Gender and Labor Use in Agriculture
Source: Flickr, ADB

It is estimated that women comprise around 25 percent of the total agricultural labor force in India.  However, there has been much recent debate over whether this under reports female participation in agriculture as in most rural regions, agriculture is the most important occupation for women. Currently, women’s contribution to agricultural production in India, especially on a micro level, is not completely clear. Additionally, there has been much interest into the concept of the ‘feminization of agriculture’ globally which suggests that there is an increase in the number of women working in agriculture and/or there is an increase in the share of women working in agriculture compared to men.

An ICRISAT draft working paper investigates male and female agricultural labor participation on a macro level based upon national surveys, and on a micro level based upon evidence from ICRISAT’s Village Dynamics in South Asia (VDSA) program.

The macro level data, from national surveys conducted by the Ministry of Labor and Employment, finds that there has been an absolute decline in the rural female workforce by about 22.2 million from 124 million in 2004-05 to 101.8 million in 2011-12. More specifically, the paper highlights that the decline in rural female workforce is entirely due to a decline in the number of women working in agriculture and allied activities by about 27 million. Proportionally the data finds that while male labour force participation has remained around 55-56 percent over the past few decades female participation rates have decline from 34 percent in 1983 to 25.3 percent in 2012, with the most rapid declines occurring in recent years. However, the paper notes that one of the major criticisms concerning national survey data relating to the female labour force participation is that it generally underreport women’s contribution to agriculture.

In the context of this macro-level data, the paper analyses female and male labour participation rates, cropping patterns and real wages based on the VDSA database covering six villages, two in each of the following three districts: Mahabubnagar (Telangana) and Solapur and Akola (Maharashtra).  ICRISAT village-level dynamics studies have over the past three decades collected and analyzed data concerning social and economic changes in village and household economies in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa with the goal of providing insights and development pathways to identify and understand socio-economic, agro-biological, policy and institutional constraints to agricultural development.

Contrary to the macro-economic analysis, evidence from the VDSA shows that male and female work participation rates, in all villages covered, are very high. More specifically, the data shows that female participation rates have generally increased in recent years (from 2001-2011) from 78 percent in Mahabubnagar, 83.3 percent in Solapur, and 83.3 percent in Akola to 90.5 percent, 88.8 percent, and 88.8 percent respectively. By contrast, male participation rates have broadly remained steady or declined slightly and in 2011 averaged 82 percent across all villages covered. This evidence suggests that the share of female labour in agriculture in these regions has been on the rise.

The paper conducts a crop-level analysis comparing male and female labour participation rates based on different crops in each of the six villages. The paper finds a clear two-way process of absolute decline of male labour spent per hectare and absolute increase in female labour per hectare in the case of three labour-intensive crops: cotton, groundnut and sugarcane. For instance, in the case of cotton, 89 days of female labour were spent cultivating cotton per hectare in 2011, by contrast only 22 days of male labour were spent cultivating cotton per hectare. Conversely, regarding low labour intensive crops, such as pigeon pea and sorghum, the average amount of female labour in 2011 was found to be lower than that of male labour. For instance, for sorghum, 13 days of male labour and 10 days of female labour were spent cultivating sorghum per hectare.

A World Bank report shows that women, in most developing countries, are paid 10 to 30 percent less for the same job as compared to men. The study presents average real wages for male and female field labour over the past three decades for all the three sample regions. The study finds that though real wages have increased significantly for both men and women, the real wage gap between male and female wages has not narrowed. For instance, in Mahabubnagar, male real wages rose from 33 rupees per day in 1981 to 115 rupees per day in 2010 and female real wages rose from 27 rupees per day to 94 rupees per day over the same time period.

The study highlights that interpreting and comparing the macro (from national surveys) and micro level data (from the VSDA based on a particular agro-climatic zone) needs to be approached with caution as India experiences wide differences in agro-climatic conditions as well as socio-cultural norms. However, the paper broadly highlights that the macro and micro level data suggest different outcomes regarding the ‘feminization of agriculture.’ This highlights the need for further research on the extent of female and male participation in agriculture both on a micro and macro level. In particular further research is needed into female labour participation in a range of agro-climatic zones.

The full paper can be accessed here.

Further information on the VDSA can be accessed here.

By: Bas Paris

Photo credit:Flickr, ADB