Empowered women in Maharashtra’s drought-hit areas take up farming to ensure their families have enough to eat and their kids can go to school.
Women in Osmanabad are taking over the fate of their families and standing up for themselves. Even as drought continues to force farmers to suicide in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, these women have refused to go down that path. In fact, they’re better at farming and farm handling than their husbands. What makes them so?
For one, the women realised that growing crops that aren’t water-intensive makes more sense than running after cash crops like sugarcane and soybean; growing grains, pulses and vegetables was more feasible and would help feed the families too.
Rekha is one such a woman. “We grew vegetables with whatever farming knowledge we had. When there was sufficient for our families, we sold the extra produce in the nearby markets. For the first time, we had our own money,” she said to Times of India. For Komal Katkate, who grew dal and other pulses, the excess that she sold got her enough money to pay for her children’s school fees. “Homegrown vegetables and pulses save about Rs 300 every week,” she explains, “I have stopped using chemical fertilizers. While it is not a grand success, we are doing our best to change the situation.”
Indeed, today, these women are not only feeding their families but earning much more than their husbands have been able to during the drought.
The men are now sitting up and taking notice.
“When they realized we were not asking for money or water but were earning better, they started seeking our advice on the crop to be sown and how to avoid spending on chemical fertilizers,” said Anita Kulkarni, who sells fertilizers that she makes out of organic materials on her farm.
This effort is not necessarily new – it began in 2012 – and some of these women have won state and district level awards for their initiatives. Godavari Kshirsagar, who is responsible for saving her family and her crop lands in Gandora village in Tuljapur, recently interacted with a few MBA graduates who admired her resilience.
According to her, the essence of this movement is simple: going back to the basics. “We have not started any revolution – just gone back to the basics like avoiding cash crops, using organic fertilizers, ensuring food security and creating additional income,” she said.
The women, empowered by their success, are asking the government for more farmer schemes from the government, while also forming groups to discuss financial savings and farming.
Writing Their Own Tales of Success
Scores of NGOs have helped facilitate their transition from drought-stricken families to empowered, successful women who can stop at nothing. For instance, Swayam Shikshan Prayog introduced the concept of self-help groups among these women. They also teach them essentials skills, handling finance, taking care of health, and generating a steady source of income.
But at the end, it’s the women themselves who realised that something had to be done about the drought situation. And that the answer was not suicide.
The men weren’t too willing at first to hand over their farms to their wives. Kausalya Katkate, who is in her sixties and yet wanted to take up farming, asked the men of her house to give her just about 1000 square foot of land.
“Begrudgingly, they agreed,” she recounts, “We wanted to grow some food for our families to survive. Women know 80 per cent of farming, but they are never called farmers.”
Soon, though, when their efforts proved successful, the men felt a lot more confident. Achyutrao, husband of Komal, only has praise for his wife’s never-give-up attitude.
“I have stepped back. My wife Komal is the lead player now. I go by what she says on crop cultivation,” he said.
The Indomitable Will to Survive
When the rains just don’t show up and the water levels run low, women in these villages dig up other methods of securing an income.
From poultry farms to cattle rearing, the women also take up running small-scale flour mills and offer sewing services.
Women like Archana Bhosale, who runs a poultry farm, are no more stressed about making small money. “The average yield from my field is worth Rs 2 lakh,” she said. “Even if the crop fails, I have a small poultry which gives me returns of about Rs 1.5 lakh.”
This backup ensures that there is no need to worry or get distressed, she added.
“I am proud to be a farmer,” said Vaishali Guge. “My land in Tuljapur taluka yields more than enough for my family to survive. Why should I even think of suicide?”
And that’s how women in Maharashtra are surviving this drought: with positivity and an unstoppable will to make it through thick and thin.