ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Feminisation of Agriculture and Marginalisation of Their Economic Stake

The government as well as international organisations have implemented many programmes aimed at rural women. But actually their programmes do not touch upon the issues related to women's higher income work opportunities, upward economic mobility, rights such as equal wages for equal work and property rights. This article analyses the declining economic stake of women in agriculture in spite of their increasing contribution.

Food Security: How and For Whom?

Food security is contingent on three parameters - availability, accessibility and affordability. While availability and accessibility relate to production and distribution, the question of affordability is linked to Amartya Sen's concepts of 'endowment' and 'exchange entitlements', that is, the resources at one's disposal that determines one's capacity to buy food. The papers in this collection on gender and food security deal precisely with this problem of endowment and exchange entitlement, especially with regard to women. They seek to draw attention to the resources, mainly employment, available to women for procuring food. However, apart from inadequate opportunities for wage labour, lack of command over productive resources acts as a major constraint on those women who do undertake farming for the household. Participation in the production of food, moreover, does not guarantee commensurate returns. All the papers deal with rice farming, but they are illustrative of the general situation regarding food security among poor women and point to the urgency of public measures for the protection of this vulnerable section.

Commercialisation, Commodification and Gender Relations in Post-Harvest Systems for Rice in South Asia

When the output of a product that forms the basis of subsistence and social reproduction - as rice is for Asia - expands, the marketed surplus rises disproportionately to the growth rate of production. This implies that activities that once formed part and parcel of household labour activity (performed by women - even if under the control of men) also become commercialised. Food security depends not only on the market, but also on the social and political structures within which markets are situated. One of these social structures is gender. Two aspects of this gendered process are explored in this essay, the first being 'productive deprivation'. Using field evidence from south Asia, the impact of technological change is shown to be strongly net labour displacing and strongly biased against female labour. At the same time, poverty ensures the persistence of petty commodity production, where women are either self-employed or 'unwaged' family workers. As seen in the case of rice production in West Bengal, growth in production has been accompanied by the displacement of women from the rice mill labour forces in which economies of scale have been pitched against unwaged work in petty production.

Gendered Price of Rice in North-Eastern India

This paper examines the practices of gender ideology among the rice-farming groups of northeastern India. It explores the linkages between gendered knowledge and skills, gender roles and labour, and customary norms and power structures. It attempts a comparative analysis of the states in the region using selected gender disparity indicators, which suggest that there is a gendered price to pay for food sustainability. The paper argues that food and livelihood security cannot be ?engendered? by the current development and agricultural policies.

Emphasising Universal Principles towards Deepening of Democracy

If we are to nurture and strengthen democracy and build a secular society in India, participation by all as equal citizens is imperative. In this regard, education of the whole population is essential. Although the transformation of a country from a high level of illiteracy to one of near universal literacy cannot be achieved overnight, the fact remains that the status of a child going to school contrasts sharply with that of a full-time worker, even in a situation of low literacy levels. The school going child is treated primarily as a student and any work performed by him/her cannot be at the expense of his/her school activities. In other words, it is accepted that the primary activity of the child is that of a student and not a worker. Therefore, any programme to increase literacy levels among children must necessarily also be a programme to reduce the incidence of child labour. The two objectives are contingent on each other.

Gender Equality, Land Rights and Household Food Security

This paper seeks to examine the issue of land rights, and its links with household food security as well as gender equality and questions some of the assumptions being made therein. After a brief analysis of shifts in policy discourse and practice, both nationally and internationally, in terms of agricultural production and land management as vital for food security, it seeks to analyse the implications of some of these measures on gender relations. Does the increasing attention to women reflect growing gender equality, or does it lead to an enhancement of the work burden and responsibilities, without much change in terms of status or decision-making authority?

SHG-bank Linkage

When the Self-Help Group Initiative was launched to provide the poor with access to formal financial services, it was somehow expected that cooperatives would step in to provide these services. Already existing small local level institutions with their readily available support structure as seen in the case of the agricultural credit societies were ideally placed to serve as outlets for financial services to SHGs, given their numbers and reach. Despite these advantages, agricultural credit societies and cooperative banks have thus far played a limited role in the programme of linking SHGs to formal financial institutions. This paper examines the spread of the cooperative-SHG linkage across states, the relationship between commercial success of cooperative banks, the extent of the linkage established and the impact of such linkages on performance.

Mainstreaming of Indian Microfinance

A significant feature of microfinance in India is that it has been built upon the existing banking infrastructure. In the process, it has obviated the need for the creation of a new institutional set up or introduction of a separate legal and regulatory framework. In the linkage model, the financial resources are being sourced from regular banking channels as well as members' savings. Thus the problems related to regulation and supervision of microfinance institutions (MFIs), the accessing of public deposits by MFIs and reliance on donor and grant funding are obviated. With the group acting as a collateral substitute, this model also overcomes the intractable problem of collateral provision by the poor. It has to be realised that microfinance is a means or an instrument for development, not an end in itself. To assess the extent to which Indian microfinance has been able to achieve the goal of poverty eradication and fulfil its role as a means for development, requires in-depth impact assessments on an ongoing basis.

Exploring Possibilities

Despite substantial efforts and a vast network of rural banks, the rural poor still have very little access to formal finance, and informal lending remains strong. Over the past decade new microfinance approaches designed to deliver finance to the poor have emerged and some have shown promise. However, empirical assessments of their reach or impact are still relatively few. Drawing on a recent rural access to finance survey of 6,000 households conducted by the authors, we empirically analyse the reach of the most dominant microfinance initiative, the SHG-bank linkage model. Based on this and international experience, the paper draws lessons for exploiting the potential of microfinance in India, outlines areas of concern for government policy towards this important sector, and suggests ways to scale up access to finance for the poor.

The Transforming World of Indian Microfinance

Upscaling the provision of microfinance on the strength of its performance, measured primarily in terms of the repayment rates and financial sustainability indicators of a handful of microfinance institutions and without a serious reconsideration of certain vital development issues, may prove in the long-run to be an imprudent development strategy. Any effort at upscaling thus needs to be viewed with caution as it could actually lead to increased failures and credit indiscipline in the field. In the meanwhile, globally there is a visible trend of the commercialisation of microfinance, with NGOs transforming themselves into regulated financial institutions or non-banking financial companies and commercial banks entering the business of microfinance.

Microfinance and the State

Since the early 1990s, there have been many significant state initiatives in the institutional and policy spheres to facilitate access to financial services by more poverty-stricken groups. This article reviews the performance of formal institutional channels of microfinance and discusses the emergence of new forms of collaboration in the delivery of microfinance services. However, some persistent issues in regulatory policies and institutional arrangements need to be dealt with so as to help the state leverage the resources available for the poor, effectively and in a sustainable manner.

Access, Use and Contribution of Microfinance in India

Microfinance is making a significant contribution to both the savings and borrowings of the poor in the country. The main use of microcredit is for direct investment. While the presence of microfinance has increased the borrowing options for the poorer clients, it seems not (yet) to have significantly affected the terms and conditions of different informal credit providers.

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