18 August 2017

Agriculture is an energy intensive enterprise. Almost all operations in agriculture from land preparation, sowing, weeding, irrigation, harvesting, post-harvest processing and storage is dependent on farm power – manual, animal, diesel or electricity. Mechanization of agricultural operations through the use of tools and machinery is the primary pathway in enabling access to commercial clean energy sources for agricultural production. In this context, access to clean energy sources is important in view of health and environmental reasons. In India, farm power use has increased from 0.30 kW/ha in 1960-61 to about 2.02 kW/ha in 2013-14. Share of manual and draught power in total farm power has reportedly come down by 50% during 1970 to 2012. Nevertheless, even by 2016, level of mechanisation in agriculture in India is just about 40% and agriculture is predominantly dependent on manual labour force (55%). Further, differential access to clean energy sources for agriculture is observed across states in India, as well as across men and women farmers. Evidence from two districts in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, show less than 0.5% access to power driven agricultural machinery and implements for women in agriculture.

Women account for 30% of the cultivators and 43% of the agriculture labourers in India. They are actively involved in different agricultural operations, but they have limited access to and control over clean energy resources and services. This is so in both crop cultivation and animal husbandry, due to technological, social, economical and political reasons. Clean energy is needed for various operations – soil preparation, sowing, transplanting, threshing, processing, transportation, value addition etc, grass chopping, milking machine, bulk coolers etc.)

There is a strong positive correlation between farm power and farm productivity. The main purpose of using energy in the form of agricultural machinery is to increase production, reduce the use of physical energy/drudgery and health hazards and improve the efficiency of factors of production. However, the disparities in access to clean energy services results in increased drudgery, reduced productivity and lower income for women farmers. A study done by FAO reveals that if women had the same level of access to productive resources as men, they could boost yield by 20-30%. The field level interactions and observations with women and men farmers and other stakeholders in Dindigul district of Tamil Nadu, Wayanad district of Kerala and Koraput district of Odisha reveal the following factors as limiting women’s access to and control over clean energy sources for agricultural production.

Size or scale of operation : There is a positive relationship between the farm size or enterprise size and energy consumption. The choice on the use of machinery depends on the scale of the economic activity in either crop cultivation or in livestock farming. This is because; the use of machinery is economically viable in a particular scale of operations. However, in reality most of the women are small holders managing small units of production especially in livestock sectors and rainfed systems with low value food crops such as pulses and millets, here the necessity for investing and use of machinery is not felt by the women in many cases and some of them expressed that investment to increase the scale in the production is difficult as they have limited access to finance and necessary skills and education to manage it and their available time to involve in such activities. However, in case of higher scale of machinery, access to machinery services are available for the certain operations such as ploughing, harvesting and threshing in crop cultivation to small holders but and not in livestock sectors. Apart from this, the low use of labour-saving machinery is related to lack of need to economize their time due to limited opportunities for other livelihoods and employment in the region, hence they continue to maintain with lower productivity in factors of production used. This is also related to the low value of women’s labour time which is commonly perceived in the society by both men and women. Examples are small scale goatery (less than five) and dairy animals (one or two) which reduce or inhibit them to use energy based machines or tools such as chaff cutter, milking machines, milk coolers etc. In this situation, there is a need to invest and develop women friendly machinery as well as suitability to use in smaller scale is necessary.

Technological innovations, size and cost : Here efforts to evolve technology based solutions to energy access by the researchers or innovators are crucial in changing gender relations. Typical example is use of coconut tree climber, earlier only men would do this job, often considered as a skilled job, but the innovation of mechanical tree climber helped to change the gender roles and now women also equally participate and use it to improve their livelihoods. At the same time technologies like combined harvestor for paddy, wheat and other crops are developed in such a way that it is suitable for men and displace women’s manual labour.. In this context, there is a need to create alternate forms of employment to increase the value of women’s labour time so that the negative impacts on gender relations can be avoided.

Scale of technology – Technologies are developed from the perspective of efficiency which is the core issue in design stage and thus the machinery are developed without considering gender issues – for example the command area of combined harvesting machines, transplanters in paddy, tractor etc are bigger and hence it should be used commercially for economic reasons which involves mobility and longer stay outside home, which women may not take it. Same time it is associated with displacement of labour that reduce the employment opportunities for women agrl labourers, in this case what is the alternatives to provide alternate employment opportunities.

Cost: An another important dimension is cost of the technologies – women may not able to invest in such technologies mainly due to lack of access to credit (which limits their ability to pay the up-front costs of improved energy technology (example is coconut coir based rope making activities in Dindigul region of Tamil Nadu) or investment in other resources and services (example is use of three phase electricity for operating the machinery for liquid form of biological inputs used in agriculture in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu).

Ownership of assets : Land ownership which limits their ability to benefit equally to men from energy facilities –in this case agriculture machinery such as weeders, small tractors, threshers, chaff cutters etc as the agriculture engineering department need records in their name to access the subsidy or sometimes no objective certificate from their husbands in case of joint pattas (related to getting subsidies while purchasing machinery through Department of Agriculture engineering in Tamil Nadu) which is again linked to the social norms or values of the agencies involved in the institutions. While in case of Kerala, line departments devised schemes in which small holding women farmers or agricultural labourers are mobilized and organised in to group, trained them in use the machinery and provided financial support to own collectively and use it commercially (Green army in Kerala in which women agricultural labourers or small holders are trained and provided hand holding support to run it as a commercial service provider on machinery based farm services). Here the collective power as well as efforts of government policies helped to break the stereotype in handling the machines.

Social values and norms : largely, the use of machinery is associated with men as a stereotypic gender role in the society and hence women are not mentally tuned to explore the opportunities on the new developments in the machinery use. Often women internalize social norms that place a low value on their worth and contribution which is negatively affecting their access to modern energy services. Also the other stakeholders like scientists (associated with the design of machinery) and extension officials reflect their values and reinforces stereotypical gender roles while performing their roles and extending services

Access to support services: Women have limited awareness and access to information, knowledge, extension services and institutional linkages about the new tools and machinery (which limits their abilities to use energy in their activities). The positive example is –- training as well as hand holding support provided by the Coconut Development Board on coconut harvester, many women are using now.

To sum up, access and use of clean energy services and resources by women farmers are limited due to issues associated with technology development and dissemination, scale of operation, initial investment costs, social norms related to the use of machinery by women. Inspite of government’s efforts, to increase the use of energy in farming operations through farm mechanization (gender friendly tools, credit and subsidy, training etc) field evidences shows the issues in the gap between policy and practice. The sub mission on agricultural mechanisation implemented by the Government of India has limited scope for facilitating large scale use of clean energy by women in agriculture. The state agricultural policies too do not have targeted measures to encourage mechanisation by women in agriculture.

However, field study across the three states, reveal that institutional mechanisms for women outside the Department of Agriculture has created opportunities for women to access and use clean energy for productive purposes. The Kudumbasree women’s collective in the state of Kerala, promotes joint liability groups in agriculture and allied enterprises and facilitates access to productive resources including clean energy for its members. Positive outcomes of these initiatives were observed in Wayanad district of Kerala, where women were observed to run completely mechanised animal husbandry units as well as manage agricultural operations using machines. Replication of the kudumbasree model of JLG’s across the States in India would go a long way in enabling women’s access to clean energy in production.

Rengalakshmi and Manjula.M

M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation