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Siddharth Agarwal, Kanupriya Kothiwal, Shabnam Verma,
Sampurna Kundu
Urban Health Resource Centre, India
Adaptability of peri-urban agricultural workers
towards resilience
Acknowledgments: The authors gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Neeraj Verma, Neha
Mandloi, Ankush Rathore and Sunita Yadav in gathering data of these case studies and
pictures featured in this photo essay.
Gratitude is also extended to all the peri-urban women workers who devoted their time and
generously shared their life circumstances and experiences.
Note: The names of all respondents who are featured in this research article have
been pseudonymisedto protect their identity and for confidentiality.
Disclaimer: This research was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research
(NIHR), Global Health Research Group using UK aid from the UK government. The views
expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the
Department of Health and Social Care.
Key messages
1. Peri-urban workers found agricultural work that includes plucking vegetables or flowers, tilling
and preparing the soil, harvesting wheat or other crops as one of the major livelihoods.
2. Many women are also able to procure vegetables and food grains from their farming work
indicating that food security is one of the benefits of working in farms.
3. Many peri-urban farm workers chose this form of work owing to innate skill acquired from their
native rural farms.
4. Women find agriculture work convenient owing to its self-paced nature and farms mostly being
close to their habitation.
5. Peri-urban women workers also express anxiety with respect to uncertainty of sustaining
agriculture work as agricultural lands are on the brink of being sold to city developers and
builders.
6. Peri-urban women workers often pursue an additional livelihood in order to sustain in seasons
when agricultural work is not available. They are also resiliently preparing themselves for a
future when farms will be sold.
Introduction
Rural-urban agriculture is a continuum. As cities expand, and people from rural areas move to cities,
the frontiers between urban, peri-urban and rural activities blur and merge, presenting opportunities
to extend beneficial linkages. For an informal settlement labourer in the city, there is little difference
between peri-urban agriculture and rural agriculture.
Peri-urban agriculture is an industry located on the fringes of a town or city, that is a demonstration
of human labour, water, land, and other resources available in the peri-urban setting.
Women peri-urban agricultural workers of Indore
Indore has been growing on its fringes where erstwhile villages and village land have become peri-
urban slums. Agricultural farms near these peri-urban slums attract women peri-urban labourers
living near these farms.
The state of Madhya Pradesh has a thriving agriculture and horticulture industry. Indore is
surrounded by agriculture farms and serves as a commercial hub for distribution and sale of
agriculture and horticulture produce. A variety of crops are grown in these farms, including flowers,
vegetables, grains, legumes and lentils. Work in peri-urban farms is seasonal in nature, and includes
preparing the soil for sowing a new crop, irrigating the fields by means of pumps and tube wells,
plucking out weeds, harvesting the final produce, bundling wheat or soybean into bushels,
transporting it to a storage space or vehicle, separating the chaff from the wheat.
The photo essay explores narratives of women peri-urban agricultural workers, their challenges with
respect to its seasonal nature, how they adapt to this uncertain form of livelihood and how they
maximise its potential.
Vignette # 1: Kashi Damke
Working in the fields and selling vegetables simultaneously – Kashi Damke
Kashi, (age 45) has been working in the farms near her settlement for over 15 years. Since she
stays close to the farms, she is called whenever there is need of labour for tilling and overturning the
soil, sorting and plucking out weeds, harvesting and related work. “Since childhood, I have been
doing agriculture work. This is where my skills lie.”
On days when there is no agricultural work (such as winter months prior to harvesting), she plucks
vegetables from the farms and sells them on foot in nearby settlements to supplement the family
income. “I mostly pluck vegetables from the farm. The farmer knows me for 15 years. He is aware
that I need to sell vegetables when farm work is not available. In the COVID-19 lockdown when no
work was available, I sold vegetables in the lanes in my neighborhood and could sustain on those
earnings. We also used the vegetables for our meals.”
There are several benefits of pursuing farm work for Kashi. One of them also includes access to grains
at harvest time at a lower price than that of the market. Although she has a government food subsidy
card enabling her to access subsidised grains, availing grains from farms helps her get good quality
wheat and maintain reserves for uncertain times. “While cleaning wheat after harvesting, a lot of grains
are lying on the field. I collect them, clean and then store them at home.”
Kashi finds farm work easier to manage and self-paced. “Unlike factories, the farm owner is not on my
head all the time. I manage work as per my pace. When I find myself tired especially in summers, I take
rest under the shade of a nearby tree.”
However, Kashi expresses uncertainty regarding the future of her livelihood. “In a year or two, these
farms will be sold to builders to construct residential and commercial complexes. Farm work will be not
available then. I will then procure vegetables from mandi [wholesale market] and sell.”
Through her years of work, Kashi has been able to construct a two-storeyed house with an elevated
plinth, walls and roof of permanent material, toilet, kitchen. Her husband and son, both of whom are
construction workers, contributed labour and savings.
Kashi plucking brinjals
from the field. Photo:
UHRC
Vignette # 2: Premlata Lodhi
Plucking flowers for flower merchants and pursuing other farm work seasonally – Premlata
Premlata (age 46) has spent a large part of her life doing different forms of farm labour. She works every
morning in the agricultural field nearby and plucks flowers. These flowers are supplied by the agricultural
field owners to flower markets where they are sold as garlands, flowers, petals, used for decoration during
weddings, festivals and as prayer offerings in temples. Premlata says: “This work is mostly at its peak
around festivals and the wedding season. In other seasons, when flowers are not blooming or not in
demand, I look around for work in other farms.” Over the years, she has been able to build rapport with
other farmers in her area who provide her with work such as tilling the soil, sowing of crops and cutting
wheat during the harvest season.
However, circumstances became challenging during COVID-19 pandemic. “During the lockdown, all work
was shut. Us labourers belong to the category who earn and eat daily. Restrictions in lockdown also
prevented us from reaching our native village. We lost our share of wheat, which we usually get from the
village every year.” Owing to not having a food subsidy card, Premlata’s family could not access
subsidised food grains. “My husband and I went to the nearby field and sorted and picked some grains
lying on the ground. That is how we managed the crisis.”
Like Kashi, Premlata expresses her uncertainty of farm work declining in the coming years. “These
farms will be sold to build commercial establishments or residential colonies. I will have to find work
in a nearby factory such as packaging work as one needs to do something to sustain oneself.”
Despite these struggles, Premlata’s family has been steadily building their house. She is supporting
her daughter pursue university education.
Premlata plucking flowers from
the field. Photo: UHRC
Vignette # 3: Ramila Dharviya
Working as an agricultural labourer and stitching shirts at home on a per piece basis - Ramila
Dharviya
Ramila (age 39) is a farm worker, engaged in preparing the soil, sowing, plucking grass/weeds and
vegetables from the field. Her secondary source of income is from stitching shirts at home. She sometimes
earns 100 INR for one shirt, while sometimes the remuneration per stitched shirt climbs to 150 INR
depending on the intricacy entailed. “I come home for lunch break from the field. Whatever little window of
time I can find, I stitch shirts. I subsequently finish the rest of the task at night. During the days when farm
work is not available, I pursue stitching which helps me get sustained income.”
The lockdown was a challenging time for the family. Ramila could not go to work. Their children were unable
to continue online studies at home owing to limited access to smart phone and internet service. The family
was unable to access subsidised food since they did to not have a food subsidy card. They had to buy food
at inflated urban prices after borrowing money from acquaintances. The farm owner helped them by lending
vegetables from the farm “During the lockdown we could get vegetables from my farm which helped us tide
through the pandemic. The farm had a rich produce of vegetables that year.” Even though stitching work
resumed after lockdown, it took her many months to attain her pre-COVID earning from stitching, owing to
reduced demand for ready-made garments.
Ramila aspires to educate her children as much as they want to study and hopes to see them self-
reliant and successful. She also wants to buy a small plot of land so that the family can live in their
own house.
She mentions with pride that her younger son has recently secured admission in a government
school on merit-based scholarship owing to excellence in studies.
Ramila clearing weeds in the farm.
Photo: UHRC
Vignette # 4: Amruta Pawar
Working in farms seasonally while simultaneously working in a chips factory – Amruta Pawar
Amruta (age 42) cuts wheat, chickpeas and soyabean at the farms. She also cuts grass and separates the
chaff from the wheat. The chaff is used for animal fodder. She has been working there for 20 years. During
the months when agricultural work is not available, she works in a factory manufacturing potato chips
located near the farm. Amruta says “Nowadays, a lot of agriculture work can be carried out through
machines such as harvesting. So, less farm work is available to us labourers. That is the reason I work in
the chips factory also.”
During the lockdown, 2020, she worked in the fields. At that time, she plucked out cilantro from the fields.
The wheat had already been harvested by a machine so there was no work. To cope with depleted
purchasing power, they requested the farm owner for vegetables, which they cooked to eat with roti (Indian
bread). Amruta says: “We could get vegetables free of cost from farms such as onions, potatoes and garlic
which we could cook during the lockdown. We also sometimes got grains from nearby farms.”
Through years of working, Amruta has managed to construct a pucca house with the savings. In her
words: “ We have seen both good times and difficult times. Many times, there was not a single penny at
hand, and everyone at home was troubled. But I used to work no matter how hard the situation was.”
Amruta tilling the farm to
prepare the soil for sowing.
Photo: UHRC
What do these stories tell us?
• This photo essay presents case narratives of women who represent the last remaining link
from their native rural villages in terms of livelihoods.
• As the city expands and annexes these peri-urban farms to pave way for further urbanisation,
these livelihoods face uncertainty.
• Peri-urban agricultural workers also represent the capability of adapting to an ever-changing
and dynamic peri-urban ecosystem which they are part of.
• Their adaptability as well as their strategy of linkage with more than one employer offering
different forms of work at different times of the year, are a key facet of their resilience which
is worthy of recognition.
• These core essence of adaptability and resilience should be adapted to different contexts
and promoted among urban vulnerable women workers as appropriate to their settings.

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Adaptability of peri-urban agricultural workers towards resilience

  • 1. Siddharth Agarwal, Kanupriya Kothiwal, Shabnam Verma, Sampurna Kundu Urban Health Resource Centre, India Adaptability of peri-urban agricultural workers towards resilience
  • 2. Acknowledgments: The authors gratefully acknowledge the efforts of Neeraj Verma, Neha Mandloi, Ankush Rathore and Sunita Yadav in gathering data of these case studies and pictures featured in this photo essay. Gratitude is also extended to all the peri-urban women workers who devoted their time and generously shared their life circumstances and experiences. Note: The names of all respondents who are featured in this research article have been pseudonymisedto protect their identity and for confidentiality. Disclaimer: This research was commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Global Health Research Group using UK aid from the UK government. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.
  • 3. Key messages 1. Peri-urban workers found agricultural work that includes plucking vegetables or flowers, tilling and preparing the soil, harvesting wheat or other crops as one of the major livelihoods. 2. Many women are also able to procure vegetables and food grains from their farming work indicating that food security is one of the benefits of working in farms. 3. Many peri-urban farm workers chose this form of work owing to innate skill acquired from their native rural farms. 4. Women find agriculture work convenient owing to its self-paced nature and farms mostly being close to their habitation. 5. Peri-urban women workers also express anxiety with respect to uncertainty of sustaining agriculture work as agricultural lands are on the brink of being sold to city developers and builders. 6. Peri-urban women workers often pursue an additional livelihood in order to sustain in seasons when agricultural work is not available. They are also resiliently preparing themselves for a future when farms will be sold.
  • 4. Introduction Rural-urban agriculture is a continuum. As cities expand, and people from rural areas move to cities, the frontiers between urban, peri-urban and rural activities blur and merge, presenting opportunities to extend beneficial linkages. For an informal settlement labourer in the city, there is little difference between peri-urban agriculture and rural agriculture. Peri-urban agriculture is an industry located on the fringes of a town or city, that is a demonstration of human labour, water, land, and other resources available in the peri-urban setting.
  • 5. Women peri-urban agricultural workers of Indore Indore has been growing on its fringes where erstwhile villages and village land have become peri- urban slums. Agricultural farms near these peri-urban slums attract women peri-urban labourers living near these farms. The state of Madhya Pradesh has a thriving agriculture and horticulture industry. Indore is surrounded by agriculture farms and serves as a commercial hub for distribution and sale of agriculture and horticulture produce. A variety of crops are grown in these farms, including flowers, vegetables, grains, legumes and lentils. Work in peri-urban farms is seasonal in nature, and includes preparing the soil for sowing a new crop, irrigating the fields by means of pumps and tube wells, plucking out weeds, harvesting the final produce, bundling wheat or soybean into bushels, transporting it to a storage space or vehicle, separating the chaff from the wheat. The photo essay explores narratives of women peri-urban agricultural workers, their challenges with respect to its seasonal nature, how they adapt to this uncertain form of livelihood and how they maximise its potential.
  • 6. Vignette # 1: Kashi Damke Working in the fields and selling vegetables simultaneously – Kashi Damke Kashi, (age 45) has been working in the farms near her settlement for over 15 years. Since she stays close to the farms, she is called whenever there is need of labour for tilling and overturning the soil, sorting and plucking out weeds, harvesting and related work. “Since childhood, I have been doing agriculture work. This is where my skills lie.” On days when there is no agricultural work (such as winter months prior to harvesting), she plucks vegetables from the farms and sells them on foot in nearby settlements to supplement the family income. “I mostly pluck vegetables from the farm. The farmer knows me for 15 years. He is aware that I need to sell vegetables when farm work is not available. In the COVID-19 lockdown when no work was available, I sold vegetables in the lanes in my neighborhood and could sustain on those earnings. We also used the vegetables for our meals.”
  • 7. There are several benefits of pursuing farm work for Kashi. One of them also includes access to grains at harvest time at a lower price than that of the market. Although she has a government food subsidy card enabling her to access subsidised grains, availing grains from farms helps her get good quality wheat and maintain reserves for uncertain times. “While cleaning wheat after harvesting, a lot of grains are lying on the field. I collect them, clean and then store them at home.” Kashi finds farm work easier to manage and self-paced. “Unlike factories, the farm owner is not on my head all the time. I manage work as per my pace. When I find myself tired especially in summers, I take rest under the shade of a nearby tree.” However, Kashi expresses uncertainty regarding the future of her livelihood. “In a year or two, these farms will be sold to builders to construct residential and commercial complexes. Farm work will be not available then. I will then procure vegetables from mandi [wholesale market] and sell.” Through her years of work, Kashi has been able to construct a two-storeyed house with an elevated plinth, walls and roof of permanent material, toilet, kitchen. Her husband and son, both of whom are construction workers, contributed labour and savings.
  • 8. Kashi plucking brinjals from the field. Photo: UHRC
  • 9. Vignette # 2: Premlata Lodhi Plucking flowers for flower merchants and pursuing other farm work seasonally – Premlata Premlata (age 46) has spent a large part of her life doing different forms of farm labour. She works every morning in the agricultural field nearby and plucks flowers. These flowers are supplied by the agricultural field owners to flower markets where they are sold as garlands, flowers, petals, used for decoration during weddings, festivals and as prayer offerings in temples. Premlata says: “This work is mostly at its peak around festivals and the wedding season. In other seasons, when flowers are not blooming or not in demand, I look around for work in other farms.” Over the years, she has been able to build rapport with other farmers in her area who provide her with work such as tilling the soil, sowing of crops and cutting wheat during the harvest season. However, circumstances became challenging during COVID-19 pandemic. “During the lockdown, all work was shut. Us labourers belong to the category who earn and eat daily. Restrictions in lockdown also prevented us from reaching our native village. We lost our share of wheat, which we usually get from the village every year.” Owing to not having a food subsidy card, Premlata’s family could not access subsidised food grains. “My husband and I went to the nearby field and sorted and picked some grains lying on the ground. That is how we managed the crisis.”
  • 10. Like Kashi, Premlata expresses her uncertainty of farm work declining in the coming years. “These farms will be sold to build commercial establishments or residential colonies. I will have to find work in a nearby factory such as packaging work as one needs to do something to sustain oneself.” Despite these struggles, Premlata’s family has been steadily building their house. She is supporting her daughter pursue university education. Premlata plucking flowers from the field. Photo: UHRC
  • 11. Vignette # 3: Ramila Dharviya Working as an agricultural labourer and stitching shirts at home on a per piece basis - Ramila Dharviya Ramila (age 39) is a farm worker, engaged in preparing the soil, sowing, plucking grass/weeds and vegetables from the field. Her secondary source of income is from stitching shirts at home. She sometimes earns 100 INR for one shirt, while sometimes the remuneration per stitched shirt climbs to 150 INR depending on the intricacy entailed. “I come home for lunch break from the field. Whatever little window of time I can find, I stitch shirts. I subsequently finish the rest of the task at night. During the days when farm work is not available, I pursue stitching which helps me get sustained income.” The lockdown was a challenging time for the family. Ramila could not go to work. Their children were unable to continue online studies at home owing to limited access to smart phone and internet service. The family was unable to access subsidised food since they did to not have a food subsidy card. They had to buy food at inflated urban prices after borrowing money from acquaintances. The farm owner helped them by lending vegetables from the farm “During the lockdown we could get vegetables from my farm which helped us tide through the pandemic. The farm had a rich produce of vegetables that year.” Even though stitching work resumed after lockdown, it took her many months to attain her pre-COVID earning from stitching, owing to reduced demand for ready-made garments.
  • 12. Ramila aspires to educate her children as much as they want to study and hopes to see them self- reliant and successful. She also wants to buy a small plot of land so that the family can live in their own house. She mentions with pride that her younger son has recently secured admission in a government school on merit-based scholarship owing to excellence in studies. Ramila clearing weeds in the farm. Photo: UHRC
  • 13. Vignette # 4: Amruta Pawar Working in farms seasonally while simultaneously working in a chips factory – Amruta Pawar Amruta (age 42) cuts wheat, chickpeas and soyabean at the farms. She also cuts grass and separates the chaff from the wheat. The chaff is used for animal fodder. She has been working there for 20 years. During the months when agricultural work is not available, she works in a factory manufacturing potato chips located near the farm. Amruta says “Nowadays, a lot of agriculture work can be carried out through machines such as harvesting. So, less farm work is available to us labourers. That is the reason I work in the chips factory also.” During the lockdown, 2020, she worked in the fields. At that time, she plucked out cilantro from the fields. The wheat had already been harvested by a machine so there was no work. To cope with depleted purchasing power, they requested the farm owner for vegetables, which they cooked to eat with roti (Indian bread). Amruta says: “We could get vegetables free of cost from farms such as onions, potatoes and garlic which we could cook during the lockdown. We also sometimes got grains from nearby farms.”
  • 14. Through years of working, Amruta has managed to construct a pucca house with the savings. In her words: “ We have seen both good times and difficult times. Many times, there was not a single penny at hand, and everyone at home was troubled. But I used to work no matter how hard the situation was.” Amruta tilling the farm to prepare the soil for sowing. Photo: UHRC
  • 15. What do these stories tell us? • This photo essay presents case narratives of women who represent the last remaining link from their native rural villages in terms of livelihoods. • As the city expands and annexes these peri-urban farms to pave way for further urbanisation, these livelihoods face uncertainty. • Peri-urban agricultural workers also represent the capability of adapting to an ever-changing and dynamic peri-urban ecosystem which they are part of. • Their adaptability as well as their strategy of linkage with more than one employer offering different forms of work at different times of the year, are a key facet of their resilience which is worthy of recognition. • These core essence of adaptability and resilience should be adapted to different contexts and promoted among urban vulnerable women workers as appropriate to their settings.