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Collective farming, collective benefits: A case of Women Farmers Collective

Access to land is the greatest limitation, especially for the poor women. The problem becomes more acute when these women are single and neglected by families, often leading to hunger and starvation. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective has succeeded in enabling such women to come together, pursue collective farming, produce food for the family and lead a life with dignity.

Members of Farmers Collective
Members of Farmers Collective

In almost all the villages in India, there are about 20-30% of women who remain single, either as widows or abandoned by their families and society, who individually shoulder the burden of caring children and elders in their families. These women are either landless or have very small pieces of fragmented rain fed lands. Owing to lack of resources to invest on their own land and lack of capacities to manage their farms, these women end up doing low skilled tasks in agriculture and cattle rearing, mostly as wage labourers.

Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective is a network of 35 women headed non profit organisations in Tamil Nadu working for the empowerment of the rural and marginalized communities. The Collective started in 1994 as a registered society and covers around 20 districts in Tamil Nadu.

The Collective conducted a study in 13 villages to understand the status of single women, widows and landless women farmers in these villages. This was done with the help of Women Farmers Sangam of Tamil Nadu Women’s Collectives, already established and functioning in the villages. The sangam also studied the availability of unutilized and uncultivable lands in that area.

The details of the study were discussed at the Sangam meetings on how to engage the landless women in agriculture activity with the available unutilized land. During the discussion, the idea of collective farming emerged. The prime objective of this collective farming is not only to ensure food security but also to ensure the safe food through adaptation of organic farming methods.

After a series of discussions, certain criteria were identified for promoting collective farming initiative based on following principles – The farmers’ collective should have maximum 10 members consisting of women who are either widows, landless or single. The group should decide on the size of land to be farmed under collective farming and lease the land for three years. Onethird of the crop yield should be shared with the land owner. The members should agree to grow local food crops of daily use such as grains, vegetables, pulses. The group should maintain a bank account, records and registers bringing transparency in accounting.

Presently, collective farming is being promoted with 15 farmer groups in 13 villages of Tuticoin, Virudhu Nagar, Madurai, Salem, Thiruvannamalai, Vellore, Kancheepuram, and Thiruvallur districts in Tamil Nadu.

Farming together

Members harvesting groundnut crop from a collective farm
Members harvesting groundnut crop from a collective farm

Training programmes were organized for the farmers’ collective on participatory planning, decision making, crop choice, method of farming with the help of eminent resource persons like Dr. G. Nammalvar. The training programmes helped women learn some practical skills like preparation of different bio inputs.

With continuous support and guidance, the women farmer’s collectives have gained necessary skills on agriculture, improved their decision making capacities and leadership qualities. Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective supports each farmers’ collective with an amount of Rs.10000 as seed money for meeting expenses like buying seeds, bio inputs etc.

The allotment of the work is decided in the weekly meetings during the cultivation period. All the farm works are shared equally by all members using a revolving system of labour so that all the members are engaged in all type of farm activities.

As the focus of collective farming is primarily on meeting family food needs, right now, they are not marketing their produce. The produce from the collective farming provides food for the family for atleast 15 days in a month. Weeds harvested in collective farms is also being used as fodder for the livestock.

The farmers collectives are also getting support from their neighbouring landholding farmers. The landed farmers help and encourage these women by providing the raw materials such as cow dung, cow urine which are required for bio input preparation. This relationship has also led to a process of learning and sharing between landless women farmers and the landholding farmers.

There are challenges too, like the delays in monsoon and frequent power cuts. Also the soil of the collective land is of very low quality and almost dead. It needs more organic inputs to regenerate. Not being disheartened with these challenges, these women discuss alternative farming methods to overcome them. They are confident that continuous application of bio inputs will help in improving the soil health which will result in better incomes in future. Considering the high cost involved in purchase of seeds for their farming activities, the women’s groups are planning to develop seed producers in their group and establish a seed bank in their village.

“We are happy to have a piece of land where we are able cultivate and gain experience in organic farming methods. We are happy and proud to be a farmer to produce, eat and feed our families with poison-free food and thus ensuring better health”, says a woman farmer.

For more details, contact Ms. Ponnuthayee, Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective, No. 79, Senbaga Vinayagar Koil Street, Keezha Bazaar, 7th Ward, Vasudevanallur, Sivagiri taluk, Virudhunagar – 627 758. Ph: 94448-32021

Suresh Kanna

Deputy Director & Senior Team Member Kudumbam,
No. 148, Highways Colony, Subramaniyapuram, Trichy – 620 020
E-mail: sureshkanna_kudumbam@yahoo.in