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Shweta Thakare
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Since I was a child, I have observed my mother toiling hard in the fields--tilling the soil, sowing seeds, adding manure and even harvesting the crop. But when it came to buying inputs or selling the produce at the nearby mandi, it was either my father or uncles who did so. Today also, I rarely see women farmers in the mandi and selling their produce. This is a common phenomenon across India where 80% of farm work is done by the women farmers but the same women have no agency over the produce of their labour.

women working in farm 2Conventionally, APMCs or mandis have been the primary source of market for the farmers to sell their produce. Further, these mandis are located away from the villages and are highly male-dominated. For women farmers, it becomes challenging to travel from one place to another, to market their produce, to bargain with middlemen, coolies and traders who are mainly men, becomes challenging. They have to face the male gaze every time they navigate through the mandi, which makes it unsafe and uncomfortable for many women. Therefore, most women farmers prefer to sell their produce to the village middleman at a lower price.

As per the census, anyone who operates on a piece of land is termed a cultivator. While the operational land is a one that can be used by anyone for agricultural production – irrespective of whether the person owns it or not. Today, 73.2% of women are involved in agriculture, but only 12% own the land. Thus, more than 87% of women come under the category of cultivator rather than a farmer. Given that less than 4% of women have access to institutional credit, leaving no option but to be at the mercy of the local moneylender or the middleman. Further, increased migration of the male members towards the non-farm sector leads to the feminization of agriculture. It increases the burden on the women farmer to ensure the family's sustenance, which often than not also results in the feminization of poverty.

Women farmers face multiple pre-existing challenges like lack of recognition or visibility as farmers, unequal rights over key resources such as land, water, agricultural credit, inputs, access to market etc. Also the gendered specific roles and responsibilities of the woman farmer hamper her ability to cultivate and control the land efficiently. The COVID-19 related restrictions on mobility further intensified the situation of the women farmers. It increased the burden of caretaking, increased gender-based violence - all of which adversely affects women empowerment.

women in farmWe understand that access to village level madis and formal credit will particularly help women farmers to become true owners of her produce. Therefore, we conceptualized Gram Mandi as a solution. Gram Mandi is a one-stop marketplace at the village level. This enables farmers to avail the pre and post-harvest services such as credit, storage, inputs, primary processing and market linkages. It will provide freedom of choice to the farmers either to sell or store their produce until they get favourable market conditions. Further, the opportunity to add value through the primary processing unit will add to their income. Also, our digital platform Gram Mandi app will allow the farmer to avail all these services through a single click on her mobile phone. Thus, Gram Mandi will provide a window for the women farmers to make inroads into the male-dominated mandi without being exploited. The holistic model of GramHeet that thrives on providing equal opportunity to the women farmers in their pursuit to become true owners of their produce.

*The opinions expressed in the article are the author's individual experience.

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