Scientific Publication

Labouring for livelihoods: gender, productivity and collectivity


Current debates in India on work, employment and labour markets have paid rather little attention to three important distinctions: between sustainable livelihoods and labour force participation; between autonomously managing non-family enterprises versus participation in decision-making within the confines of family enterprises; and between cooperation among workers for larger economic returns versus atomised individuals competing for work or livelihoods in unequal markets. This paper conceptually outlines the importance of focusing on work through the lens of livelihoods, autonomy and collectivity, especially for women. Empirically, it analyses whether group farming, wherein women farmers voluntarily pool land, labour, capital and skills to cultivate jointly, while sharing costs and benefits, can help them overcome their production constraints, create viable livelihoods, and gain autonomous identities as farmers? How well can women’s group farms perform in comparison with male-managed small family farms? Based on meticulously undertaken primary surveys of group farming in Kerala and Telangana, the paper compares all-women group farms with largely male-managed small family farms in the same state, in terms of productivity and profits. It also examines the impact on women’s skill capabilities and status, which state is more effective and why, and the lessons these experiences hold for replication elsewhere. New and emerging experiments with farmers’ collectives in eastern India and Gujarat, including all-male and mixed-gender groups, suggest that the group farming model can be adapted effectively to varying contexts. The paper thus demonstrates the importance and potential of transforming the institutions within which work is done, in order to enhance both worker well-being and productivity gains. In conclusion, it reflects on the concept of the Social and Solidarity Economy.