Significant Role of Women Farmers of Assam Amidst the Pandemic

By Anindita Deka

“Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man” – George Washington

Indian economy is primarily based on agriculture and farmers are the driving force. India mainly lives in its villages, where farmers grows domesticated species, they also produce more and the surpluses helped people exploring more opportunities in the field of agriculture. But the migration towards urban areas are on inspite of possibilities in the rural areas. But amidst the ongoing Pandemic crisis, the agriculture particularly by the women farmers in Assam has emerged has hope and inspiration for not just the state but for the entire country.

Women living in rural India bears the large potential and are the real catalyst towards change. But the majority of rural women suffer from multi-faceted poverty economic poverty, information poverty, technological poverty, skill poverty, etc. This is often fuelled by the discrimination faced by them within society. She is the caretaker of children, family as well as elderly members but unfortunately has hardly any say in the economic decisions of the family.

Further, often in farming land, we notice women working alongside men in day to day activities but independently ‘Women farmer” till date is almost a utopian concept as women in our country mostly do not exercise the right of landholding.  

We, the young, energetic and dedicated team of Assam State Rural Livelihoods Mission (ASRLM) are relentlessly working with more than 3 lakh women farmers who are not only doing traditional farming but are trying their hand in practices like organic cultivation, System of Rice Intensification (SRI), etc. Farmers of the flood-prone areas like the river island Majuli also tried to grow vegetables in Floating Bed prepared on Water Hyacinth, banana bark, etc. to maximize their profit during the heavy monsoon season.

Farming practices in Poly Houses (where crops can be grown under controlled environment) which help them grow two-three crops together in rotation and shows better result is also introduced to the rural women farmers. Livestock rearing plays an important role towards boosting the household income and are the main assets of rural women of Assam from time immemorial because the income receives from selling livestock generally remains with the women. Our women farmers also do piggery, poultry, dairy etc and are earning good income out of it.

Alas!! The Corona Pandemic broke which shook the whole world completely. The life of each and every one came to a pause. In this present scenario, one of the worst sufferers are the farmers. Because everything can wait but a farmer; as they are completely dependent on the season. Our women farmers also started facing same difficulties of getting a market to sell their current perishable produces and/or acquiring correct price. Most of them had taken loans to grow vegetables in bighas of land on their own or leased land. Thus, their liabilities are mounting with every passing lockdown days with an uncertainty of normalcy of this vague situation. 

The people working in development sector are bounded by some combined conscience which is not letting us sit idle at home seeing our farmers sleep hungry. After an initial hiccup of lockdown effect which is being faced by the country for the first time, the likeminded people of the mission found ways to help our farmers which is backed by complete support received from our competent authority. With the constant help of our ground level functionaries, we are constantly assessing the available perishable items across Assam and trying to figure out different ways to sell those.

Our first contact point is the District Administration which is trying to render doorstep delivery of vegetables, fruits in general and fish and meat in some districts. Apart from that we are exposing different buyers who are allowed by the District Administrations to supply food at our doorsteps.

The benefit of whole this exercise is two folded. Firstly our farmers will get the minimum selling price, thus can at least afford two course meals at this crisis situation. Secondly, people locked at their homes can get fresh vegetables at their doorstep. In only one week of starting this venture we are proud to declare that we have been helping our farmers with the selling figure as follows (till 12th April, 2020):

*Vegetables (Cucumber, Tomato, Potato, Cauliflower, Pumpkin, Bottle Guard, chilly, brinjal, etc)- 257 tonnes

            *Fruits (Banana, Water Melon, etc) -56 tonnes

            *Poultry Meat – 145 tonnes

            *Fish – 15 tonnes

            *Milk – 24630 tonnes

            *Egg -204855 numbers

Fish and Eggs are generally sold in the local market. However Milk has taken by different dairy agencies like Purabi etc from our producers, apart from selling locally. The above mentioned figures are representing only half of the producers of farmers sold.  

Apart from selling their produces, our farmers are helping the needy people of the villages with whatever little fruits and vegetables they have in stock. The age-old system of bartering produces is also seen among the farmers of the villages during the lockdown period. More importantly, we are focusing on adhering to the guidelines like wearing masks and maintaining social distances while doing all the activities of plucking vegetables in the field, accumulation of the same and selling to the buyers.

Though our main focus is to help our farmers to overcome this situation, it is worth mentioning that we are helping each and every member of the farming fraternity that comes to our notice. In this regard I also want to request all the readers who also believe the farmers to be the backbone of the society; to help them in whatever possible way you can. Help can be of different types like finding a market for the farmers, diminishing the middle man while selling their produces, helping them adding value to their products (drying fresh mushroom can help the shelf life of the mushroom to keep for a longer period and earn more) etc. 

The farmers are the strongest as they have the capacity to bear sun and rain, drought and dust, but never fail to stand on the ground.

Author Anindita Deka works as a Project Assistant- Livelihoods and Marketing, Assam State Rural Livelihoods Mission Society (ASRLMS)