Women-Inclusive Livestock Development Helps Improve Women's Empowerment
Women make up an average of 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. Rural women greatly contribute to the development of the small-scale livestock sector. It has been estimated that, globally, rural women represent two-thirds of low-income livestock keepers. But women livestock keepers typically face greater economic, social and institutional barriers. Also, they frequently lack the means to fully engage in, sustain and upgrade their farming activities. In 2014, I wrote about the daily struggle of Indian farm women in ensuring fodder for their livestock. Farm women are still not recognized for the backbreaking hard work they do in livestock rearing. Women livestock workers remain invisible on account of their absence in official statistics. How can we ensure women’s inclusion and make their contributions more visible?
I have witnessed rural women’s significant role in animal husbandry very closely, being born and brought up in a rural smallholder livestock-owning farm family. I now organize livestock outreach programs, coordinate and monitor trainings for farmers including farm women at Indian Veterinary Research Institute. In my 31+ years of working with farming communities, I have realized that livestock can help India prosper faster alongside empowering women. Giving women the same opportunities as men could raise agricultural production by 2.5 to 4 percent in the poorest regions and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent. Yet, women face significant discrimination when it comes to land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources, credit and market.
Indian Livestock Sector
India has vast livestock resources. As per the latest livestock census, the total livestock population in India is 535.82 million, which include 192.52 million cattle, 109.85 million buffaloes, 74.26 million sheep, 148.88 million goats, about 9.06 million pigs, 851.81 million poultry population and 0.85 million other livestock species. Indian livestock sector is characterized by huge numbers with low productivity. About 20.5 million people in India depend upon livestock for their livelihood. Livestock contributes 16 percent to the income of small farm households as against an average of 14 percent for all rural households. Livestock provides livelihood to two-thirds of the rural community. It also provides employment to about 8.8 percent of the population in India. Livestock sector contributes 4.11 percent gross domestic product and 25.6 percent of total Agriculture GDP. Demand for livestock products such as milk, meat and eggs is growing rapidly in India due to an increasing population, urbanization, rising income and an emerging middle class. This increasing demand for livestock products in India is offering opportunities for farmers to use livestock as a pathway out of poverty and food insecurity.
Women’s Contribution in Dairying
India is the largest producer of milk in the world, contributing 23 percent of global milk production. This comes from the huge livestock numbers mostly tended by women. While Inaugurating the International Dairy Federation World Dairy Summit 2022, the Indian Prime Minister pointed out that women have a 70 percent representation in the workforce in India's dairy sector. Women are the real leaders of India's dairy sector, he added. Not only this, more than a third of the members of dairy cooperatives in India are women. He further said that the Indian dairy sector is more than the combined value of wheat and rice. This is all driven by womanpower of India, he added. The dairy sector employs more than 80 million rural households, with the majority being small and marginal farmers as well as the landless. The cooperative societies have not only made the farmers self-sufficient but have also broken the shackles of gender, caste, religion and community. Women producers form the major workforce of the dairy sector in the country. The sector is an important job provider, especially for women, and plays a leading role in women’s empowerment. There were five million women members in dairy cooperatives in 2015-2016, and this increased further to 5.4 million in 2020-2021, accounting for 31 percent of total members. There are over 190,000 dairy cooperative societies in India.
The success of women in dairying needs to be replicated in other livestock species like goats, pigs and poultry. This can be done by organizing women into self-help groups, women-producer organizations and cooperatives. Women-inclusive cooperatives and other producer’s associations or groups if established, strengthened or supported, can improve women’s contribution in policy-making processes as well their bargaining power and access to inputs and markets. One good example is the National Smallholder Poultry Development Trust (NSPDT), facilitated by PRADAN, that enables poor women in rural India to start and run successful poultry enterprises.
Barriers in Women’s Participation
Women lack resources and technical information. Training women and increasing their access to agricultural knowledge and technologies would both increase agricultural productivity and lessen the number of hungry people. So, women’s capacities need to be enhanced in the areas of scientific animal feeding, balance ration, animal breeding, health care, livestock products processing and marketing. The Indian Veterinary Research Institute including its centers and Krishi Vigyan Kendra organize about 15-20 trainings for farmers every year, mostly on piggery, goat production, dairying, buffalo husbandry, milk and meat processing. Only recently we could ensure 20 to 60 percent of women participants in these trainings, for which we made serious persuasive efforts. Our training programs usually follow with some inputs like feeds, equipments given to participants coming from socio-economically weaker sections of the society. Men usually find it convenient to join these trainings, while women are busy tending livestock and doing other household chores back home. Unless it is exclusive training for women, the participation of farm women is very limited largely. While inaugurating a training program on hygienic processing and value addition of poultry products at my institute on 16 January 2023, I found there was only one woman participant out of 20 participants. Women can join these trainings more if they are nearer to their homes, encouraged by their family members and at the time convenient to them. The gender disaggregated data could help greatly in improving the situation of rural women, but often lacking. For instance, according to official reports, 80,000 livestock farmers were trained across the country in 2021, but there are no data on how many were women farmers.
Livestock keeping and production can make a significant contribution to SDG 5 in achieving gender equality and empowering women. But to enable women to meaningfully operate in, and benefit from, the livestock sector, policies and programs should work to remove all obstacles and constraints in their way. The National Livestock Mission (NLM) in India was initiated in 2014-2015 for the development of the livestock sector with a focus on the availability of feed and fodder, providing extension services, and improved flow of credit to livestock farmers. However, the NLM does not propose any schemes or programs specific to women livestock farmers. This calls for changes in programs and policies making women inclusive.
The latest Annual Report of Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, the Government of India says, the Department does not have any specific scheme designated for empowerment of women. But it always emphasizes providing benefits to women engaged in animal husbandry and dairying. This report accepts that feeding and milking of animals was mostly performed by women. A Gender Budget Cell has been set up in the Department with the objective of influencing and effecting a change in the Ministry’s policies and programs in a way that could tackle gender imbalances, promote gender equality and development of women. Although the Department is not able to earmark any specific funds for women component, the states and implementing agencies are advised for utilizing 30 percent of allocated funds towards women under the schemes being implemented by the Department. On a positive note, one of the goals of the National Livestock Policy (NLP) of 2013 happens to be empowerment of women. Empowering rural women involved in livestock production contributes to gender equality and enhances livelihoods in livestock-dependent households.
The Ways Forward
Women who have access to and control livestock assets improve the health, education and food security of their households. Ninety percent of income under the control of women is channeled back into their households or local communities, compared to only 30-40 percent of income controlled by men. So, women need access to resources including ownership of livestock, training, credit and marketing facilities. They should be able to avail bank loans without many hassles. These things will be possible only when policies and programs in livestock sector work to remove root causes of gender inequalities as well as the obstacles and constraints facing women. Men are mostly the leaders of agricultural cooperatives and producer associations in the livestock as in other sectors who help governments design development plans and policies. Women’s low representation has an impact on the gender-sensitivity of such plans and policies, and the benefits they offer to women and girls. Thus, fostering women’s formal participation and decision-making powers in the livestock sector can help ensure women gaining equal rights to productive resources, as well as services.
India’s livestock sector can count on women for livestock productivity enhancement, improved livelihoods and, as a result, women empowerment. The sooner this happens in India, the better!