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Will Renewable Energy Facilitate Feminisation of Agriculture in India?

Updated: Apr 22


Author: Radheshyam Jadhav, Siddharth Jabade, Shraddha Khamparia and Ankita Sangle

Energy Review, Vol 4. Issue 4. 2022

The Indian government has committed, in the Paris Climate Agreement, to focus on the transition of power generation capacity from non-fossil fuel sources. One of the major steps taken by the government in this direction is the PM-KUSUM scheme that was approved in 2019. The aim of the scheme is to ensure energy and water security for farmers to enhance their income, de-dieselise the farm sector, and reduce environmental pollution. The three components of the scheme include the addition of 10,000 MW of solar capacity through the installation of small solar power plants with capacity up to 2 MW, installation of 20 lakh standalone solar-powered agricultural pumps, and solarisation of 15 lakh existing grid-connected agriculture pumps. This scheme has a direct connection to the rising phenomenon in Indian agriculture – the feminisation of agriculture.

The Indian government has acknowledged the fact that the growing rural-to-urban migration by men has resulted in the feminisation of the agriculture sector, whereby women are now into multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs, and labourers. As per the Census of 2011, there are 3.6 crore women cultivators and 6.15 crore women agricultural labourers. The latest agriculture census (2015-16) states that male operational holdings in agriculture (excluding institutional) constitute 86 percent while female holdings are 14 percent, against 87.2 percent and 12.8 percent respectively in 2010-11. These figures indicate more women participating in agricultural activities.

Solar energy serves as a weapon for women farmers in their battle against poverty and hunger. The government has highlighted that the replacement of existing diesel pumps with solar pumps will reduce the irrigation costs by around Rs.50,000 per year (for a 5HP pump), also leading to a reduction in pollution. The reduced financial burden and responsibility in water management for irrigating will help women farmers use their energy for other productive works. Our ability to convert energy to productive capacity has significantly contributed to social development. In the context of rural India, the question resides with the possibility of a framework and mechanism to harness energy from natural resources, conserving the efforts of women. This will enhance women's ability to work efficiently, by saving the effort required for external activities such as farming, collecting fuel, and fetching water.

The framework includes individual households – women in particular – a system that harnesses a form of clean energy, distribution channels to reach out to the grassroots through developmental platforms, and effective utilisation of the renewable energy that reflects in saving energy of women in a household as well as farming duties. If one assumes the direct and indirect energy transfer in this value chain, the solar energy (natural resource) reduces the energy consumption of another vital natural resource (humans) – energy saved is energy gained for the greater good.

The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO)’s 2017 data show that the average daily wage rates for general agricultural men and women labourers are ₹264.05 and ₹205.32, respectively. This pay gap is a direct result of the productivity gap. Women have a lower average productivity, both in terms of yields and earnings. In the Asia and Pacific region, women produce 20-30 percent less than men, despite working 12 - 13 hours more per week (FAO, 2011). Apart from evident sociocultural factors, one must note that women are less able to access productivity-enhancing inputs such as technology, farming tools, HYV seeds and fertilizer as highlighted by the Work and Opportunities for Women Programme (WOW). There is a possibility that new agricultural technologies will curb pollution, amplify the existing productivity gap and hamper women’s prospects for economic empowerment in the primary sector.

Agricultural yields can grow by 20 to 30 percent as women get access to the same productive resources as men. Gender-inclusive technological innovation can solve the productivity issue to a great extent. The Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) has provided some practical solutions to address the issue under its Lighting a Billion Lives (LaBL) campaign. It has adopted a gender-inclusive natural resource management and health nexus approach that is both agriculturally and socially efficient.

It has been evident that the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are highly dependent on the women’s equitable partnership in the agriculture sector. Women-inclusive agriculture is setting high standards in terms of economics, good health and well-being, (SDG 3) and quality education (SDG 4). To make it more viable and approachable, clean and affordable energy (SDG 7) is enabling women’s higher level of participation in economic development activities.

Clean energy enabled, climate-resilient technology allows for diversification and increased productivity of crops, as well as optimum utilization of available land. A synergy is maintained with easier and affordable access to energy, agriculture, water availability and gender equality (SDG 5). Equitable outcomes include quality time for education and upskilling leading to self-employment (SDG 9). Since women are involved in different and diverse social and communal networks in comparison to men, policies should be made gender-aware directing onto multiple sustainable development goals (SDG 2, 6, 8, 10, 13, 16, 17). With higher inclusivity in agriculture encapsulated with the clean energy transition, sustainable development goals could be met for the betterment of the future. (Dr. Radheshyam Jadhav is an Adjunct Professor at the Faculty of Media and Communication.

Dr. Siddharth Jabade is a Professor and Vice Chancellor.

Dr. Shraddha Khamparia is Deputy Director (Research), Deputy Director (Wilo-VU Water Quality Centre of Excellence), and Head at the Department of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

Prof. Ankita Sangle is Deputy Director for International Relations and Head at the Department of Economics.

Authors belong to Vishwakarma University, Pune, India.)■□■