How These Women Took Chemicals Out Of Indian Farming — And Made It More Profitable

It all started with women banding together and forming a self-help group.

Photo by Arvind Shakya/Pexels.


Women are leading an organic farming movement in India that has promoted job growth, healthier environments, and increased agricultural yields.

In 2005, 82% of Indian farmers in the state of Telangana were in debt. This was mainly because their crop yield had been struggling for nearly 15 years. Millions of smallholder farmers rely on their crops to make a living in India, and because of disease-ridden yields, they had fallen on hard times. To protect their crops, most of the farmers turned to pesticides, which are both costly and can be filled with chemicals.

Farming in Telangana is a female-dominated business, and the women farmers banded together to address the issue. They couldn’t keep buying expensive fertilizers that didn’t seem to be doing any good. They had been taught the best way to keep diseases from attacking their plants was to use commercial pesticides, but they knew they had to find an alternative.

It started with just a couple hundred smallholder farmers. They decided to try eco-farming, so they could avoid pesticides altogether — which meant saving money. This initiative spread, and now 2 million farmers in India are using the same eco-farming methods these women began implementing in 2004.

This initiative was actually born in a self-help group female farmers put together in the late 1990s. They needed support, and within the group, they discussed financial challenges. In particular, their goals were to save money, get out of debt, and pull themselves out of poverty. That’s why they said goodbye to pesticides in 2004 — they needed to stop paying exorbitant prices for commercial products and wanted to simultaneously take chemicals out of their food. Their initiative has now garnered quite a bit of support, including $9.5 million in funding from the Indian government and World Bank. These women have not only changed their own lives but the lives of millions of other farmers. And they’ve helped make the crops and, subsequently, the people consuming those crops healthier.

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