More than 70% of the Indian population is rural based. Biomass plays a crucial role in meeting daily survival needs of the vast majority of the rural households. Water is essential for survival and its availability is related to biomass. The biomass-based subsistence economy is mostly non-monetized. Production and processing of biomass agriculture, forestry, minor forest produce and village crafts based on biomass as raw materials, are also the biggest sources of employment. Development imperatives have inevitably led to some destruction of the biomass through deforestation and environmental degradation.
Traditionally, women have been responsible for subsistence and survival for water, food, fuel, fodder and habitat, though they rarely get the credit for nurturing these life support systems. Added to these environmental destruction, exacerbates women’s problems in a way very difficult from that of men. The challenge is to re-establish the symbiosis between communities, women and natural resources and reverse the trend of the negative impact of existing developmental paradigms.
Women have always been the principal conservers of bio-diversity. Even today they perform duties such as seed selection, multiplication and conservation. The on-farm conservation traditions of rural and tribal women, with reference to agro-biodiversity are well known. Unfortunately, current food security systems depend on too few crops. It is important to expand the basis of food security by including large numbers of spices and varieties of food plants still maintained by tribal and rural families. For this purpose, women can be trained in the revitalization of the on-farm conservation traditions of the older generation through bio-technological process. The training should also include equipping them for compiling bio-diversity inventories and for taking decision on issues like giving consent to using their genetic material by breeding companies / institutions.
Women are traditionally, by division of work responsibilities, responsible for resource mobilization and management in the following Manner: Fuel, fodder and water collections are the accepted responsibilities of women. As the environment degrades, these basic necessities become difficult to collect. The time a woman spends on gathering fuel, fodder and water, as well as attending to household work, agricultural work and animal care, reduces her efficiency and inputs. Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, former member of the planning Commission stated, “if men had to fetch drinking water the 230,000 villages would not have remained without provision of drinking water after several years of planned development”. The workload differs in different parts of the country .In the hill areas, the time devoted to these activities far exceeds the time spent on the same activities in the comparatively developed state of Kerala, where land reforms have resulted in providing relief in securing fuel requirements. Traditionally, women have dealt with non-monetized biomass based subsistence economy of the household i.e. firewood, cow dung, crop wastes, organic manure, etc. In comparison men tend to destroy nature to earn cash even if it means creating hardship in their own families for their womenfolk to collect fuel and fodder e.g. sale of herbs and wood. The upshot is that women work as unpaid labourers on family farms with a greater role than men in operational decision making. The population pressure has increased male migration, which in turn adds to the women’s work load. In effect this means that women’s responsibilities extend from the household duties to working in the fields as well. A destructive chain reaction emerges. As the time required for fuel and fodder collection grows and firewood becomes scarce, cow-dung previously spread on the fields, is used in the kitchen, thereby depleting soil resources and causing a negative effect on the livelihood of local people and environment.
It is common knowledge throughout the world that the growth of technology and the processes of commercialization, industrialization and globalization affect men and women differently. The world realizes, clearly today that real development cannot take roots if it by-passes women, who not only represent half of the humanity, but represent the very kernel around which social change takes shape. Therefore, as India embarks on bold and sweeping economic reforms, concern for women and efforts to mainstream them occupy the centre stage. India has been a relentless champion of the cause of women at all international and national forums. The women’s movement in India continuously interacts with and informs public opinion. The Indian Parliament has been a front-runner in progressive legislation upholding the status of women. India has the distinction of running one of the world’s largest primary health care systems and the largest child development programme. India has set up a National Commission for Women through an Act of Parliament to serve as a kind of ombudsman for women’s issues in the country and the day is not far off when the Parliament opens its doors for one third of its strength to women.
While it is true that poor women continue to suffer various kinds of deprivation, discrimination and atrocities, the country has mounted a concerted onslaught against these problems through various development/empowering strategies to inculcate confidence among women, bring an awareness of their own potential and to ensure their participation in their own development, an empowering strategy has been advocated by the Government based on promotion of literacy and education, training, credit, employment and income generation.
Also, Indian women are entering public life in larger numbers as politicians, as senior public servants, as professionals and as corporate managers. Women are making important contributions in all walks of lives including science. About 88% of science degree holders are in pure science; 8% in medicine and around 3% in engineering and two third of working women scientists and technologies are engaged in teaching profession. However, not more than 3% are doing the actual research. But, this scenario is changing world over. The educational levels in female education in the developing countries are rising. In India, a promising feature is that more and more women are taking up science as a career.
Though the Government of India is working towards an environmentally sound and sustainable quality of life, the problems, challenges and issues are multi-faceted. However, women in India are playing a crucial role in protection and conservation of environment. Women in our country have brought a different perspective to the environment debate, because of their different experience base. Poor women’s lives are not compartmentalized and they see the issues in a broad and holistic perspective. They understand clearly that economics and environment are compatible. Their experience reveals to them that soil, water and vegetation, necessary for their day-to-day living, requires, care and good management. Environmental degradation is related not only to the biosphere alone, but to the social sphere as well.
Keeping in view the inherent capabilities of women in the management as well as the need for women entrepreneurship development, educational and vocational training in various fields, communication skills, creativity and innovation, quality management and control, inventory and production management need to be strengthened throughout the length and breadth of the country. To achieve this, resources and strength of women need to be channelized to develop their full potential so as to take their rightful place as equal partners in all spheres.
Further, there are opportunities for value addition in all agricultural commodities at the post harvest phase. Often developing countries sell the primary produce without value addition. Also, a mismatch between production and post harvest technologies benefits neither the producer nor the consumer. The demand for processed and semi processed food is also growing. This is also an area where training and entrepreneurship development will be very helpful, particularly, for overcoming micronutrient deficiencies in diets.
As the world moves forward at a phenomenal speed with scientific and technological advances, there is a growing feeling that biotechnological empowerment of women is absolutely essential for progress. With this in view and taking note of the potential of Biotechnology, the Department of Biotechnology has initiated programmes since 1998 to empower women and rural population by imparting skills for additional income generation. The programme has been designed to train the human resources in absorbing the technology to be adopted and practiced by them and finally how the produce product can be developed and sold in the market. Therefore the marketing skill has been considered as one of the major aspects. The programme also envisages training for the entrepreneurship so that it can attract women and rural youth to start their small enterprises for their livelihood. While designing such programmes adequate emphasis has been given on managerial aspects including financial management. The Department supported projects mainly in three different modes, namely, field demonstration, extension oriented activities and development of entrepreneurs in the proven biotechnologies and R&D Programmes specially addressed to specific problems to the women.