Across Kerala, India, 320,000 women have organised into almost 60,000 collectives to cultivate rice, vegetables and fruit on thousands of hectares of otherwise fallow land, helping to improve food security and incomes for the members of the Kudumbashree community network – arguably one of the largest women’s networks in the world.
Kerala is dependent on other Indian states for its food requirements because it does not produce enough food of its own. Yet large tracts of cultivable land were lying idle in the state because landowners felt agriculture was not profitable enough. At the same time, thousands of excluded and poor people willing to take up agriculture were unable to do so because of their landlessness. In response, the Kudumbashree community network encouraged the formation of ‘neighbourhood groups’ to lease land and cultivate collectively.
Today a total of 320,000 women, mostly from economically and socially deprived backgrounds, are directly involved in the farming initiative, and if their families are taken into account, the number of people benefiting directly and indirectly from the initiative is at least 1.2 million.
The food produced is first used for consumption among the collectives’ families, helping them become food secure, and the surplus is sold in village markets. The programme has also improved incomes and living standards, while the women have gained in confidence and achieved advances in mobility and freedom.
“The systematic, organised and massive involvement of women is impressive. The attempt to match social needs with employment and income generation is also important. There are also issues of revival of agriculture, which are important in the ecoogical context.”
– Vivek Monteiro
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