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Pathways from Agriculture to Nutrition in India: The Role of Women’s Time Trade-Offs and Empowerment

By Vidya Vemireddy, Cornell University, 2019

Agriculture plays a key role in improving nutrition as a significant proportion of the malnourished population lives in rural areas and depends on smallholder agriculture for their sustenance. About 30 percent of the labor force in agriculture in India are women, and they contribute about 32 percent of their time to agricultural activities. Two essential pathways linking agriculture and nutrition are – women’s time use and empowerment. However, we know very little about changes in women’s time trade-offs and empowerment due to their engagement in agrarian activities over time and their associations with nutritional outcomes. This dissertation analyzes both these pathways in a systematic and detailed manner. For this research, we collected primary data from 960 households across 24 villages and three blocks of Chandrapur district in Maharashtra, India. Household composition, agricultural input use, sale of crops, diet diversity, anthropometry and women’s empowerment data were first collected in the household survey. The same women were followed through in ten rounds to collect time use and diet data across all agricultural seasons. 502 locally consumed recipes were standardized to obtain precise, contextualized nutrient and cooking time measures. Firstly, we study the patterns of women’s time across agricultural seasons and the trade-offs in their time spent on agriculture and nutrition-related activities such as food preparation, domestic work, etc. Following that we analyze the relationship between women’s time trade-offs and their nutrient intakes – calories, proteins, fats, iron, zinc and vitamin A across seasons. We find that during peak agricultural seasons, work in agriculture translates to increased time constraints and reduction in time spent on cooking, domestic work, and sleep. Furthermore, these trade-offs are associated with lower intake of nutrients such as calories, proteins, iron, and zinc. Secondly, we analyze the changes in women’s empowerment over time and the association with nutritional outcomes. We use an adapted version of the Women’s empowerment in agricultural Index (WEAI) to measure empowerment, and our results indicate that – an increase in women’s empowerment is associated with an increase in consumption of more micronutrient-rich fruits and vegetables. Specifically, input in decision making and ownership of assets are the main drivers of higher consumption of fruits and vegetables.