Dr. Banarsi Lal and Dr. Shahid Ahamad|

The role of women in agricultural and rural development and their efforts for ensuring the food security has been widely acknowledged. Although a lot of progress has been made but still the rural women are having low income, less education, limited land and inheritance rights. Women farmers contribute enormously to the Indian agriculture. This has been proved by various researches. The results of these researches, however, could not get due reconisation in the planning and implementation of agricultural related programmes. Agricultural extension is one such effort taken by the government and non-government agencies that aims at reaching to farmers. The efforts include bringing about a positive change in knowledge, attitude and skills of the farmers by providing training and technical advice and also assisting them in taking decisions in adoption of new research results. Importantly, the clientele of such programmes and efforts is inclusive of both farmers and farm women. Managers of these programmes often consider men as farmers and women as farmer’s wife thereby systematically marginalising and underestimating women’s productive role in agriculture.
The agricultural extension services in India has limited in its operations to a larger extent on male farmers only and it has failed to tackle the great structural problem of invisibility of female farmers. Women farmers are bypassed by male extension workers. It would be correct to state that women farmers in India have failed to get their due share in extension services apropos their contribution to the Indian agriculture. Extension services in India need to be refined, modified and redesigned so as to reach farm women effectively. The purpose of agricultural extension services can be achieved for sustainable rural development only if sincere attempts are made to provide and improve farm women’s access to the available extension services thereby leading to their technological empowerment.
The extension machinery in India can be classified in four heads namely (a) Extension services offered by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), (b)Extension services provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operation, (c)Extension services provided by the Ministry of Rural Development and(d) Extension services offered by Non-Government Organisations (NGOs).Out of four extension systems, training and visit is the major extension system operating in India under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation for more than 30 years. Although this programme is in operation for so long, it still lacks necessary inbuilt structural arrangements for reaching female farmers. Contact farmers involved in this very programme are mostly male farmers and the numbering of female farmers is very low. It was reported that the extension needs of women were often perceived by the extension agents to be in the disciplines of home science, nutrition, childcare, tailoring etc. The information regarding to new farm technologies was seldom passed on to them. Various rural development programmes were launched in India from community approach in 1950s’ to special target group approach in 1970s’.None of these programmes addressed to the specific needs of women farmers and remain concentrated on male farmers. In 1980s’ integrated approach was started that attempt to integrate women in the mainstream of development by structurally making them beneficiaries up to an extent of 40 per cent. A number of services supportive for women’s socio-economic empowerment viz., Support to Training and Employment Programme for Women (STEP), Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Indira Mahila Yojna, Mahila Samridhi Yojna, Self-Help Groups etc. were implemented. These approaches were not directed towards fulfilment needs for agriculture-related services and concentrated mainly on the issue of employment and social empowerment. In 1993-94, a project aimed at gender-gap reduction among women farmers of the Northern India was launched by the government of India. The limited coverage of this project shortens its impact. Such programmes need to be appreciated for being the pioneering one in this regard.
(To be continued)