Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgyal Women, since time immemorial have been playing a pivotal role in agriculture globally. They contribute large proportion of their hard work in food grains production and other allied activities. In sub-Saharan Africa, their contribution in food production is 80 to 90 per cent, in Asia 50 to 90 per cent, in Central and Eastern Europe 30 per cent. In India, women account for 34 per cent of principal and 89 per cent of subsidiary agriculture works. Nearly 84 per cent of al1 economically active women India are engaged in agriculture and al1ied activities. The role played by women in agriculture varies widely and is of multifaceted nature. Right from land preparation to broadcasting, weeding and plant protection from the attacks of pests and diseases, post harvest processing, storage, food processing, animal husbandry etc, they are involved in multifarious activities. The indigenous knowledge and skills possessed and performed by the women in agriculture and allied sectors play a vital role in sustainable food grains production and contributing to a safer environment. Ladakh region of state of Jammu and Kashmir presents one such example of women activism in agriculture. It will not be wrong to say that women have made agriculture in this region as Pro women. As one moves around the cities and villages one can see women folk attired in different coloured gowns called ‘Goncha’, a traditional dress of Ladakhi women with a multi-coloured scarf hanging over it from their neck and traditional silver and bronze jewellery working in the fields without caring for the chill and the hot. These women have proved that age is just a number for them. They have turned out to be entrepreneurs and change agents giving a new direction to the agriculture sector in this region. Ladakh has been described as a “constellation of villages” within the “crossroads of Asia”. Despite extreme topography, and a highly variable cold desert climate, agriculture is the lifeline of the farming community here. Ladakh under the Jammu and Kashmir State and now very soon going to be a Union Territory is divided between the Buddhist majority Leh district and the Islamic Kargil district. Historically, subsistence agriculture has been a major component of both society and the economy. The cultivable staple crops of wheat and barley and vegetables are tightly constrained to the summer months, between May and September. However, vegetable cultivation under protected conditions is now done round the year. Women from this region have made it possible. Taking the harsh climatic conditions as a challenge, they are now growing different vegetables like Cabbage, Cauliflower, Radish, Carrot, Onion, Spinach, coriander and all many vegetables. Raising their own seedlings, distributing them to their neighbors and growing them into plants, harvesting the produce and finally marketing the product is what the women farmer in this region has to do. The women have developed marketing link for selling the produce. Some of them are the members of the cooperative societies formed for marketing of produce. Many women organizations have also come up in this region which are actively working for the cause of women supporting and promoting these change agents. The Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, an alliance of women producers of the region is at the forefront engaged in many sustainable initiatives in the region. It is making all efforts to protect Ladakh’s environment and preserving its culture persuading farmers of the cold desert to practice organic farming and traditional water harvesting as farmers face water scarcity because of low snowfall in recent years. This women’s alliance of Ladakh had earlier enforced a plastic ban and is now encouraging farmers to go back to traditional practices owing to water scarcity. One cannot find any polythene bag in this region. Paper or jute bags are being used all over the region. Likewise this association has also taken the climatic challenges. “It seems water is gradually vanishing from this place. We need to be prepared for water-related challenges ahead,” said 60-year-old Tsering Chondol, President of Women’s Alliance of Ladakh, which counts some 4,000 women in 114 villages of Ladakh as members. The sooner we get serious about finding solutions, the better it is,” said Chondol, “This year, many farm lands are without crops as there was no water when they needed irrigation,” Women’s Alliance of Ladakh does not only urge farmers to harvest water in off-season (winter) for using it when water is not available in early spring, but also advises them to use organic manure instead of chemical fertilizers, a farming method Ladakhi farmers have traditionally employed. Feeling motivated by the Women’s Alliance of Ladakh many farmers in the region have stopped using chemical fertilizers. The alliance is making peoples aware of the harmful effects of chemicals and telling them to use organic fertilizers as the best way to deal with water scarcity in the cold desert of Ladakh as the farms where organic fertilizers are used don’t need intensive watering. The region of Ladakh has now declared to make itself as a totally organic one by 2025. The women farmers’ of the region thus have a greater role to play in making it organic by due date. Organic agriculture methods using compost, vermi compost, mulching, etc are thus the need of the hour and need to be promoted on a larger scale among the farm women.
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