Monthly Archives: January 2019

De-Feminisation of Indian Agriculture

These days, very often, we get to hear about “feminisation of agriculture” in India in policy-making circles, apart from the academic and activist circles. Media headlines buzzed with this concept last year, after the Economic Survey of 2018 made a mention of this. “Move over men, Economic Survey 2018 talks about feminisation of agriculture”, said one headline, and “Need women centric policy with feminisation of agriculture” said another. While there is no contention on the need for women-centric agriculture policies, this article will discuss whether there is indeed a “feminisation” of Indian agriculture, and if so, in what areas.

In Vol.2 of the Economic Survey 2017-18, on page 104, there is a box item which begins by stating that “with growing rural to urban migration by men, there is ‘feminisation’ of agriculture sector, with increasing number of women in multiple roles as cultivators, entrepreneurs and labourers”. That is the only reference to this so-called feminisation phenomenon, without any data supporting this claim. That is not to take away from the right arguments in this box article which also state that “with women predominant at all levels – production, pre-harvest, post-harvest processing, packaging, marketing – of the agricultural value chain, to increase productivity in agriculture, it is imperative to adopt gender specific interventions. An “inclusive transformative agricultural policy” should aim at gender-specific interventions to raise productivity of small farm holdings, integrate women as active agents in rural transformation, and engage men and women in extension services with gender expertise”.

What is feminisation of agriculture? Feminisation of agriculture is seen as a broadening and deepening of the involvement of women in agriculture. It is understood as a measurable increase of women’s participation in the agricultural sector. This is either an increase in the percentage of women in the agricultural workforce within overall female workforce, or an increase of women relative to men, because fewer men are working in agriculture. It is also sometimes seen as women taking over those gendered agricultural tasks which were once done only by men. Another aspect to “feminisation” can be understood to be explicit visibilisation of women’s involvement and participation in agriculture.

Macro-data points to “de-feminisation”: While it might indeed be true that there is feminisation in the above sense in some pockets of India, with men migrating out of agriculture, or even from villages in search of, or responding to opportunities outside agriculture or in urban centres, the national picture based on macro-economic data belies any feminisation phenomenon in India. The NSSO and Census data clearly point towards a de-feminisation of our agriculture, whereas it is only the quinquennial Agriculture Census surveys which point to some slow feminisation trends when it comes to the picture of operational land holdings.

NSSO data: A monograph by Vikas Rawal and Partha Saha (2015) called “Women’s Employment in India – What do recent NSS Surveys of Employment and Unemployment Show?” looked at trends in employment of women between 1999-2000 and 2011-12, using the 55th, 66th and 68th rounds of NSSO’s Employment and Unemployment Surveys (keeping out the 61st Round)[1]. The following are the main points and conclusions of Rawal and Saha:

  • It is well noted that a smaller proportion of working age women are in the work force than working age men – but it is noteworthy that the gap between work participation rates among men and women increased significantly between 1999-2000 and 2011-12 (the difference grew to over 48 percentage points in 2011-12 compared to 44 percentage points in 1999).
  • This is mainly due to collapse of rural employment, which has particularly hit rural women as women are primarily employed in rural areas, with limited opportunities in an urban economy.
  • The contraction of employment among rural women was driven almost entirely by a drop in availability of employment in agriculture, which is the mainstay of women workers in rural India. In 1999-2000, about 41 per cent of rural working-age women were employed in agriculture. This fell to less than 28 per cent in 2011-12. The small increase in other sectors was too small compared to the steep decline in work availability for women in agriculture. In contrast, employment for men declined by 11 percentage points in agriculture and increased by about 6 percentage points in construction in the same time period.
  • The sharp decline in proportion of women who were self-employed was primarily driven by a sharp increase in landlessness among rural households, which drove a large proportion of women who worked on their own lands out of the labour force (a decline from 22.8% in 1999-2000 to 17.7% in 2011-12 of proportion of working-age women who worked on their own household landholdings).
  • There was also a decline in the proportion of working age women who worked as wage labourers in agriculture declined from 18 percent in 1999-2000 to less than 10 per cent in 2011-12. The authors assume that greater adoption of labour displacing technology (in particular, increasing use of machines and weedicides), caused by increasing concentration of landholdings and increasing cost advantage of using labour displacing techniques, among other factors, may have been an important factor behind the decline in overall level of labour absorption in agriculture.

Coupled with barriers to mobility of women workers, including safety, these push factors in agriculture have led to a decline in employment of women. This then, is clearly a de-feminisation of agriculture in India, and not feminisation.

Meanwhile, the ones getting pushed out of this “counted” workforce are reporting themselves to be primarily engaged in household work. In the NSSO categories, Code 92 and 93 represent this “household work” and as Rawal & Saha point out, the clear distinction between these two is not very apparent. Here, maintenance of Kitchen Gardens, work in household poultry and dairy, food gathering, food processing etc., are all listed. The number of women workers in these categories has swelled and corresponds very well to the decline in the ‘counted’ workers, who themselves were invisible as Farmers even though they were counted in the SNA (system of national accounts). “About 45 per cent of the rural household worker women were engaged in various activities for obtaining food for the household. About 24 per cent rural household workers worked in maintenance of kitchen gardens for household use, about 22 per cent regularly worked to maintain household animal resources, about 19 per cent were engaged in collection of food, and about 14 per cent regularly worked in specified food processing activities”, as per Rawal & Saha. Going by the definition of a FARMER as per the National Policy for Farmers in India (2007), all these women are indeed Farmers, but not recognised or supported as such.

Census 2011: The other source of data which is reflecting the de-feminisation trends in Indian agriculture is the Census data. Here, the population data is further presented as a segment called “Workers”. As per Census 2011, 39.79% of India’s population is classified as Working Population – within this, 53.26% was male workers and 25.51% was female. In Rural India, the working population was 41.83% of the total population with 53.03% of men being ‘workers’ and 30.02 women in the population classified as ‘workers’. In 2001, the corresponding figures were 52.11 for men and 30.79 for women (this is the work participation rate).

Within Workers, for those engaged in Agriculture, there are two categories used based on self-reporting from the workers in the household – Cultivators, who are those who take a risk for the agricultural enterprise they are undertaking, and Agriculture Labourers, who are working in agriculture without any risk but for (daily) wage earnings.

Here, the following is the picture in absolute numbers and percentages between 2001 and 2011 of Cultivators and Agriculture Labourers, men and women.

  2001 Census 2011 Census
  Total Male Female Total Male Female
Cultivators, absolute Nos. 127312851 85416498 41896353 118692640 82706724 35985916
Out of total cultivators 100 67.1 32.9 100 69.7 30.3
Agri Labourers, absolute Nos 106775330 57329100 49446230 144329833 82740351 61589482
Out of total agriculture labourers 100 53.7 46.3 100 57.33 42.67
TOTAL workers in Agriculture 234088181 142745598 91342583 263022473 165447075 97575398
Out of total workers in agriculture 100.0 61.0 39.0 100 63 37
Cultivators’ percentage within M/F 60% 46% 50% 37%

Source: compiled by the author from Census 2001 and 2011 data

It can be seen clearly that out of the total workers in agriculture, 39% were women in 2001, and 61% were men. However, one decade later, out of the total workers in agriculture, only 37% were women and 63% were men. This then, is a taking over by men of the proportion of space that women used to occupy in this field, and is de-feminisation. Within male workers, while 60% used to be Cultivators as per Census 2001, by 2011, this percentage fell to 50%. Amongst women in agriculture, while 46% reported themselves as Cultivators in 2001, by 2011, this proportion fell to only 37%.

Agriculture Census 2015-16: It appears that this is the only macro data set that is pointing towards feminisation of Indian agriculture.  Here, number of female-operated operational holdings in India have increased to 13.87% of all operational holdings at the all India level (2.02 crore holdings, when compared to men with 12.52 crore holdings). In 2010-11 Agriculture Census, it was 12.79%, which itself increased from 11.70% in 2005-06. The female-operated area in India in 2015-16 stood at 11.57% of all operational area, up from 10.36% in 2010-11. In absolute numbers, this is 1.82 crore hectares, while men operated 13.7 crore hectares. In terms of average landholding size, men held 1.10 hectares while women held 0.90 hectares as per Agriculture Census 2015-16.

Masculinisation of Agriculture:

As agriculture gets more oriented towards markets both at the input and output end, it is not difficult to imagine that in an already asymmetrical access that exists to markets, due to a variety of socio-cultural-economic reasons, men are likely to take over more and more decision-making spaces – which seed to sow, which brand to opt for, which chemical to use, who to bring credit from to finance cultivation costs, where to sell, at what price and even what to do with the income that comes into his hand. Patriarchal norms that govern mobility, education levels, capacity to interface with the external world etc., push women to more marginal roles in this market-oriented paradigm of farming. Meanwhile, monocropping that goes with such market orientation would increase the burden of practical needs of women in terms of food and fodder security.

While farming does not constitute only cultivation, but is also about livestock farming too, which is increasingly contributing more incomes to Indian agricultural households, though women put in more work than men in livestock rearing too, their assertive presence is not concomitant or more at least in this sector. Dairy cooperatives often have more men as members, and this is all the more so at the governance level of these cooperatives and their federations.

In the recent past, evidence is emerging that with good investments that are going into FPOs, but with gender blindness that accompanies them, there might be an inadvertent widening of the gap between men and women farmers on numerous fronts.

RECOGNISE AND ADDRESS THIS DE-FEMINISATION: It is time that policy makers and grassroots workers both paid more attention to this de-feminisation trends in Indian agriculture. Part of the problem lies in women who are retreating into household (unpaid) work not being counted as Workers. The fact that they are being pushed back is a problem in itself, but explicitly identifying them as Farmers even in their household roles is important, so that they receive various services and support systems from the government. Another important part of the problem is that women who were earlier counted as workers in agriculture, are also losing their space to men.

Women farmers’ groups have been asking for a complete registry of all women farmers in this country, through a process of self and multiple identification of all women farmers (the woman herself opting to call herself as an agricultural worker and/or tenant cultivator and/or land owner farmer and/or livestock farmer and/or forest-dependent farmer, and/or beekeeper and/or primary processor etc. etc).  This is the only way that explicit identity and recognition can be provided to all women farmers, and access to various entitlements ensured for them, so that they find their farming viable and dignifying.

  • Kavitha Kuruganti is one of the Convenors of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) and is also associated with Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM). This is a piece written for Farmers Forum, February-March 2019

[1] Vikas Rawal and Partha Saha (2015):  Women’s Employment in India – what do recent NSS surveys of employment and unemployment show? – Society for Social and Economic Research Monograph 15/1


Media headlines, especially from business media houses and American media, continue to scream that Monsanto has had a “patent victory” in the Supreme Court of India which will in turn boost biotech investment in India. The news stories claim that Monsanto won a patent-related legal battle and that the Court ruled that Monsanto can claim patents on its GM cotton seeds. This is even after five full days after the judgement has been uploaded onto the Court’s website.

Supreme Court overturns Delhi HC judgement of April 2018, but does not pronounce its own stand on Monsanto’s patent:

Yes, it is true that the Supreme Court on 08/01/2019 overturned an earlier ruling in the Delhi High Court by a Division Bench on 11.04.2018 wherein Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Yogesh Khanna of the Delhi HC recorded one of their conclusions thus – “the subject patent falls within the exclusion spelt out by Section 3 (j) of the Patents Act; the subject patent and the claims covered by it are consequently held to be unpatentable”, speaking about Monsanto’s Patent No. 214436, pertaining to the (Bt Cry2Ab) genetic sequence which is the basis of its Bollgard II Bt cotton business. The Division Bench incidentally upheld the Single Judge’s directions to Monsanto to continue with its obligations which caused Monsanto to appeal against the March 2017 single judge’s orders in the first instance.

To the extent that the Supreme Court overturned the Division Bench judgement which pronounced the patent and its claims unpatentable, the patent of Monsanto can be assumed to be restored. However, it is not correct to say that Supreme Court’s Justices Rohintan Fali Nariman and Navin Sinha pronounced that Monsanto can claim patents on its GM cotton seeds.

Supreme Court points to lacunae in Division Bench’s pronouncement on patentability of a genetic sequence, and asks parties to get the original suit heard by the single judge bench of Delhi HC:

The SC judgement said the following in fact about the Division Bench judgement: “Summary adjudication of a technically complex suit requiring expert evidence also, at the stage of injunction in the manner done, was certainly neither desirable or permissible in the law. The suit involved complicated mixed questions of law and facts with regard to patentability and exclusion of patent which could be examined in the suit on basis of evidence…. There is no gain saying that the issues raised were complicated requiring technological and expert evidence with regard to issues of chemical process, biochemical, biotechnical and micro biological processes and more importantly, whether the nucleic acid sequence trait once inserted could be removed from that variety or not, and whether the patented DNA sequence was a plant or a part of a plant etc., are again all matters which were required to be considered at the final hearing of the suit…. The Division Bench ought to have confined itself to the examination of the validity of the order of injunction granted by the Single Judge….The order of the Division Bench is set aside. The order of the Single Judge dated 28.03.2017 is restored and the suit is remanded to the learned Single Judge for disposal in accordance with law”.  Therefore, the Supreme Court merely ordered that the dispute(s) be taken back to the Single Judge bench of the Delhi High Court, while showcasing what it pronounced as procedural/legal lapses by the Division Bench. By no stretch of imagination can it be claimed that the Supreme Court has pronounced its stand on the validity of Monsanto’s patent and even upheld it.

Long standing dispute between Monsanto and Nuziveedu:

The dispute between Monsanto and Nuziveedu goes back a long way. To around 2003 in fact, when Nuziveedu had to face India’s de-facto patent regime in the form of its biosafety regulatory regime under the Ministry of Environment & Forests, which compelled Nuziveedu to get into sub-licensing agreements with Monsanto (Monsanto Mahyco Biotech), to be able to use the Bt technology in its cotton hybrids. That was for Bollgard I technology or Cry1Ac gene which did not even have a patent in India. Trouble has been brewing since then.

The original disputes that brought the parties to the Delhi High Court in 2016 pertained to the fact that Monsanto contends that Nuziveedu is still to pay its dues with regard to trait/license fees, while Nuziveedu contends that Monsanto has illegally terminated their sub-license agreement on 14.11.2015 in an unjustified manner and that it is not bound to pay anything more than the trait value fixed by states and centre. There was also the matter of whether trademarks of Bollgard can be used or not, or even the use of abbreviations like “BGII” by Nuziveedu which denies any infringement.

Single Judge Bench did not delve into the patentability matters:

On 28.03.2017, a Single Judge Bench of Delhi High Court, while adjudicating on an application for injunction, did not actually decide on the patentability question and kept it for examination until after the pleadings were complete. Judge R.K. Gauba only ordered that during the pendency of the suit, the parties shall remain bound by their respective obligations under the sub-license agreement that the parties got into. Monsanto et al preferred an appeal against the injunctive relief provided by the single judge bench.

The Supreme Court now pointed out that even though the single judge bench did not deal with, or consider the counter claim of Nuziveedu Seeds (defendants) with regard to the patentability, the Division Bench’s judgement that the Patent of Monsanto was subject to patent exclusion under Section 3(j) of Indian Patents Act and thereby invalidating the patent, in effect made the defendants counter claim succeed.

Is this merely a mercantile matter as being debated in India’s Courts?

The issue of patentability of nucleic acid sequences came up in the context of whether there is an patent infringement by Nuziveedu.

The entire dispute and legal debate between the two (groups of) parties make it look as though it is a matter of mercantile laws whereas the core of the issue affects farmers and their livelihoods. Going by an affidavit filed by the Union of India in a related case in the Delhi High Court, wherein they state that farm suicides were caused by Bt cotton, high seed prices and losses incurred by farmers, it is a matter of life and death for farmers! At the end of the day, the disputed royalties, license and trait fees etc., are all being shelled out by farmers of this country and not coming from the pockets of Monsanto or Nuziveedu. In the USA and Canada, it is well known that Monsanto had sued, fined and jailed farmers in the name of patent infringement. The recent Supreme Court judgement records Monsanto’s counsel submitting in the Court that the plaintiffs (Monsanto et al) have no intention to sue any Indian farmer for violation of patent. That Monsanto cannot and will not is obvious, without a riot breaking out on the streets of India.

But that is not the only black and white way to look at patents on ostensible “nucleic acid sequences which are chemical compounds” as though they have no bearing on seeds, seed monopolies and exorbitantly high prices of such seeds, which have a direct bearing on farmers’ net returns and livelihoods. Elsewhere, it is well documented that farmers have limited choices with regard to seeds and planting material due to patent enforcement and resulting monopolies. In the end, seed companies benefit enormously at the expense of farmers – it is reported that Monsanto would have realised trait value of around US$ 240 millions between 2010-2015 and it is obvious that this came from poor Indian farmers’ pockets. It would therefore be useful for Indian courts to keep this in mind and not look at it as a mere mercantile matter.

Is the genetic sequence patented under Patent No. 214436 merely a chemical compound?

Patent No. 214436 vis-à-vis the Indian Patents Act…

A look at the entire patent filing episode by Monsanto shows very clearly that the claims were manipulated opportunistically between process and product claims, so that it somehow fits into the Indian patent laws prevalent at a particular point of time.

While looking at Monsanto’s claim that its Patent No. 214436 is essentially about a “nucleic acid sequence” which is a chemical created in a laboratory, the Court has to remember that if that is the case, this chemical compound would be regulated within the pesticides regulatory regime in India, not the GMOs regime. It is after all this genetic sequence which makes ordinary cotton varieties into Bt cotton, which consequently get regulated as living organisms, under the EPA 1986 and not as a pesticide.

The nucleic acid sequence is indeed heritable when embedded into a plant cell, and heritability is a trait connected with a living organism. However, it is not capable of reproducing itself and therefore, is not a micro-organism which is specified as a patentable matter in the Indian law.

The Indian Patents Act had a sub-section (2) added under Section 5 in 2002, which gave an explanation for “chemical processes” allowing for patenting of chemical processes which was significantly deleted when the Parliament amended the Act in 2005. The legislative intent of the Indian Parliament is clear – it denied protection under Patents Act for such genes and genetic materials, and brought such seeds under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Rights Act of 2001, and is reflected also in the National Seeds Policy of 2002. This is consistent with India’s international stand too, which however the Indian Patent Office did not always uphold since it began granting several patents on genetic materials.

Claims with regard to the disputed patent show that it is both about a DNA sequence as well as its linking to other sequences (process) and placement in a plant cell (process). Claim 25 in this patent is not merely describing a product but is about a process for making a product of certain functions. The said nucleic acid sequence can be functional only after becoming a part of the plant cell.

Amongst the many parties that intervened and are on the defendants’ side in the case, the argument is that the patented product is an inherent, intrinsic and integral part of a plant as it exists at the sub-cellular level (and a part of a plant is excluded from patentability), and that the claim is not about a chemical sequence in a vial but about having a plant produce a high level of expression of an endotoxin protein etc.

Can there be a patent without fulfilling the “industrial application” criterion?

For any invention to be patented, an essential criterion to be fulfilled is that of industrial application. Monsanto’s NAS (nucleic acid sequence), described by it as a chemical product, is not capable of industrial application until it is first integrated into a plant cell where it can express itself through essentially biological processes of transcription, translation and replication; until it stabilises into the plant through repeated back-crossing processes which are also essentially biological processes and until the NAS is heritable to the next generation of seeds which are sold as F1 hybrids, which happens through essentially biological processes. There is no industrial application of a mere NAS by itself without essentially biological processes, which then make the NAS unpatentable under Indian law.

Precedence of citing public interest and revocation of patents exists

It is clear that there is no reason for grant of patents which have even an indirect bearing on plants, because the Indian law has explicitly kept them out of patentability. Giving patents on genes and nucleic acid sequences will have such an indirect bearing and should therefore not be allowed.

Incidentally, Sec. 66, which allows for revocation of a patent in public interest, has indeed been used in the past in the case of revocation of Indian Patent No. 168950 granted initially to Agracetus Inc. for a “method of producing transformed cotton cells by tissue culture”. The then ICAR DG argued that the patent was incontrovertibly detrimental to our farmers and our people at large, and the Law Ministry concurred. One of the grounds was on safety of such genetically engineered cotton. The revocation was not on technical grounds of process vs product or non patentable subject matter etc., but on the simple fact that certain patents are generally prejudicial to the public. The same approach should be applied to Monsanto’s disputed patent as well as all other such patents in India, and such patent grants be revoked.

Inventions that are prejudicial to public interest are not patentable

This approach is reinforced by Section 3(b) which also specifies ‘inventions not patentable’ – Sec. 3(b) states, “an invention the primary or intended use or commercial exploitation of which could be contrary to public order or morality or which causes serious prejudice to human, animal or plant life or health or to the environment”. Given the Government of India’s own admission in a court of law on the lack of efficacy of Monsanto’s proprietary technology (which is the patent subject matter), that farmers were being forced to commit suicides, and given that Bt cotton farmers (90-95% of India‟s Bt cotton is planted to this “event” of Monsanto) are incurring large scale losses due to uncontrollable pest attacks, this ‘invention’ is a fit case to be declared as “not patentable”.


It is not just a revocation of the patent that is called for, but a refund of the amounts collected from Indian farmers as part of seed prices from the seed companies involved in the sub-licenses. The only way justice can be meted out to them is by getting the Appellants and Respondents in this case to collectively pay back what they have collected from our farmers, as fund to be returned to them.

–          Kavitha Kuruganti is one of the Convenors of Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)