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(Opinion) Modern agricultural practices changing fortune of women farmers

February 22, 2023

Arsheed Ahmad Bhat

The District Pulwama is centrally located in the valley of Kashmir. The economy of the District mainly depends on the Agriculture Sector. The District is famous for Rice production.Besides Rice Production District Pulwama is famous for quality Saffron production all over the world.

The District is also famous for Cultivation of exotic vegetables and has changed the fortunes of women SHG members of JK Rural Livelihoods Mission. They have been involved with the cultivation of exotic vegetables for the past couple of years. The returns were three times high, with a sense of delight. Currently the returns are three times higher as compared to those earned previously with traditional farming methods.

All operational land holding of the farmer is not put into vegetable cultivation, but a portion of suitable land is put into vegetable farming. The possible explanation for this phenomenon might be group activity that enhances risk-taking ability of the members along with the availability of short term loans from SHG.

Self-help groups have emerged as a vital tool for economic development in India. In UT’s  like Jammu and Kashmir importance of self-help groups increases manifold due to higher number of fragmented small and marginal landholdings. Self-help groups must sustain as an economic venture for the overall development of rural areas. It is very important to study individual member traits to understand the sustainability of self-help groups.

Most of the SHG members adopted vegetable farming along with other agriculture activities with medium vegetable growing experience. SHG members attended significantly higher training programmes than non-member farmers. Most of the farmers have marginal land holding but SHG members put a significantly higher portion of landholding in vegetable cultivation when compared to non-member farmers. Significantly higher vegetable production was reported for SHG member vegetable farms, and the reason for this was higher media exposure and significantly higher extension contacts of SHG members than non-members.

JK Rural Livelihoods Mission and Agricultural department at Pulwama after conducting a needs assessment survey, Polyhouses/Kitchen gardening was selected as one of the intervention activities looking at the proper usage of the unused land and also looking at the health status of the people in the area. It was discussed with the Village Organisation/ committee for the approval as well.

Most of the people are into agriculture and livestock. Hence, women of the SHG wanted activities which are related to their work and in which they have knowledge about it.  During the meeting with the staff members of JKRLM and Agriculture, they were informed and guided about the Polyhouses/Kitchen gardening set up, looking at their need and easy accessibility. Polyhouses/Kitchen Garden is highly profitable and requires less capital and investment.

In the present time cultivating and producing food with proper nutrients is difficult because of the amount of pesticides and medicines used by the farmers. This is a big concern for us since it affects our health negatively. Hence the intervention Polyhouses/Kitchen Gardening seemed to be useful and productive as well.
For Polyhouses/Kitchen Gardening, it does not require massive requirements. Small plot of unused land can also be used and less amount of time is required every day for taking care of the garden.

The main objective of these Polyhouses/Kitchen gardens is to provide good nutritional vegetables to the family members because in the present scenario it is hard to attain such vegetables. Preparing such Polyhouses/Kitchen gardens at each village makes availability of all types of vegetables in the village. This garden can be developed in waste land or any unused land nearby home.

Vegetables which are attained from the kitchen garden have a better effect on improving health because presently people buy their food from the market which has pesticides sprinkled on it which affect the health of people. With the help of kitchen gardens, green vegetables are grown at the door steps which was difficult during the past. This has helped women in saving a good amount of money as they had to buy vegetables from the market previously.

Self-help group intervention in vegetable farming can play a pivotal role in economic development and sustainability. The sustainability of self-help groups can be best understood by profile characteristics study of individual members. A comparison of socio-personal, socio-economic, and communication profile variables of self-help group members to that with non-SHG members in the present study proves that participation of comparatively young generation in SHG formation; female farmers are more inclined towards SHG activities.

Putting a significantly higher portion of operational land holding and higher vegetable production of SHG member farms clearly proves that SHG formation has great potential in earning sustainable livelihood through vegetable cultivation from small and marginal landholdings in the district like Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir. SHG members being in collective action are easy to assess by development agencies as significantly higher extension contacts, and training received were found in the case of SHG members. As a policy intervention, more farmers need to be covered under SHGs for sustaining the agricultural economy in the district.

(The author is District Programme Manager, JKRLM, Pulwama)

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