Unlocking the crisis: Understanding impacts of Covid-19 and subsequent lockdown on single women farmers of Maharashtra
This report by Mahila Kisaan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM; a nationwide network of individuals and organisations that advocates the rights of women farmers) was published in June 2020.
It presents the
results of a survey assessing the lockdown’s impact on single women engaged in
cultivation and wage labour, their access to measures under the central
government’s Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY), and the challenges
women are likely to face in the upcoming kharif season. The report also
proposes strategies for reviving the livelihoods of single women engaged in
cultivation and wage labour.
The survey –conducted
between May 17 and 25, 2020 – covers 946 women across 17 districts of
Maharashtra – Akola, Amravati, Bid, Gadchiroli, Hingoli, Latur, Nagpur, Nanded,
Nandurbar, Osmanabad, Parbhani, Pune, Raigarh, Solapur, Wardha, Washim and
The report is divided
into three sections, which discuss the lockdown’s impact on women cultivators
and wage labourers (Section 1); entitlements and cash transfers under PMGKY
(Section 2); challenges for obtaining work in the subsequent kharif
season (Section 3); and the survey’s key findings (Section 4).
The survey’s participants were all single women; 91 per cent were widows and 68 per cent were in the age group of 31 to 50 years.
About 75 per cent of those surveyed were cultivating land that was their own, their family’s, leased or ‘encroached’ upon. Nearly 45 per cent of the women were not literate, which left them with few options for work outside agriculture.
Most (95 per cent) of the survey’s participants had their names listed in a ration card, and 89 per cent had their own ration card. Only 13 per cent of those whose names were listed in ration cards were covered under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana scheme, which entitles a household to 35 kilograms of grain at subsidised rates every month.
The report notes that 14 per cent of women whose names were included in a ration card did not receive grains for the month of April, while 13 per cent of those without such cards did receive rations that month.
A 10th of the surveyed women reported having skipped one meal a day during the lockdown, and 7 per cent stated that they missed two meals a day.
Many of the 83 per cent of women who did not miss meals during the lockdown, noted a drop in the consumption of items that are usually part of their regular diet, such as pulses, cereals, eggs, meat, vegetables and milk products.
Of the surveyed women, 27 per cent were landless, 43 per cent had their own land, 29 per cent were from families that owned land, and one per cent cultivated on ‘community land’ which was not in their name. Most of the women who owned land and cultivated it were small and marginal farmers, with a maximum land-holding of two hectares.
Of the 946 women surveyed, 53 leased land for cultivation: of these 53 respondents, 23 per cent leased 0.5 hectares of land, 32 per cent leased 0.5 to 1 hectare and 30 per cent leased 1 to 2 hectares.
Only 32 per cent of those who owned land had irrigation facilities. Most of these women reported that they could irrigate their land for only one season each year, and that the water used was often from a ‘shared’ resource. Many women cultivators, the report states, depend on wage labour after the kharif season.
The report states that 219 (roughly 30 per cent) of the 711 women who ‘actively engaged’ in cultivation said that their fields had unharvested produce during the lockdown. The main reason for not being able to harvest was the unavailability of farm labourers. Other reasons included not having the money to pay labourers – many of whom asked for increased wages – and for other equipment.
Of the 711 cultivators, 173 could not sell their produce during the lockdown due to the closure of public transport, increased transportation costs, a fall in prices and damaged produce. The crops included those that were cultivated in the previous kharif season as well.
Among the women who sold their produce in this period, 74 per cent sold it through traders and 26 per cent sold it to government mandis. The women who sold it to the mandis did so through private traders; this was the case before the lockdown too.
During the lockdown, 352 of the women surveyed took loans for agricultural activities. They borrowed from various sources including banks, self-help groups, private moneylenders, relatives and microfinance institutions. The report states that many women borrowed from ‘informal’ sources where interest rates usually range from 24 to 36 per cent, and sometimes even more. Only 28 per cent of those who took loans for agriculture have been able to repay them.
The report states that an ‘overwhelming majority’ – 76 per cent – of respondents said that they did not know how to ask for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, and 21 per cent were not aware that they could ask for farm-related work under this central government scheme.
Focus and Factoids by Archita Joshi.
Mahila Kisaan Adhikaar Manch
Mahila Kisaan Adhikaar Manch