Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Agricultural Feminisation In Nepal

Namrata Sharma

According to the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), “Around 63 per cent of the world’s poorest people work in agriculture, the overwhelming majority on small farms. Most of the poorest, hungriest and most marginalised people live in rural areas, and that is where the development community now needs to focus its mid- to long-term efforts.” Similarly the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that 60 per cent of the world’s people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
As per the International Finance Corporation (IFC), agriculture in Nepal employs two-third of its population and contributes up to one-third of its gross domestic product. Due to unreliable weather forecast and the increasing number of unusual weather events caused by global warming, the future of the agriculture sector and the farmers’ livelihoods are adversely affected. The IFC website mentions that a large number of Nepali men have left the country for foreign work. Therefore, women in Nepal are more dependent on agriculture as a source of employment than men. Ninety-one percent of employed women work in agriculture, compared to 64 per cent for men. So climate-related threats to agriculture affect Nepali women’s economic health and status in numbers that are far different from the past.
The advent of COVID-19 and the current changes in the weather pattern have made me reflect on the feminisation of agriculture in Nepal.
If one reviews the evolution of Mesopotamia, also known as the cradle of civilisation, the ploughing culture was introduced in the 4,000 to 6,000 BC. “Until now, women had been in charge of the fields and gardens where cereals were grown: everything had depended on their tilling the soil and tending the crop. Men had been first hunters, then herdsmen. But now men took over the plough, which they alone were allowed to use. At a stroke, it might seem that the society would move from being matriarchal to patriarchal: that there would be a shift away from the reign of the all-powerful mother goddesses. . . and towards the male gods and priests who were predominant in Sumer and Babylon. Developments were long-term: domestication of large animals like asses and oxen, followed by horses and camels took centuries and was accompanied with a move towards male domination of society and its beliefs, from a queen resembling the Earth Mother to a king resembling Jupiter, as Jean Przyluski put it”. (Braudel, 1998, p. 71).
This paragraph clearly shows that the ploughing culture radically overturned and defined the gender roles from matriarchy to patriarchy. It is, therefore, an interesting fact that in Nepal, like in many other developing and developed countries, the plough has again returned to the hands of women. However, unlike the turn of events from men taking the plough in their hands by force during those early days of civilisation in Mesopotamia, in Nepal, it is by compulsion rather than by choice that women have had to take up yet one more responsibility in sustaining their households mainly due to the mass migration of men for work outside.
Women constitute the majority of the world’s agricultural labourers. Worldwide they earn less than men for the same work, and their jobs are concentrated in lower-paying industries and the informal sector. Most villages now look like places only for women, children and the elderly. It is therefore very important now for policymakers to note the radical changes taking place in the socio-economic pattern of the country and its gender impact.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), migration plays a vital role in Nepal’s socio-economic development and poverty reduction. Nepal received remittances of NPR 699 billion (USD 6.56 billion) in FY 2016/2017 and ranks fourth in the world in terms of the contribution of remittances to GDP. According to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011, over 56 per cent of Nepali households receive remittances. What percentage of this money is being spent on the wellbeing of these migrants and their families? Especially during the coronavirus pandemic the fact that most of the migrant workers have been stranded in the countries where they went to work and the fact that they had to walk for days to reach their homes has shown that the government has not effectively addressed their needs during the emergency. The state definitely benefits from the remittances sent by the migrants. Proper attention must now be given to the gender shift that is taking place because of migration of people outside the country and the change in labour dynamics together with the additional difficulties imposed by COVID-19.
Currently in the context of the coronavirus pandemic, what impact has there been on the feminisation of the agriculture sector in Nepal is yet to be seen.
According to IFAD, COVID-19 is a global pandemic that is already having tangible effects on the agriculture sector. In addition to its potential health effects, it threatens to profoundly affect the livelihoods of poor rural farmers who depend on agriculture.
In the background of COVID-19, according to Dr. Meena Acharya, a feminist economist, as quoted in the UN Women Asia Pacific website “gender-responsive budgeting, gender equality and social inclusion directives must be reinforced with new directives. State governments should also come up with food distribution plans focusing on women and the poor in remote areas. Along with larger agro-farms, women-managed smaller farms need help for access to credit, input, and technological services. With limited prospects of the non-agricultural sector reviving, maximum efforts should be made to increase agricultural productivity.”

(Namrata Sharma can be reached at, Twitter handle: NamrataSharmaP)