A significant number of women farmers in Bangladesh are unable to access fertilizer, cash assistance and other government subsidies intended for farmers, because the land they work is registered in their husband’s name, according to government officials, NGOs and women farmers.
Close to half of all farmers in Bangladesh are women, and the majority have not received their Agriculture Input Assistance Card (AIAC) required to access government subsidies, said Sadeka Halim, of the Information Commission, the government-run agency which oversees and enforces the country's right to information act. Farmers must present their AIAC cards to receive subsidies, such as diesel for irrigation equipment.
The problem, according to Sharmind Neelormi, an associate economics professor at Jahangir Nagar University in Dhaka who has studied gender trends in farming, and others, is that the AIAC programme requires eligible cardholders to own land.
“It is our understanding there are millions of women who have not received AIAC simply because their land is registered under the name of their male partners who left the country while these women work in the field,” Neelormi said.
“It’s a humiliation for millions of women who are relentlessly working for food production in the country,” she added.
The Ministry of Agriculture has temporarily stopped issuing new cards amid allegations of corruption in the AIAC programme. Government officials say they are investigating. But farmers are still required to present the cards in exchange for subsidies.
Quazi Akhter Hossain, additional secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, said the AIAC programme was intended to provide farmers with a way to verify their status. Since it began in 2010, nearly 14 million cards have been distributed - short of the 19 million target, said Anwar Faruque, the Ministry of Agriculture's director-general of the seed division.
More women farmers
The number of men working in agriculture in Bangladesh has decreased about 10 percent since 2002-03, while the number of women farmers has risen, according to a study released this year by Neelormi.
“The AIAC scheme overlooked the fact that more and more women are now engaging in the agriculture sector while more men are abandoning this job to go in search of jobs in the city and abroad,” said Ziaul Hoque, a steering committee member for the Campaign for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL), a local alliance of 200 local NGOs and civil society organizations campaigning for comprehensive agrarian reform in Bangladesh.
The director-general of the Department of Agriculture Extension Service, Habibul Rahman, said the AIAC programme was not designed to distinguish between male and female farmers, but focused on land ownership only.
“In order to recognize the role of the real food heroines of the country, the government must revise its policy related to AIAC,” said Neelormi. “Ownership of land cannot be the main criteria for distributing AIAC.”
Aloka Rani, a 45-year-old female farmer from Rangpur District, began farming after her husband’s death a decade ago. She said she is discriminated against as a woman in every step of food production.
“When I go to buy fertilizer, I am served last, and I face difficulties in hiring day labourers because in the village powerful males mock labourers who work under women,” Rani said.
A bank declined to give her a loan, too, because her land is registered under her husband’s name.
“This discrimination against me must end because our agriculture minister is a woman and our prime minister is a woman too,” the widow said.
husband, who is paralyzed. She said she spoke in March at a national programme marking International Women’s Day in Dhaka, and while she was there she asked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for an AIAC.
Six months later, Ambia Khatun continues to wait.
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