As more men have migrated to the cities for work, women have taken up bigger roles in farming.

Kalibhigapar village, Nalanda: In Kalibhigapar village in Bihar’s Nalanda district, Bachhi Devi’s is an all-women household. It was the lack of money in farming that pushed the men in her family, her husband and three sons, to the cities like Delhi and Kolkata in search of work.

Bacchi Devi is 55 and a sharecropper. She leases about half an acre of land from a landowner in her village in return for 50 per cent of her harvest. However, she feels farming under this tenancy arrangement is not profitable. “I can’t even cover my input cost”, she says.

As more men have migrated to the cities for work, women have taken up bigger roles in farming. Women have started to see themselves as farmers and not just the wife of the farmer. But when it comes to availing government benefits and subsidies, their contribution remains largely invisible.

A majority of women in the agricultural sector either work as sharecroppers or agricultural workers. According to National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) 2011-2012 data, even though about 63 per cent women are employed in agriculture sector, only 4 per cent rural women own land.

Even though National Policy for Farmers, 2007 recognises tenants who work on landowner’s fields as farmers, the reality on the ground seems to contradict this. Government policies for crop loss compensation, subsidised seeds and even a basic Minimum Support Price acknowledge only land owners as farmers.

Last year, Bacchi Devi lost her rice crop to floods. She was denied compensation because she didn’t own the land she tills. “We work hard and invest money in farming. Instead of the landlord, we should get government compensation”, she complains.

In the neighbouring village, Pinky Kumari, also a sharecropper, is unable to sell her crop at the government stipulated Minimum Support Price because she works on her landlord’s fields.

“It is difficult to sell my produce at Minimum Support Price as government officials ask for land records. I end up selling my produce at low rates to private wholesalers instead,” she says.

Activists say that only when the contribution of those actually tilling the land is documented in government records, can policies effectively address the needs of women farmers.

Keerti Singh, a lands rights activist, says, “The fact that someone else is tilling the landlord’s fields isn’t documented in government records. There should be an official document that can establish that sharecroppers are tilling the land.”

As women shoulder bulk of the agricultural burden in the times of agrarian distress, women’s lack of land ownership is only worsening the crisis in the countryside.