to sell.

Sunita says she is now experimenting with alternating crop cultivation. She has sown arhar pulses and grows vegetables as well. Other women like Sundari, Suman and Neetu have been approaching Sunita after her success. “Hamara naam bhi training ke liye likhwa do (Please get our named registered for the training),” they have been urging her.

The women farmers’ school also educates participants on government schemes and subsidies they can take advantage of. They are taught about animal husbandry, the kind of feed that should be given to the cattle and the best practices to get good results. Premwati has no land, but she has a desi (country) cow. After attending the sessions at the school, she has learnt about adding nutrients to the feed given to cattle and about other aspects of cattle rearing. She knows that the ghee made from milk of the desi cow is used for medicinal purposes and so she sells it at Rs 1200 a kg.

“Earlier I used to get 4 to 5 kg of milk, now the yield has gone up to 7 kg. Ghee production has also increased,” Premwati reports. Her husband takes on odd jobs as a mason once in a while, so Premwati also works as a farm hand, earning Rs 500 a day. “I belong to SC Community and nobody of our community in our village own land so I have no option but to work as a farm hand,” she says. It is hard work, managing the household, working in the fields and looking after her cow, but with the income going up and the scholarship her children have been getting, the family is somehow able to educate their four children.

Debika says the space for the school is provided by the panchayats. Women are selected after house visits, depending on their interest and need. Women from the 20 to 55 age group are selected for training at the school. Not all complete the year-long course, but even if 150 out of 200 do so, it is encouraging, she says. “We talk to all the stakeholders before starting a project. In addition to farm practices, the women are given training in life skills, capacity-building and leadership qualities, including public speaking. Mixing with other women gives them exposure.” she shares.

Arifa, a field worker, says as the NGO has been working in the area for a long time, there was not much resistance to sending women to the school. However, as Debika pointed out, the hardest challenge was to convince the villagers to consider women also as farmers and accept the rationale of having schools exclusively for them. But after the success of the pilot project, the NGO is already discussing starting similar schools in Bihar.

Meanwhile, Sunita and Warsina, who are becoming agents of change in their own right by motivating many more women to join the school, hold out hope of progress in this region with one of the lowest female literacy rates and the dubious distinction of women being discriminated against in every aspect of their lives.

June 2022