Village Square Stories and Ideas to Transform Rural India. Wed, 03 Mar 2021 05:50:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Water-starved villagers harvest rainwater in multiple tanks Wed, 03 Mar 2021 07:00:09 +0000

In Kedarnath town in Uttarakhand, in the year 2013, due to landslides and sudden severe flood in Mandakini River caused by a cloud burst, hundreds of people were killed or went missing. In addition, properties were heavily damaged.

On February 7 this year, a glacier broke in Rishi Ganga near Tapovan in the Garhwal region, causing severe flooding, damage to the power generating plant and considerable loss of life and property. If such a landslide occurred in the area of ​​large dams, the country would have to face terrible consequences.

Water crisis

Large dams supply water neither for irrigation nor for drinking purposes to the local public. Conversely, they pose a serious threat to naturally sensitive mountainous areas. Due to the large amount of water pooling in large dams, the mountains are subjected to extreme pressure.

Apart from this, heavy machinery and explosives are used in their construction, which also shake the foundations of the mountains. This increases the chances of landslides, earthquakes etc. in the mountains. Since the flow of rivers has to be stopped to fill large dams, the natural underground aquifer is also disturbed.

Despite the abundant availability of water in innumerable rivers in the mountainous region of Uttarakhand, the common people here have not been able to utilize that water since ages. The reason is that being a hilly region, the fields are situated at a height. Although in the past water was used to irrigate fields by canal system in many places, it proved insufficient and farming came almost to a standstill.

The availability of water is good in the mountains for three to four months after the rainy season. But in summer, while the moisture of the land starts to wane, the availability of water in the natural streams also decreases. Before the monsoon, from March to July, the mountainous regions of Uttarakhand have a severe water problem.

Global warming or anthropogenic reasons, natural waters have come under threat. Statistics show that many natural water bodies in Uttarakhand have either dried up or are on the verge of drying up. According to a report by Uttarakhand Jal Sansthan, a government entity, 500 water resources of the state are on the verge of drying up.

Government programs

The Uttarakhand government’s water policy aims to harvest rainwater as well as conserve traditional sources. But the policies have not been effective on the ground. Water can be made available to villagers by making small reservoirs / dams or barrages on the hill rivers. The water stored thus can meet the water needs of the hill people but also those on the foothills.

Water reservoirs near the homes store water for family consumption and animal drinking (Photo by Girish Chandra ‘Gopi’)

Government can build small dams. Check-dams can be made in rainwater drains, which increases the soil’s water holding capacity and the rainwater accumulates underground. This will provide a big relief to the villagers struggling with water scarcity.

Past projects indicate that the focus of governments has been entirely on revenue. In the mountains of Uttarakhand, large dams have been built or are being built, from which electricity is produced and sent outside the state as well.

Micro initiative

To ensure water adequacy in the mountains many people and organizations have made constructive efforts at different places. Keeping this problem in mind, a volunteer organization Janamitri Sangathan in Ramgarh and Dhari area of ​​Nainital district has done commendable work in saving water.

The institution built a tank to contain rain water, dug pits in the ground covered them with plastic sheets to store rainwater. The work was done with financial assistance and other support from other organizations. In this way, they have accumulated thousands of liters of water by making thousands of pits so far.

“This has fulfilled the needs of the villagers for drinking water, water for animals and fruit and vegetable cultivation, which has improved the economic condition of these villagers,” said Bachhi Singh Bisht, convenor of Janamitri Sangathan.

Benefits for villagers

Janamitri Sangathan made a total of 314 tanks between 2017 and 2020, out of which 73 were built in Budhibna village of Dhari block of Nainital, 16 in Soupi of Ramgarh block, four in Lod and Galla and two in Nathuvakhan village. The rest have been made at Pata, Dhura, Dutkanadhar, Lodhia of Satbunga panchayat. In the year 2015 and 2016 also 100 tanks were made by Janamitri in Galla and adjoining areas, which are still functioning.

Thus about 50 lakh liters of water was collected from the water tanks made with the help of Janamitri, which was used by the local villagers. In this campaign of water harvesting, residents of dozens of villages have benefited.

“There is a lot of water scarcity in this area. The villagers also have to struggle for drinking water. For house construction etc., one has to pay one and a half rupees per liter and buy water from the tanker. I came to know the usefulness of these tanks during the construction of my house,” said Mahesh Galia, a local farmer.

Villagers collect water by making pits in the field for use in agriculture (Photo by Girish Chandra ‘Gopi’)

Mahesh Galia has three tanks, each with a capacity of about 10,000 liters. Thus he had 30,000 liters of water from these tanks for the construction of the house, which saved him about Rs 45,000. They use water from the tank near the house for household purposes and to feed the animals, while the water in the middle of the fields is used for growing fruits and vegetables.

According to local farmer Hari Nayal, with water stored in a tank, in the first year he produced cucumber worth Rs 30,000. Currently he has four tanks, in which he stores up to 40,000 liters. He uses this water for irrigation of apples, apricots, peaches, pears and vegetables like peas, potatoes, cucumbers, etc.

In this way, produces fruits and vegetables worth about RS 3-4 lakh annually from the stored water. He says that he is not only self-sufficient from his farming, but is also free from the stress of the farming works.

It is true that storing water by digging pits and laying plastic sheets in them is a bit expensive in the beginning for the economically weaker people of the mountain. But if this work is done as community and cooperative effort, then water harvesting will not be a difficult task for the villagers.

Girish Chandra ‘Gopi’ is a writer with Charkha. Views are personal. Email:

This was originally published in Hindi in Charkha Features

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Villagers deify pangolin to protect the animal Mon, 01 Mar 2021 07:00:53 +0000

On February 20, the World Pangolin Day, residents of Dugave village, located about 100 km from Mumbai, worshipped a Pangolin replica placed near Goddess Waghjai, the village deity. They prayed for the survival and safety of pangolins and for wisdom for people so they would not kill the endangered mammal.

“We could not host Khawlotsav festival like last year due to the pandemic restrictions,” said Rajaram Kadam, the priest. “Last year we kept the pangolin replica in a palanquin and carried out a procession around the village. We visited every house so that everyone could pray.”

“Half of the village of 750 participated in the procession when we brought the pangolin replica from the village forest to the temple,” Kadam told “During the program youngsters wrote and sang songs praising the mammal.” 

This year, over 25 villagers including priest Rajaram Kadam offered flowers to the pangolin replica. Once villages around this region were known for hunting and poaching of this endangered animal. But now they have taken an oath to protect the pangolin, and one aspect of the protection is placing the pangolin in their altar.

Pangolin hunting

For many decades, people used to hunt pangolin in the Konkan region of Maharashtra for its meat and the lucrative scales that were sold to smugglers. The area comprises of 162 villages in Chiplun administrative block in Ratnagiri district and has a population of about 1.5 lakh people.

As part of the pangolin festival, villagers carried a replica of the animal, recognizing its importance in the ecosystem (Photo by Bhau Katdare)

The pangolin is listed as an endangered mammal under India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and is also classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. The Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) are found in India. It is among the most trafficked mammals in Asia as pangolin scales are in high demand in China and Vietnam.

In 2016, wildlife protection officials seized 44 kg of hunted pangolins in raids across the region. This seizure proved to be a catalyst in pangolin conservation in the region. Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (Sahyadri Natures’ Friend), a local conservation organization, began a campaign to protect the animal.

“We initially patrolled at night, to identify areas where we could find pangolins. We must have done patrolling for over 500 nights,” said Bhau Katdare, founder of Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra (SNM). “But pangolins cannot be spotted with naked eyes.”

So the SNM team installed 40 camera traps across these 162 villages and forests nearby. “We have footage of 1,500 days till now,” Bhau Katdare told “With the camera traps we spotted over 125 pangolins, confirming their existence in the area.”

Increased awareness

The SNM team visited 162 villages in Chiplun administrative block where hunting of pangolins was common. They conducted over 20 meetings for residents staying at various hamlets of Dugave village, where the team was already working.

“We told them about the importance of pangolins, and how they are helpful to their agriculture and environment by eating insect pests and tending the soil,” Katdare told “To highlight their status as an endangered animal, and spread the message of saving pangolins across the Konkan region, we started the Khawlotsav.”

Before the lockdown, the pangolin festival included a procession carrying the pangolin replica and villagers performing traditional dances (Photo by Bhau Katdare)

“We see pangolins in the forest near our village,” Mahindra Kadam, one of the villagers, told “Hunters would kill them. We were not aware of the animals’ importance till Sahyadri Nisarga Mitra activists told us.”  

Many villagers also said that they had heard about poachers killing pangolins but were not aware that it was happening in their villages. “Since we know about the importance of the endangered mammal now, we took an oath to protect them,” said Mahindra Kadam.

“Everyone understands the importance of pangolins after the awareness programs. Now we question people who move suspiciously in the forest,” Chandrakant Tandkar, deputy village head of Dugave, told “Villagers now know that they should not hunt pangolins and should report if they spot any hunters in the village forest.”

Persisting problem

Even though the villagers of Konkan region have become pangolin protectors, illegal poaching and trade of pangolins still thrive; despite severe punishments of up to five years in jail for hunting the animal. Officials have been trying to crack down illegal wildlife networks.

Last month, Indian forest officials seized three live pangolins during a raid in the Nanded region. Nearly 6,000 pangolins were seized from illegal trade between 2009 and 2017 as per factsheet of TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, published in 2020.

However, the estimated total of 5,772 seized animals is likely to be an under-estimate, as per the report. The officials of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), did not respond to questions on the number of pangolins killed or cases filed every year.

Behavioral study

Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) helped SNM with camera traps and also technical guidance. Anish Andheria, president of WCT, Mumbai, said, “Many organizations work towards conserving pangolins by creating awareness. But we are studying their behavior.”

Despite villagers’ pledge to protect pangolins, forest officials find poaching continuing in the region (Photo by Bhau Katdare)

According to Andheria there is rampant poaching of pangolins but the animals survive due to their behavioral trait. Pangolins, weighing 8-12 kg generally, are nocturnal, mostly stay in their burrows in the jungle and come out only for food. Their time outside the burrow depends on season and availability of food, which is ants and not termite, as general believed.

“Along with the forest department of Madhya Pradesh, we radio tagged three pangolins in September 2019 in Satpuda and Pench Tiger reserves,” Andheria told “And we have been studying their behavioral pattern in order to develop strategies to protect them.”

Varsha Torgalkar is a Pune-based journalist. Views are personal. Email:

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Centenarian pioneer woman farmer honored with Padma Shri Fri, 26 Feb 2021 07:00:00 +0000

On January 26, media people descended on the idyllic village Thekkampatti located in the western periphery of Coimbatore district. They had come to interview 105-year-old Pappammal, Thekkampatti’s well-known woman farmer.

Pappammal was one of the recipients of Padma Shri, the civilian award, that the government had announced. A few hours before the media came, she had been at her farm, watering her banana crops. When her 50-year-old grandson R Balu told her about the award and the media’s presence, she expressed disbelief initially.

When she met the media to respond to their questions, her clear voice and erect posture defied her age. But for the deep wrinkles that ran down her cheeks and forehead, it was hard to guess she was a centenarian born in 1916.

The government honored her with the Padma Shri for being a role model woman farmer and her remarkable contribution in promoting women in agriculture.  She was particularly noted for her social engineering skills – organizing women in agricultural extension programs and for being an ardent organic farmer while also adapting modern technologies and introducing new farm practices.

Early years

Pappammal’s memory seemed blurred while recollecting her early years. “We hardly had time to relax or play. We girls had to work in all stages – from tilling, sowing, irrigating, harvesting and post-harvest work such as chaffing, milling and so on.”

“With marriage, responsibilities doubled, having to do chores at home and work in the farm,” Pappammal told  “But this was the way of life women had to endure. We had no choice. We rarely ate good food. Rice was cooked only during festivities.”

Her active participation in KVK even during the pandemic is proof of Pappammal’s dedication to farming (Photo courtesy KVK, Vivekananadapuram, Coimbatore)

Her memories however are clear from late 1950s onwards when her life course took a big turn. “I got my sister married to my husband as I had no children,” she said.  She started life anew in Thekampatti with her grandmother, as her parents had died when she was very young. 

Man’s world

From starting a tea shop in Thekkampatti, upgrading it to a grocery shop and buying 2.5 acres of land, Pappammal had a steady growth. Though the perennial Bhavani River that flows down from the Nilgiris mountains runs about 2 km from her farm, she had no means to irrigate her farm.

So she grew rain-fed crops like millets, pulses and grams during the North East monsoon. In the last ten years she has been cultivating banana under micro-irrigation besides the traditional raid fed crops.

Back then women in agriculture were unheard of. Even now official statistics do not properly represent women’s actual share in agricultural work and the economy. According to an Oxfam report of 2013, around 80% of farm work is undertaken by women in India. But they own only 13% of the land.

About 60-80% of food is produced by rural women. Yet they are not recognized as farmers and in the patriarchal social set-up they do not get a share in family or husband’s lands. Women without land title are denied of institutional supports of the bank, insurance, cooperatives, and government schemes.

From the fact that Pappammal had to start a shop and work her way to own land points to the fact that she could neither inherit family land nor get a share from her husband’s lands. Yet Pappammal broke away from the stereotypical rural woman who resigns herself to fate.

Subsequently she was able to buy 7.5 acres more land. “She gave away the 7.5 acres of land to her elder sister’s four daughters, whom she had adopted and educated,” Kamala (68), one the adopted daughters, who is a retired teacher and helps out in the farm, told

Public life

“This was the time I became a member of a political party and won the local body election as a panchayat ward member in 1962 and later became the vice chairman of the panchayat,” she said.

At the age of 92, Pappammal demonstrated her skill in operating modern farm machinery after undergoing training (Photo courtesy KVK, Vivekananadapuram, Coimbatore)

From 1983, Pappammal’s public life took another major dimensional change that led her to become a lead farmer and an icon of, ‘“women in farming’ after she joined the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in Coimbatore District run under the aegis of Avinashilingam Institute of Home Science for Women.

KVK is involved in training and on-field testing of research and facilitating scaling. KVK is also involved in identifying location-specific technology and crop pattern depending on the suitability of local farmers in terms of financial affordability.

Farm scientist

“She took basic training and became an instant leader in the local management committee (LMC) of KVK. With her inherent organizing skills, she started to mobilize other women in the farm extension activities,” said Kumaravadivel, senior scientist and the district in-charge of KVK.

The LMC eventually became a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) and Pappammal became a member. For one who admits not to have never stepped into a school, becoming a SAC member built her capacity as a practical farm scientist and elevated her interact with experts.

As a key member of the extension center of Avinashilingam Institute of Home Science for Women, and as a member of various committees in the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore she played an important role in several lab-to-farm technologies. She became an early adopter and promoter of new initiatives among fellow women farmers.

Model farm

“Her farm in Thekkampatti emerged as a model farm for the students of home science and agriculture and she played host to students during their village stay programs,” Kumaravadivel told” She also organized the first self-help group of women farmers in her village under KVK.”

“Her leadership stood out when it came to collective initiatives. In 2007 she made the village granary scheme a success by ensuring participation of other farmers. In 2008, at the age 92, she demonstrated her skill in operating modern farm machinery after undergoing training,” he said.

When former central minister V C Shukla visited Coimbatore about eight years ago, he heard about Pappammal and visited her farm. He spent more than an hour asking about her work. Once she played host to 80 farmers from Punjab treating them food cooked with her farm grown items.

“Professors of TNAU were more like brothers to me and I had association with 13 vice chancellors. They never missed a single occasion to invite me, be it farm training workshops, exposure tours or the annual farmers’ day celebration in the university,” said Pappammal. On all these occasions she ensured the participation of other women farmers.

Sustainable farming

“I had my own fear and dislike for chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides. When chemical inputs were introduced in the country, I continued to follow the natural way that I’d learnt in my father’s farm,” said Pappamma, about her involvement in organic farming. “I did not follow any particular school of organic farming or was not trained by any expert.”

The doyen farmer is an advocate of greater participation of women in decision making at farm and the household (Photo courtesy KVK, Vivekananadapuram, Coimbatore)

About the secret of her health and activity at the advanced age, her grandson Balu said she eats steaming hot food served only on banana leaf. “Five years ago when she visited Delhi representing women farmers in Coimbatore, she took banana leaves with her and used it in the plane and also during the lunch time at conference,” said Balu.

“At the conference she spoke about the health benefits of eating on a banana leaf and how environmentally friendly it was as it decomposes easily,” Geetha Nagalakshmi, a resident of Thekkampatti who considers Pappammal her mentor and accompanied her on the Delhi trip,” told

“In any given area there should be one or more farmer collectives, which gives benefit of scale and bargain for the produce,” said Pappammal. “Otherwise it is difficult for organic farming to succeed as individual farmers will find it difficult to command a good price.”

The centenarian is currently busy attending functions arranged to felicitate her for the Padma Shri award. “Women should take part in decisions at the farm, household and in the social institutions only then the whole community will benefit,” she tells in all the meetings.

George Rajasekaran is a journalist based at Salem, Tamil Nadu. Views are personal. Email:

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Villagers dig well during lockdown to solve water problem Wed, 24 Feb 2021 07:00:44 +0000

“Water has been such a big problem for us. I’ve had to walk for hours in the morning, most of the time with my children, to get to the nearest source,” said Geeta Devi of Tindori village in Phalasiya panchayat of Udaipur district. “During summers the problem became even more severe, as the streams dry up and water levels drop.”

For decades women like Geeta Devi, and children of Tindori, a tribal hamlet in southern Rajasthan, took the same long, laborious journey, walking barefoot for over 2 km to fetch water for their household use. Monsoon season offered some relief, creating small natural rivers; but these were only temporary sources of water. The streams eventually dried off.

However, last year, another obstacle placed itself between the much-needed water and those who fetched water. COVID-19 and the lockdown. With restrictions preventing movement around the country, the villagers realized how crucial it was to have their own source of water closer home. The lockdown brought the villagers together in building a closer water source.

Lack of reliable water source

Located near Gujarat border in the dense forests of Jhadol, at about 70 km from Udaipur, Tindori is a remote village. 35 families – most of them Kathodi tribes – inhabit the village, spread across a vast mountainous region. Cut off from the main roads and far from the nearest town, many villagers either migrate to nearby cities for work or sell forest produce for survival.

Approximately 80% of the families in Tindori practice subsistence agriculture to support themselves, usually selling the remaining produce at local markets. However, because the area suffers from water scarcity and regular droughts, the land is very dry, with little irrigation.

The villagers depended on a well located about 2 km from their settlement. They also took water from temporary sources such as small rivulets and khadds or gullies that came alive during monsoon seasons.

Contamination-prone wells

The old and dilapidated wells were often a hotbed for waterborne diseases. There have been incidences of animals and even people, falling into the wells. Often, during monsoon, dead animals, mud, and feces are washed into the well.

The filth that got washed into the well contaminated the water, resulting in ill-health. Unable to fund proper medical care, people’s ability to work got reduced greatly. “Incessant stomach pain and vomiting are very common here among women and children,” said Kailash Ram, one of the villagers. “They suffer from these issues on and off.”

Lockdown work

The villagers have always had water problems. But the lockdown saw increased demand for water from households. This prompted Bita Ramji, the village head, to seek support through an agriculture paraworker of Seva Mandir, a development organization.

Seva Mandir had started engaging with the villagers in March 2019 as part of a sustainable livelihood project. During meetings with villagers, the organization’s team mooted the idea of collective action, and helped them form the village institution, a collective of households and members from the village.

Members of the village institution started discussing ways in which they could best utilize their time and gather resources to create a water source in the village. They decided to carry out the work during the lockdown.

The villagers knew that by digging a well and building a protective wall, the current dangers could be removed, greatly reducing the chance of waterborne diseases and therefore reducing medical expenses. The work would also keep the villagers engaged during the lockdown.

A new well

The older members of the community suggested a site for the new well based on their traditional knowledge of availability of water. The new site is close to the gullies that fill up during the monsoon, thus ensuring that the water is available for a longer period.

The plan involved every adult member from all families coming together to design and dig the well before the monsoon season started. In June a total of 50 men and women got together and started digging a community well in the hamlet. Each family contributed funds for materials, in addition tos labor.

It was very much a collaborative process with younger members of the community, who already knew construction, also piching in. It was difficult to remove the dug earth out from the site without any mechanical support.

However, with the help of the elders, the community utilized their traditional knowledge and built a makeshift manual winch with bamboo and rope, a method traditionnaly used in the area years ago.

It took the community nearly four months to complete digging the well of 35 feet depth. The youth brought stones that were available in the ravines, to create a stone boundary wall around the new well. The hard work of the community resulted in a fully functional well in four months.

Positive outcome

With the community members coming together and taking matters into their own hands, they have already seen an enormous difference in themselves and their livelihoods, as well as opening further agricultural opportunities for the farmers in the village.

Due to low rainfall in the area and lack of water conservation structures, almost all the families faced difficulty in irrigating their farms. Hence they have been practicing rain-fed cultivation only for three months, growing a single crop per year.

Though collecting and selling forest produce including mahua, gond and tendu remain a major source of livelihood, with the availability of water, farmers have started experimenting growing soy bean, black gram and pigeon pea.

“We never thought COVID-19 would help us solve such a huge problem,” said Sarla, one of the villagers. “Now I do not have to walk far.” The new well has saved women the time they spent on fetching water. They have started becoming members of self-help groups. The idea of collective savings and group support towards a better future are already evident.  

M S Rawat is a development professional with 34 years of experience, working in Seva Mandir in child rights, government schemes and development communication. Anu Mishra is communication and training coordinator at Seva Mandir. Views are personal. Email:

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Women get trained for employment and starting enterprises Mon, 22 Feb 2021 07:00:06 +0000

Roji Begum’s dream of earning money for her family has come true. A resident of Korat Bangaon village in Bihar’s Kishanganj district, Begum completed a six-month course in healthcare from Himachal Pradesh. She now works at Amrit Dhara Hospital in Karnal district of Haryana at a monthly salary of about Rs 10,000. Her job involves looking after patients and assisting the nurse on duty.

But life was not always smooth for 20-year-old Begum. In 2018, Begum flunked in the matriculation exam after which she stopped going to school. She could not pursue any vocational training due to her family’s economic condition.

When she learnt about the Second Chance program where girls could take up short courses at the Himalayan Group of Professional Institutions in Sirmaur district of Himachal, she went to Himachal. Despite a brief disruption due to the lockdown, her course got over in December 2020 and she has a job. For many young women like her, the program has been a turning point.

Livelihood opportunities

The Second Chance program is giving marginalized rural women another opportunity in life, be it pursuing short-term education after a break or earning through various initiatives like farming, tailoring and setting up small shops.

It is an initiative of UN Women and Professional Assistance for Development Action (PRADAN), a development organization, being implemented in three administrative blocks of Kishanganj. Amit Kumar Thakur of PRADAN said that the initiative started in August 2019 is aimed at providing women the right kind of platform to become independent in life.

Women like Lalita Devi, who were homebound earlier, have successfully taken up farming (Photo courtesy PRADAN)

The program is benefitting women who are economically weak. Shabnam Ara of Maltola village is one of the women who has benefitted from the program. With a six-member family to look after, Ara’s father, a farmer, found it difficult to support her studies, when the program came to their aid.

Apart from the training course in Himachal Pradesh, the Second Chance program has enterprises targeted at women in the age of 30 and above, who are mostly homebound after marriage. It gives them a chance to explore livelihood options and earn a reasonable amount of money. Women can learn farming, goat rearing or set up small businesses.

Initial reluctance

“My mother was keen that I should join the course. But my brother and father were not ready to send me so far. They relented after a lot of persuasion,” said Begum. “I took the course seriously and the five girls with whom I shared my hostel room in Himachal were very supportive.”

“Initially it was a huge challenge explaining the girls and their family members about the course in Himachal and motivating them to pursue it,” Thakur told He said that most girls in the district drop out of education after the age of 16.

To inspire such girls, Renuka Kumari of PRADAN, who is also a local resident, acts as the mobilizer on the ground level and explains about the course in detail. She also meets the girls’ family members and urges them to send the girls to Himachal for the program.

Many young girls like Masuda Parveen have been able to take up jobs in healthcare sector after a short training (Photo courtesy PRADAN)

Besides Begum, nine other girls from Kishanganj are pursuing the same course in Himachal. Masuda Parveen was idle after completing her education from a madrasa, as she could not afford to go to college. “My mother was reluctant initially, but my family finally accepted that I could work outside my home state Bihar and earn well.”

Homemakers turn farmers

Many women have taken up cultivation through this initiative. “After learning everything related to farming, I teach other women keen to learn the ropes of cultivation,” said Lalita Devi of Chapati village. “I wish this initiative had been started earlier. None of us had any idea on how to improve our lives.”

“I learnt everything from maintaining a nursery to sowing seeds and growing my own vegetables. The first time I just grew brinjals on a small portion of my land,” Lalita Devi told “I now earn about Rs 4000 a month, by selling my produce. I even buy food items for my family.”

She has about 60 decimals of land in which she grows vegetables like tomatoes and brinjals. “Though the land is in my husband’s name, I am cultivating on it,” said Lalita Devi. “Earlier, I just used to sit at home and do household chores. My husband works in a tea estate nearby.”

Devi’s land is adjacent to her house. She finishes her domestic work, sees her husband off and then tends to her farm. “The vegetables I grow are for home as well as for sale,” she said. “Many women have taken up farming and their life has changed.”

The program has enabled women like Rita Devi set up small shops and tailoring units (Photo courtesy PRADAN)

“There are two weekly markets and we all earn somewhere between Rs 300 and 400 per day,” said Lalita Devi. Another villager Anita Devi is also doing cultivation, and her husband, who has a wheat flour mill, sells her produce in the market.

Livelihood initiatives

Besides farming, the program helps rural women in Kishanganj earn a living through other enterprises. Landless women like Basanti Devi of Chapati village rear goats. Here, as goats are small in size, they animals are not used for milk but sold when fully grown.

Rita Devi has a tailoring shop in the local marketand also stockscosmeticsand accessories like bangles and bindi. She started her shop about a year ago. “I used to be at home but now I come to the shop which is about a km away. I shifted to the market for ready customers. There are three women who have such shops. I set up my shop as I do not own any land and so cannot take up farming.”

Earlier, using her sewing machine she used to stitch clothes at home. “My husband works in a tea garden and I have two children,” she told “Despite my responsibilities at home, I am at my shop from 1 pm to 7 pm every day. I earn about Rs 500-1000 per day.”

Deepanwita Gita Niyogi is a Delhi-based journalist. Views are personal. Email:

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Piplantri plants 111 trees for birth of every girl child Sat, 20 Feb 2021 07:00:12 +0000

“Which one is more gratifying and exciting, news of being named for prestigious Padma Shri award or sitting on the hot seat in front of film star Amitabh Bachchan during the Kaun banega crorepati program?” That was our first question to Shyam Sundar Paliwal, former chief of Piplantri village in Rajsamand district of Rajasthan and a known crusader of eco feminism in the country.

“Neither,” said Paliwal. “Betiyan and upvan (daughters and gardens).” Though it was an unexpected response, one can easily appreciate his terse yet honest answer when one visits Piplantri and sees his untiring and the dedicated struggle for the upliftment of girl children and development of the natural environment for more than a decade.

The village, which traditionally considered the birth of a girl child as a curse, today not only welcomes girls but celebrates their birth. The village, situated in an arid zone of the country, has today lush-green surroundings full of trees of different species and ages.

Groundwater table which was once more than 330 feet deep has now risen and is now only 40 feet low. The village is like a green island surrounded by dry and barren landscapes. Piplantri, once a nondescript village in Rajasthan, is now a well-known model village which has won national and international accolades.

The beginning

In the year 2005 when Paliwal was elected as the sarpanch (head) of the Piplantri village council, the entire area had been experiencing drought for seven consecutive years. Water was transported through rail and was distributed in villages by tankers.

Mining and dumping of mining wastes in surrounding areas were adding to environmental woes. Determined to bring desirable changes to the village, Paliwal took initiatives. He initiated construction of earthen check dams, anicut, and other water harvesting structures for the storage of rainwater.

Loss of his daughter prompted Paliwal, then village head of Piplantri, to plant trees for girl children (Photo courtesy Shyam Sundar Paliwal)

Unfortunately, in 2006, Paliwal’s 14-year-old daughter died of dehydration. The family members and the villagers had tears in their eyes when Paliwal, after performing the last  rites and rituals, planted a sapling in the memory of his daughter in the village pastureland.

Trees for girls

“When I saw the teary eyes of all the fellow villagers, I thought, if planting a sapling in memory of my daughter can arouse such emotions and bring all the villagers together, why not start planting trees after the birth of every girl child in the village,” recalled Paliwal.

He discussed the idea with his family and the village council. Everyone agreed to the idea. It was decided to plant three saplings – each in the name of the new-born, mother, and father – after the birth of every girl child. Later, it became 111 (1+1+1), representing the coming together of three major stakeholders and also an auspicious number.

A few villagers opposed the idea of 111 trees for every girl child, fearing that they might have to forego the part of the pastureland which they had illegally encroached. However, the goodwill which Paliwal and his village council had earned stood them in good stead, and all the villagers accepted the proposal.

Celebrating trees

The practice of planting 111 trees to celebrate the arrival of a girl child continued. Additionally, Paliwal introduced a system of collecting Rs 21,000 from the community and Rs 10,000 from the parents and depositing the collected amount as an investment in a local bank or post office. The amount could be withdrawn only when the girl turned 18.

Parents too promise to maintain planted trees and to educate their daughter. The girls grow treating the trees planted on their birth as their siblings. Every year, two days before rakshabandhan – the festival where girls honor brothers – girls tie raksha-sutra or rakhi  to the trees and vow to protect them.

The day is celebrated as an environmental festival and parents take a pledge not to marry their daughters before they attain the legal marriage age of 18 years. “Now every year we run a plantation drive in July and August when parents of girl children (born in the last one year) take initiative and plant saplings (111 saplings per child) in the name of their respective daughters.

Understanding the significance of trees, every year girls celebrate by tying rakhi for their tree brothers (Photo courtesy Shyam Sundar Paliwal)

“It helps both in planning and organizing plantation and also in minimizing the mortality of saplings,” said Paliwal. The species of the trees and plantation sites are decided in advance. Piplantri has now its own nursery which has reduced its dependence on the market for the saplings.

The impact

Villagers have already planted about 4 lakh saplings of various species including neem, sheesham, mango, Indian gooseberry, banyan, peepal, arjun and bamboo in the last 15 years and many of those are now well-grown trees.

To save the trees from termite infestation, villagers planted aloe vera plants around them. Now these trees and the aloe vera are the sources of livelihood for many villagers.

Fateh Singh, a farmer in his 50s, recounted the changes. “Now we have wider, well-lit roads. There is more greenery everywhere and the environment in and around the village has improved,” he said. “There is no scarcity of water. Villagers, who were not able to take even a single crop in a year, are now growing two crops.”

Kanchan Joshi, mother of 14-year-old girl Tanisha, still remembers the day when she and her husband planted saplings after Tanisha was born. “I envy my daughter as I don’t have tree-brothers like her,” said Joshi.

Villagers frequently visit plantation areas, locally called upvan (garden). However, for Gita, Nikita, Kamla and Komal, all students of class IX, the area where their tree-brothers are growing is the place for peace and tranquility. “All four of us come here regularly. We are emotionally connected to this area,” said Nikita while showing some of the trees her parents had planted.

The social justice ensured through various initiatives has earned Piplantri the ideal gram panchayat recognition (Photo courtesy Shyam Sundar Paliwal)

Kiran Nidhi Sansthan, a development organization that Paliwal started in memory of his daughter, works towards environment protection and restoration. It also ensures social justice by reducing gender inequality, and the management of pasture and common land. The organization provides opportunities to local youths to learn and contribute towards social development, livelihood opportunities to women such as sanitary pad manufacturing that ensures their personal hygiene.

The recognition

Piplantri has been recognized as an ideal gram panchayat by the Government of India. People from across the globe visit Piplantri to learn the Piplantri model of development. Besides sharing screen space with actor Amitabh Bachchan on the TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati, Paliwal has won many awards and laurels for his exemplary accomplishments.

The most prestigious and recent among them is Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian awards, that the government declared on 26 January, 2021. “These awards boost confidence and are inspirational for me. Further, the recognitions which Piplantri has got have encouraged many boys and girls of the village to join and support our initiatives,” said Paliwal.

Paliwal aspires to make Piplantri self-sustainable and chemical-free, to introduce improved breeds of livestock, and to plant more fruit trees around his village. He believes that saving girl children, trees, and common lands of the villages should be the objectives of all village leaders. “if a leader works with full honesty and proves one’s worth, villagers will come forward to bolster their leader,” he said.

Niraj Kumar is a professor at the School of Rural Management, Xavier University, Bhubaneswar. He can be contacted at Piyush Tendulkar ( is a project executive and Prasanna Khemariya ( is the chief executive officer at Self-Reliant Initiatives through Joint Action (SRIJAN). Views are personal.

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Paddy farmers reap rich harvest through SRI cultivation Wed, 17 Feb 2021 07:00:54 +0000

Modhupur is a remote village located near the foothills of Eastern Himalayas in Baksa district of Assam. The villagers belong mostly to the Adivasi community, who migrated during the British rule and were engaged as tea garden workers.

Over a period of time they settled around the tea estates and integrated well with the local people. Eventually, they moved beyond the tea estate work, and opted for different livelihoods ranging from reputed government jobs to daily wage labor.

Considerable number of villagers have migrated to metropolitan cities and nearby places as factory workers, guards and skilled labor. However, a majority of the villagers are into agriculture for livelihood. Most of them are marginal farmers.

They cultivate paddy and seasonal vegetables for their own consumption and sell the surplus. Their cultivation is highly dependent on monsoon and dongs – which are canals used for irrigation during dry seasons with water diverted from rivers flowing across the villages.

These rivers run dry for more than five months (November-March) as do the dongs, resulting in poor Rabi cultivation that takes place between November and April. Hence villagers grow paddy the traditional way only during the monsoon season. Switching to SRI method has helped them double their yields.

Traditional cultivation

Modhupur residents have been following the traditional method for cultivation of crops. They use oxen for ploughing and cow dung for fertilizer. They do not use pesticides or any pest control mechanism in their field, as the few infestations of stem borers and Gundhi bugs that did happen did not cause major harm to their crops.

With training and inputs, farmers of Modhupur adopted SRI paddy cultivation (Photo by Barhunkha Mushahary)

It was in May-June of 2020 that Seven Sisters Development Assistance (SeSTA), a development organization, started training the villagers of Modhupur in System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method of paddy cultivation and use of homemade organic pesticides and fertilizers.

Modhupur was chosen after the executive members of the village organization identified it as one of the poverty pockets in the panchayat. SeSTA decided to introduce the SRI method, which increases the yield almost twofold, with minimal input cost.

Trainings in SRI method

In SRI method only 3-4 kg of paddy seeds is used for one acre of land whereas in traditional method approximately 15-20 kg of paddy seeds is required for the nursery. The villagers could not believe that 3-4 kg of seeds could produce twice the yield cultivated in traditional method.

Several trainings on preparing organic fertilizers and pesticides such as jeevamrit, vermicompost, vermi wash, agniastra and handidawa, besides trainings on seed sorting, seed treatment, nursery preparation, seedling transplantation, line sowing, weeding, applying fertilizer/pesticide and water management were provided in the four hamlets of the village.

Modhupur has nearly 350 households, with more than 90% of them involved in farming. About 250 villagers participated in the trainings initially but some of them backed out and did not complete the training. The main reason of backing out was lack of exposure. There are no SRI fields close by and the villagers could not be taken to other sites because of the lockdown.

The SRI paddy cultivation was a new concept for the entire village and hence they were skeptical about its result and found it risky to adopt. Already bogged by the lockdown and its impact, they did not want to take any chances. Due to apprehensions, the number of families willing to follow SRI method came down to about 50.

SRI cultivation    

Given the lockdown, the villagers had no cash and could not buy seeds. Hence seeds were distributed to the participating farmers. “I did not know what SRI was till SeSTA trained us. Now I have donated my land to my new brother SeSTA this kharif, either it yields double or half almighty will take care,” said farmer Asrita Kerketta jokingly, at the beginning of the cropping season.

Despite initial hesitance about the new method, farmers’ hard work paid off, producing more than double the normal yield (Photo by Barhunkha Mushahary)

Kerketta was hesitant in the beginning. She and her husband used to cultivate paddy in their 1.5 acre land every year during the kharif season of June to October. But in 2020, they cultivated kharif paddy in 0.7acre with SRI method. The hard work paid off; instead of 7.2 quintal yield last year in the 0.7 acre land they got 16 quintal paddy through SRI method.

During the harvesting, seeing the lush green paddy panicle loaded with paddy seeds Kerketta said, “I thought this year my paddy crop would be wasted as I never imagined a single seedling could produce 40 to 50 tillers. I wish I had cultivated my entire land using SRI method. Next year I will definitely use my entire land for SRI paddy cultivation.”

Reaping benefits

The families that cultivated paddy using SRI method for the first time got a minimum for 40% increase in yield. “Next year I will use my entire land for SRI method paddy cultivation even if it takes extra effort, I am a marginal farmer and farming is where I need to put energy,” said Robin Lakra of Arnibil hamlet of the Modhupur village.

The farmers now continue to make their own fertilizer and pesticide and use it in their vegetable crop as well. Some women have started using the organic pesticides in their kitchen garden, which helped them control aphids and other pests. Some even used in infested wounds of their livestock and found the pests falling dead.

Gulapi Tete, an SRI paddy cultivator of No 1 Modhupur hamlet of Modhupur village, is now selling vermicompost to the neighboring villages. Even in the initial stages of production, he could earn Rs 2000 in a month.

With the SRI method, farmers recorded a minimum of 40% increase in yield in their paddy fields (Photo by Barhunkha Mushahary)

“I applied jeevamrit and vermicompost in kharif SRI paddy and the result was extremely good. People heard about it, and now they are buying it from me,” said Gulapi Tete. “The entire village will be ready to cultivate SRI paddy next year.’

Barhunkha Mushahary is an executive at SeSTA. Views are personal. Email:

Plant nurseries bear fruits of success, empowerment for women Mon, 15 Feb 2021 07:00:48 +0000

Chakla, an agricultural village in Deganga administrative block of North 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, has all the characteristics of a typical Indian village. Unemployment, poverty, illiteracy and lack of basic health facilities are the major problems that the villagers face. This village is about 25 km from Barasat, the district headquarters, and 45 km from the state capital Kolkata.

Though agriculture is the main source of livelihood, hunger stalks them. With the villagers following traditional agricultural methods and seeds the yields are low. “We never waste a single grain of rice or a piece of veggie as we still struggle to have full meals on a daily basis. Seasonal crops decide our food,” said Reva, a 64-year-old vegetable vendor.

Climate-induced extreme weather events and lack of storage facility till the harvest is taken to the market add to the farmers’ woes, affecting their everyday life. “We get our daughters married at a very young age to ease our burden and we send our sons to work so we can feed the family. Schools are only a place for mid-day meal to our kids,” said a lady selling puja items near Chakla temple.

According to Census 2011, out of the total village population of 2269, 48% are women. Though the women were disgruntled due to lack of livelihood and basic education and healthcare facilities, things began to change when they formed self-help groups (SHGs) and started plant nurseries with the help of development organizations.

Money lenders’ exploitation

“Things started to change, after bandhu directed us to start SHGs,” Pinky Partho, member of an SHG in Chakla told The person the women refer to as bandhu – which means friend in Bengali – is Abdul Nasar, founder of Zero Foundation, an NGO working on rural development.

Considering the low investment and faster returns, the women raise nurseries on leased lands (Photo by Abdul Nasar)

The women were simpletons steeped in ignorance, as their life revolved around their hut. “If an egg costs five rupees, you should give ten five-rupee coins to them to purchase 10 eggs. Otherwise their calculation wouldn’t tally. Local money lenders exploit this ignorance and grab huge amounts as interest,” said Nasar.

Given their limited knowledge, the villagers kept paying interest and never managed to repay their loan. “The small income women made from selling milk or egg go straight to the pockets of moneylenders. Torn and worn huts, ill-health, poverty and illiterate kids are their assets,” said Nasar.

Towards change

“We Bengali women normally never go out for work. Maintaining home, taking care of the elders and children, and cooking are our duties,” said Pinky Partho. “So starting or joining an SHG was not easy. We hesitated to move out of home. We couldn’t dream of doing anything beyond household activities.”

Slowly the women in Chakla understood that they stood to benefit through SHGs. Some started raising cattle, some formed stitching units. “We decided to start plant nurseries,” said Partho. “Now, after seven years, when we turn back and see the journey, we are proud of our work and the positive changes it has brought in our life.”

Of the SHGs initiated with 10-20 women members, six decided to start plant nurseries. The low investment needed to start nurseries, low risk factors and assured early income were the reasons the women decided to start nurseries.

Plant nurseries

“Plant nurseries were a common sight in these parts of Bengal as this Ganga-Brahmaputra delta region has fertile soil,” Abdul Nasar told “These low-lying plain lands are rich with river-borne sediments as they carry large amount of minerals and nutrients suitable for agriculture.”

The women tend to the nurseries after finishing their domestic work and have learnt to maintain their sales and accounts (Photo by Abdul Nasar)

The foundation provided the women with high quality seeds and made the loan process easier. The SHG could avail loans up to Rs one lakh. “While we repay interest of around Rs 4,000 to the bank it was Rs 30,000 to 60,000 to lenders yearly,” said Gopa Nag, a member of the SHG.

The women took 5 to 10 cents of land on lease and prepared it, and bought small plant bags. “We purchased soil. It costs Rs 500 to 1000 including transportation. Land owners never allow us to use the soil to fill bags as they don’t want to lose the upper soil,” said Nag. “There are plenty of ponds in our area which are frequently deepened by taking out the soil. Like farmers and other nurseries, we also purchase the soil.”

Good market

“We usually grow fruit plants, as they are in high demand. Varieties of apple berries, guava, musambi, lemon and mango samplings are the main saplings we raise,” Nag told “We produce cole vegetable saplings also.”

In earlier days, expensive plants and expert labor from Bangladesh ruled the plant nursery market. A dragon fruit sapling cost Rs 400 to 500 earlier. Now nurseries sell them for Rs 5 to 10, which works to the women’s advantage. The women raise saplings according to the orders they receive. Big nurseries also purchase saplings from the SHGs’ nurseries.

The main advantage of plant nurseries is it costs low investment and can earn income within a short period. There are problems, too. Amphan cyclone in May last year hit the total geography badly. Everything including huts, crops, cattle, trees, etc. were destroyed. Fertile soil was washed away.

“Somehow, we managed to save our plants from the cyclone,” Samapti, a member of the SHG, told “We managed to sell them for a better price in the market once the initial chaos after the cyclone ended.”

Empowered women

The foundation taught the women to read and write. The women learnt basic math. They usually work in the nurseries after finishing their domestic chores. They share the duties of nurturing plants, purchase of seed and soil, sale of plants and maintaining accounts. It enables all members to run a unit efficiently.

4 Raising a nursery has helped women like Muslima Beebi provide three meals a day to family members and basic amenities at home (Photo by Abdul Nasar)

They have handled their finances and repayments smoothly since they started nurseries seven years ago. They sell saplings to big nurseries within West Bengal as well as to other states like Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and UP. Some members of the SHG are skilled in the art of budding and this mastery helps the groups to develop new varieties of plants.

Muslima Beebi (48) joined the SHG three years ago. “The nursery has helped me in many ways. It has enabled me to feed my family with three meals a day,” she told “I could repair my thatched roof, I bought goats and a cow. Managed my daughter’s marriage.”

Many members have similar stories of success – from sleeping under a leak-free roof, three meals a day for children, furniture, cot for aged parents to buying cattle. “We realized how our little earnings went straight to money lenders those days,” said Beebi. “Now we even have bank accounts. And we know how to handle money transactions.”

Chithra Ajith is a journalist based in Kozkikode, Kerala. Email: Views are personal.

Women weave plastic waste into utilitarian products Fri, 12 Feb 2021 07:00:03 +0000

Since its reopening on 20 October, after nearly eight months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kaziranga National Park in Assam has already clocked more than 1.10 lakh footfalls. The sylvan greenery, acres of open wetland, grassland and forests attract both domestic and international tourists in hoards.

Easily accessible and a four-hour drive from the state capital Guwahati, the Kaziranga National Park has the world’s largest population of one-horned rhinoceros, besides a large number of elephants, tigers and innumerable species of birds.

Tourism generates a lot of waste, especially plastics. An initiative engages local women traditionally adept at weaving, to convert plastic into various products, thus helping address the plastic pollution, and helping the women earn a reasonable income at the same time.

Plastic pollution

“Not every tourist is environmentally conscious or cares about nature. Though the park and the government have imposed strict rules, you will find plastic bags strewn everywhere, spoiling the sight of the park, besides causing problems for the animals,’’ said Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi of Bocha Gaon village, who sells traditional crafts from her outlet Kaziranga Haat.

Residents of Bocha Gaon and other villages around Kaziranga also use plastic bags from shops and later discard them on garbage dump on roadsides. Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi’s husband, who is involved in wildlife conservation, was worried about the hazards that the plastic waste could pose to the animals of the national park.

The Corbett Foundation, an organization dedicated to the protection of wildlife and their habitat, decided to address the problem. “We thought of using the plastic waste,” Naveen Pandey, deputy director and veterinary advisor of Corbett Foundation, told

Plastic weaves

Considering the threat to animals and the unseemly sight, Gogoi decided to utilize the plastic bags in weaving. Towards this end, she started Village Weaves, roping in about 2,300 women from villages around Kaziranga.

Like most women of the northeastern states, Gogoi too knows handloom weaving. “We normally use cotton thread to weave our makhela chador or gamusa, traditional garments,” she said. “Sometimes we make thread from bamboo. So I started thinking of replacing bamboo threads with plastic threads.’’

She gathered around 20 women from her village, who went about collecting strewn plastic bags, cleaning and washing them thoroughly and then dried them completely. The cleaned bags were cut into thin strips and knotted at the ends to get long plastic thread.

From weaving long chador, women have moved to products of different sizes (Photo by Rupjyoti Saikia Gogoi)

On their looms for warp (long vertically placed thread on the looms) they used cotton thread and for the weft (horizontal threads) they used the plastic threads which were wound on bamboo shuttles. The different colored bags gave their hue to the products.

Increasing product range

“Except for women from our state, others rarely wear makhela chador,” Gogoi told “Foreign tourists only admire them, wear them for vacation photos but never buy them. So weaving them wasn’t very profitable.”

In addition to weaving, the women of the northeast can also make their own looms from bamboo available in abundance and repair them, unlike weavers of other states who get the looms made and repaired by loom-making carpenters.  

“We suggested weaving of products other than the traditional saree and gamusa,” said Pandey. So, with changes in loom sizes, from six-meter long chador, the women changed to weaving 18”x12” table mats and 24” x 12” runner. A set of six table mats and one runner is sold for Rs 1,500 giving a profit of nearly Rs 700 per set.

Similarly, using cotton and plastic threads, the women weave other products such as wall hangings, doormats, hand bags, pouches, etc. The colorful plastic threads lending different shades to the products and purse-friendly prices have made these products very popular.

Increase in income

To popularize this concept of weaving with plastic thread, Gogoi trained women from neighboring villages. She wanted to empower women around her as she saw many women struggling to make ends meet. Since all the women know weaving, they could be trained and taught about color combination in a few days.

“Earlier I would earn around Rs 5,000 a month and now I easily make Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 a month,’’ Kashmiri Saikia Gogoi, one of the women using plastic waste to weave products, told

A graduate in Assamese language, 28-years-old Malavika Baruaa Gogoi took weaving seriously only after the training. “Now I enjoy weaving different products, weaving for only two or three hours a day,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about marketing as Rupjyoti takes care of the sale. We get our money and love the appreciation from buyers.’

“In Assam, alcoholism is prevalent amongst men. With the money they earn by weaving these products, women can easily spend the extra money on children, on buying clothes, etc. without having to ask the alcoholic husband for money,” said Pandey. “So more women are joining this initiative.”

Surekha Kadapa-Bose is an independent journalist based at Thane. Email: Views are personal.

Helping hands pull Jharkhand farmers from the brink Wed, 10 Feb 2021 07:00:22 +0000

Binod Kumar Raut (44) is a traditional farmer in Vill-Nawadih of Dhondli panchayat. He and his seven-member family practice agriculture in their village which is in Jama administrative block of Dumka district. In addition to farming their land, Raut and his son take up labor work to make ends meet.

During the pandemic-induced lockdown, like a majority of the villagers, Raut’s family too faced many hardships. There was no labor work. Due to lack of transportation facilities, they could not take the produce from their farm. The markets were also not functioning, leading to a lot of losses for Raut.

A few NGOs that visited villages to create awareness about the coronavirus and the precautions that villagers had to take to prevent spread, noticed the plight of the farmers. The NGOs’ intervention has helped villagers get through the lockdown.

Survival on borrowed money

To sustain his family during the difficult period, Raut was forced to borrow money from the local money lenders. That was his only means of ensuring that the basic needs of his family were met. Yet, he and his family had to reduce the quantity and frequency of their food intake, which had an effect on their health.

Of the 112 decimals of land that Raut owns, 79 decimals are cultivable. With the hope that transport would be resumed by the time of his crops’ harvest season, he borrowed money to buy paddy seeds, so that he could sow during the kharif season.

Ashok Pandit (47) of Tapasi village, in Jama administrative block, is one of the farmers who went to the brink of starvation. Farming in his 62-decimal land was just enough for the survival of his six-member family and for the educational needs of his children. Government support seldom reached him or his village.

Pandit’s eldest son migrated to Delhi in search of a better job opportunity so that he could support his family. But he was forced to return to his village at the start of the lockdown. As there was no transport during the first phase of the intense lockdown, he had to walk long distances.

Farmers such as Pandit who had to borrow money during the lockdown see better yield through the inputs they received

As the continuous walking affected his health, he took whatever means of transportation were available, so as to reach home. This resulted in him spending all of his savings of nearly Rs 17,000. As he returned home empty handed, Pandit had no option but to borrow money to run his household and to buy seeds for his kharif crop.

Vulnerability mapping

Lok Prerna, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based at Jama block of Dumka District, started working in the villages of the district during the pandemic. As the scare of the infection spread, the NGO worked to create awareness on COVID-19 and to educate villagers about the health, hygiene and safety measures.

Observing the plight of farmers who were in dire need of support, Lok Prerna decided to help. Members of the NGO conducted vulnerability mapping of farmers who were the most vulnerable and whose families were nearly starving. VB Net Foundation, a Ranchi-based development organization, partnered with Lok Prerna to do the vulnerability mapping.

Increased yield

In association with the local administration, the NGO provided vegetable seeds of horticulture crops such as potato, cauliflower, tomato, peas, besides that of wheat and pulses. They also supplied micronutrients and bio-fertilizers free of cost at the farmers’ doorstep.

The organizations, with financial support from Standard Chartered Bank and technical support from Transform Rural India Foundation, a Delhi-based development organization, and provided the best varieties of seeds along with Tricoderma viride, a fungicide, for soil treatment.  

The farmers were provided training in package of practices for six vegetable crops, for better results from cultivation. The team also made regular follow-up visits to ensure the farmers were practicing the suggested methods, so that they would get increased yields.

Raut is happy with the result. The new practices that he follows shows results in the form of better crops and better yields. Farmers such as Raut and Pandit who received support, are happy that helping hands have pulled them from the brink of starvation to better yields and better income.

Biren Kumar Hemborm is working with Community Social Organisation Lok Prerna Deoghar, Dumka Jharkhand. Email: Views are personal