Women’s Role in the Livestock Economy
*Economic Analysis Unit, Indian Statistical Institute, Bangalore Centre, email@example.com
†Research Fellow, University of Tokyo, firstname.lastname@example.org
The two objectives of this paper are (i) to highlight the importance of animal rearing in the economy of rural households, and (ii) to describe the role played by women’s work in animal rearing.1 Women’s economic activity in rural areas, including work in animal rearing, is underestimated and, more importantly, often unrecognised. The findings of this article also have a bearing on the phenomenon of low and falling work participation rates among women in rural India.
To illustrate the role of animal rearing in rural livelihoods as well as women’s work in animal rearing, we have drawn upon the archive of village census survey data created by the Foundation for Agrarian Studies (FAS) as part of its Project on Agrarian Relations in India (PARI). The PARI archive has data on 22 villages across 10 states surveyed between 2006 and 2015 (for details, see www.fas.org.in/category/research).2 In this paper, we have used data from the PARI archive on two villages (one each in Rajasthan and Karnataka) to illustrate the first point, and on three villages in West Bengal to illustrate the second point.3 The data for all five villages are from census-type surveys of the villages concerned. The villages are located in different agro-ecological regions (see Appendix Table 1).4
Significance of Animal Rearing in Village Household Economies
Animal rearing is an important component of the rural economy, especially at the household level. Practically no information exists on the contribution of the animal rearing sector to household incomes other than from two Situation Assessment Surveys conducted in 2003 and 2013 by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO). The Situation Assessment Surveys, however, cover only farmer households and not all rural households.
We begin with two simple indicators of the importance of animal rearing in rural livelihoods: (i) the proportion of households receiving (reporting) incomes from animal rearing; (ii) the share of income from animal rearing in total household income. Data on these two indicators from some of the PARI villages, as calculated by Aparajita Bakshi, are shown in Table 1.
|Village||District||State||Percentage of households reporting income from animal rearing||Average share of income from animal rearing in total household income|
|Kalmandasguri||Koch Bihar||West Bengal||91.2||11.8|
The first striking finding from these data is that a large majority of households across villages in different agro-ecological zones obtains incomes from animal rearing. In three villages – Siresandra in Kolar district, Rewasi in Sikar district, and Kalmandasguri in Koch Bihar district – over 90 per cent of households reported incomes from animal rearing, implying that large sections of rural households (across economic and social categories; see below) are engaged in animal rearing. The share of income from animal rearing in total household income was in the range of 3 to 20 per cent, and the highest contribution was in Siresandra and Rewasi villages (we focus on these two villages below).
Secondly, animal rearing is an economic activity and a source of income for households across castes and socio-economic classes, including landless households and manual worker households, although its importance is particularly high for certain groups. The composition of animal resources also varies across households. While cultivator households and households with access to land are more likely to own livestock (say, cattle), a sizeable proportion of landless worker households may also own livestock (including cattle).
Siresandra is a revenue village in Huttur development block, Kolar taluk (sub-district), in Kolar district, Karnataka. It is a small village with a geographical area of 265 hectares according to the revenue records. At the Census of 2011, Siresandra had a population of 105 households and 514 persons. The FAS survey of 2009 covered 79 households in the village, of whom 50 were categorised as Backward Class (BC) households and 29 were Scheduled Caste (SC) households. Siresandra belongs to the semi-dry, rain-fed region of south-eastern Karnataka. Cultivation in the village was mainly rain-fed, supplemented by irrigation by means of bore wells and drip irrigation. The crops raised were finger millet, vegetables (potato, tomato, carrot, cauliflower, beetroot, and radish), fodder maize and fodder grass, condiments, and tree crops. Besides crop cultivation, sericulture and dairying were also important occupations.
|Class||Draught animals||Milch animals|
|Proportion of households (%)||Average value (Rs)||Proportion of households (%)||Average value (Rs)|
Note: Peasants were categorised into three classes, with Peasant 1 representing peasants with relatively large asset holdings and Peasant 3 those with relatively small asset holdings. The criteria used to categorise peasant households were ownership of means of production, extent of family labour in relation to hired labour, and level of incomes (see Ramachandran 2016 on the methodology adopted).
Source: Swaminathan and Das (2016).
|Caste group||Draught animals||Milch animals||Goat/Sheep||Poultry|
Source: Swaminathan and Das (2016).
In Karnataka draught animals are still used for agriculture, and so ownership of draught animals is widespread among peasant households. The proportion of households owning cattle was highest among rich peasants and lowest among poor peasants. The average value per milch animal also varied across classes, with the lowest value (representing poorer quality) to be found among Peasant 3 or poor peasant households.
In the case of draught animals and milch cattle, the proportion of households owning animals was much lower among Scheduled Caste households than among Backward Class households. The situation was reversed in the case of poultry. Nevertheless animal rearing contributed, on average, around 10 per cent of household income among Scheduled Caste households; the corresponding proportion among Backward Class households was 23 per cent (Bakshi and Das 2016).
Let us take another example, that of Rewasi village (Swaminathan and Rawal 2015). Rewasi is located in Sikar block of Sikar district, in the western dry agro-climatic region of Rajasthan. The year of our survey, 2010, was a drought year, with recorded rainfall 28 per cent below normal for Sikar district. The survey covered 219 resident households. Jats were the economically and politically dominant group in the village, having gained land from the erstwhile Rajput landlords. Pearl millet is the main kharif crop in Rewasi, and the crop, which is monsoon-dependent, had failed in our survey year.
As noted in Swaminathan and Rawal (2015):
Animals had an extremely critical role to play in the household economy of Rewasi. Animals, especially goats, provide a means of economic and nutritional security in periods of drought. Goats and camels can survive on leaves of khejri and aadu trees, available even in the harshest of drought years. These animals provided an economic cushion in years of crop failure. Milch cattle, by contrast, require fodder from field crops like wheat and pearl millet (bajra). So in years of crop failure, it became difficult and expensive to maintain cattle.
There were clear variations in the composition of animals owned across socio-economic classes (Table 4). The proportion of households owning goats was high among all classes. Among landlords and richer sections of the peasantry, a quarter owned camels and almost all households owned milch cattle.
|Socio-economic class||Camels||Milch cattle||Goats||Sheep|
|Landlords and rural rich||25||100||88||25|
Note: For the exact classification, see Swaminathan and Rawal (2015). The methodology is based on Ramachandran (2001). Peasant households are those whose members work on their own fields. Peasants were categorised into four groups (Peasants 1, 2, 3, and 4), based on the ownership of assets. Peasants 1 and 2 have been grouped here as upper peasants; peasants 3 and 4 comprise poor peasants. Given the fact of a drought year, current incomes were not used for the classification.
Source: Swaminathan and Rawal (2015).
Turning to income from animal resources, Table 5 shows the average gross value of output and net income from animal rearing. Incomes from animal rearing were substantial, with an annual average of Rs 23,114 per household. Gross and net incomes were higher for richer households than for poor peasant households and hired worker households.
|Socio-economic class||Gross value of output||Net income|
|Landlords and rural rich||141,877||74,661|
Note: See Table 4.
Source: Swaminathan and Rawal (2015).
Having established the significance of livestock and other animal rearing in the livelihoods of rural households across castes and classes, we now turn to the role of women.
Women’s Role in Animal Rearing
In this paper, we argue that women constitute the primary work force of the animal resource (AR) sector. While men are also engaged in animal rearing as an economic activity, the proportion of rural women engaged in AR activity is very large.
However, women’s work in animal rearing activities is undercounted in standard labour force surveys. Despite changes in concepts and definitions over the years, the NSSO’s Employment and Unemployment Surveys (EUS) do not adequately capture this economic activity undertaken by women. According to the 68th Round of the EUS, female labour force participation (usual principal plus subsidiary status) in rural India was only 25.3 per cent (for all ages) and 37.8 per cent (for those aged 15–59). Of all rural female workers, 59 per cent were self-employed and 75 per cent were employed in the agricultural sector.
An alternative view of the role of women in animal rearing work emerges from the PARI village survey data. In this section, we have drawn on data from three village surveys conducted in West Bengal. The three villages are Panahar in Bankura district, Amarsinghi in Malda district, and Kalmandasguri in Koch Bihar district. Census surveys of each village were undertaken in 2010, and sample re-surveys in 2015. The number of households at the survey of 2010 was 127 in Amarsinghi, 147 in Kalmandasguri, and 248 in Panahar.
In all three villages, the ownership of animal resources was widespread: the proportion of households owning any animal was 78 per cent in Amarsinghi, 86 per cent in Kalmandasguri, and 71 per cent in Panahar. Table 6 shows the proportion of households owning an adult milch animal. As in other villages, the proportion of peasant households owning milch animals was higher than the proportion of manual worker households owning milch animals.
|Socio-economic class||Proportion of households owning adult milch animals|
Note: For the basis of socio-economic classification, see Ramachandran (2015).
Animal rearing in rural India is primarily a household-based activity, and involves family labour in the care of animals. To identify the role of women, we carried out the following exercise. In the household schedule of the survey, there is a question on self-reported occupation (not based on an income or time criterion), which asks for the primary, secondary, and other (up to six) occupation of each person. In the course of completing the questionnaire, these reported occupations may be modified by the investigators. Here, we have used the data on occupation reported by women (all females above the age of 15) in three villages, to identify their participation in animal rearing activities. Our findings are as follows.
If we looked at only the primary occupation or activity, a very small proportion of women were reported as workers in animal rearing. So we took all females who were reported as home workers (corresponding to code 92 of the NSSO) with respect to primary activity, and examined their secondary and tertiary activities. The following results were obtained.
These data suggest, as do earlier studies, that female participation in animal rearing work is largely unpaid, and it continues to be devalued and reported as secondary activity. Hence, we need to examine activities other than the primary activity to identify persons engaged in animal care.5
If we count women engaged in animal rearing, whether as primary, secondary, or tertiary activity, as shown in Table 7, in Amarsinghi and Kalmandasguri villages, over 40 per cent of females were engaged in animal rearing activities; the proportion was lower, at 30 per cent, in Panahar village. This is a very high level of participation in animal rearing work.
|Village||Primary occupation||Secondary occupation||Tertiary occupation||All female workers||All female workers as per cent of persons aged 15 and above|
If we count primary, secondary, tertiary, as well as fourth, fifth, and sixth occupation (if any) as reported in the data, then, the number and proportion of women engaged in animal rearing activities rise further. Table 8 shows these data for females and males.
|Village||Number of female workers||Number of females||Female workers as per cent of females||Number of male workers||Number of males||Male workers as per cent of males|
Our data show that a very high proportion of females in rural areas were engaged in animal care. Further, while men were also engaged in animal rearing activities, the participation of women was invariably higher.
Next, for all women reported to be engaged in some animal rearing activity in Table 8, we examined the primary occupation (Table 9). In all three villages, the large majority of women actually engaged in animal care had reported their primary activity as house work. The proportions were 85.4 per cent in Amarsinghi village, 78.5 per cent in Kalmandasguri village and 75.8 per cent in Panahar village. The remaining were engaged in own cultivation or as wage workers or were students. Very few reported self-employment in animal rearing as their primary occupation.
|Self-employed in agriculture (including tenant)||4||11||9|
|Self-employed in animal rearing||1||1||3|
|National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme||0||0||2|
Lastly, in households that owned an animal (any animal resource), women invariably participated in animal rearing activities. Cross-tabulation showed that the number of households with own animal resources but where women from the family did not participate in animal care was very small: one in Kalmandasguri, two in Amarsinghi, and five in Panahar.
Thus, if we may generalise, women sustain the livestock economy of rural India (we refer here not to large-scale enterprises but to household production).
Some Features of Animal Rearing Activity
Except for the pilot time-use survey conducted by the NSSO, we have practically no other information on the time spent by women in animal rearing activities or other features of animal rearing work performed by women. The Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute (IASRI) collected data on rural women’s participation in animal rearing as a part of studies it conducted on the economics of livestock. Although these studies date back to before 1980, they have some useful information (Raut 2004).
In this section of our paper, based on data, interviews, and observations from village surveys across India, and in three villages of West Bengal in June 2015, we identify some characteristics of women’s work in animal rearing.
Since the tasks are everyday, often in and around the household, and the income is not necessarily received by the worker, the woman engaged in animal rearing activities often has no self-recognition of her activities as that of a worker. This could be an explanation for the earlier observation that animal rearing is not reported as a primary occupation by the majority of women.
Interestingly, in Panahar village, the average days of employment available to a female agricultural labourer was 50 to 60 days, and the number of days of employment under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) was less than 30. In other words, the self-perception of women as workers does not apply to animal rearing even though the total labour input (say, 104 days) exceeds the wage employment obtained by a woman worker.
The nature of work involved in animal care – in many ways similar to child care – is such as to lead to undervaluation of women’s work, both in terms of employment (and being counted as a worker) and in terms of contribution to household income. Women’s own self-perception as non-workers also needs to be highlighted.
Income from animal rearing and the livestock sector is an important component of household incomes for a large section of rural households, including landless households and manual labour households, and households from different social groups. In this paper, we have drawn on an archive of village-level data to capture the contribution of animal rearing to household incomes across classes and castes.
We have argued that women have the primary responsibility for animal care. If we count all females engaged in animal rearing (be it as a primary or secondary or tertiary or other occupation), then, 33 to 47 per cent of females in three villages of West Bengal were so engaged. The nature of the livestock economy is crucially linked to women’s work and welfare.
This paper is an attempt to delineate the role of women workers in the animal resources sector of rural India using detailed village-level data and interviews. Extrapolating from data on three villages, we argue that women are regularly engaged in livestock and animal care. In one village, we found that if the total number of hours that a woman worked at tasks involving household animal resources were converted into work days, she worked for the equivalent of 104 days a year at animal rearing. However, national data systems not only underestimate the economic contribution of women to this sector, but are also not conceptually equipped to deal with situations where women take up activities that are crucial for the survival of the household but are intertwined so closely with household work and responsibilities that they are not counted as workers either by the investigators or by the women themselves. We require large-scale survey data to identify features of women’s work in animal rearing, including the extent of work participation, the hours of work, and the contribution to family incomes.
1 This paper is based on a note prepared for the National Seminar on Gender Issues, Central Statistical Organisation (CSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, New Delhi. We thank Yasodhara Das for her research assistance. We are grateful to two anonymous referees of this journal for their suggestions.
2 Three more villages are being studied in Tripura in 2016, bringing the total number of villages to 25.
4 For descriptions of the villages, we have drawn on the Foundation for Agrarian Studies (FAS) website, http://fas.org.in/category/research/project-on-agrarian-relations-in-india-pari/
5 In NSS Report 559, for females aged 5 and above engaged in domestic duties (codes 92 and 93), the proportion reporting animal rearing activity was 37.5 (with subsidiary activity) and 28.5 (without subsidiary activity) in rural West Bengal.
|Bakshi, A. (2015), “Nature of Income Diversification in Village India with a Special Focus on Dalit Households,” Project Report submitted to the Indian Council of Social Science Research, Foundation for Agrarian Studies, Bangalore.|
|Bakshi, A., and Das, Arindam (2016), “Household Incomes in Karnataka Villages,” in Madhura Swaminathan and Arindam Das (eds.), Socio-Economic Surveys of Three Villages in Karnataka, Tulika Books, New Delhi.|
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|Village||District||State||Agro-ecological region||Survey year||Survey type||Total number of households|
|Siresandra||Kolar||Karnataka||Eastern dry region||2009||Census||79|
|Rewasi||Sikar||Rajasthan||Western dry region||2010||Census||219|
|Panahar||Bankura||West Bengal||Old Vindhyan alluvian region||2010||Census||250|
|Amarsinghi||Maldah||West Bengal||New alluvial plains region||2010||Census||107|
|Kalmandasguri||Koch Bihar||West Bengal||Terai Teesta region||2010||Census||148|