Multiskilled women could absorb COVID-19 lockdown shock
SNEH believes in the multi-skilling of its skill training beneficiaries. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, families, in general, faced shutdown of their small businesses, and individuals faced job loss. The lockdown severely impacted small businesses, especially those owned by women in urban slums. Due to the prolonged shutdown and an uncertain future, the women-owned businesses passed through complete disruption, demand depression, and even closure. Their small capital base which keeps rotating in the day to day business was exhausted by family consumption and resulted in financial insecurity and many landed in debt traps.
Fortunately, the skill training beneficiaries who were multi-skilled could quickly resume their activities. Those who were exposed to IT-enabled services in addition to retail management/running grocery shops and selling essentials collected the WhatsApp numbers of the clients and ran their businesses by observing social distance, use of face masks/face covers and handwashing by soap/use of sanitizer.
Through their android phones, they also educated their customers about good practices to get protected from the virus. Uma (aged 27), a trained beneficiary of SNEH of Salia Sahi Slum community of Bhubaneswar could contact her customers through WhatsApp and served 200 customers in her neighborhood with daily grocery supplies and other necessities by reaching them at the doorstep of the customers. Her husband, another beneficiary of SNEH, also helped her in procurement, taking orders, packing, delivering at doorsteps, and collecting money.
Basanti (aged 31), another tailoring skill trainee of SNEH, could make about 50 face masks in a day and supply to the local retailers through her husband. Rashmita, another skill training beneficiary is procuring orders through WhatsApp messages for the supply of home-cooked hot meals to about 60 aged people/senior citizens in the vicinity every day. When contacted over the phone all three shared that it was due to their training by SNEH on IT, business skills, customer relation skills, soft skills, and entrepreneurship that, they could easily overcome the shock of pandemic lock-down. It is thrilling!
Anita, at 60+, became a role model of agro-business
Anita Pradhan is an aged woman of J.Podikia village of G.Udayagiri Block in Kandhamal district. She was about 62 years old and was considered a liability on the family of six members struggling hard to meet both ends meet. Her son and daughter-in-law do not earn enough to support her and her husband who is old and sick.
Anita said that she believes in self-respect and dignity of life. Deciding to survive by her effort, she some times work as agricultural labor in other people’s fields. She also did rice processing and trading for a while. She procured paddy and re-sold that in the off-season.
The Community Organizer (CO) of SNEH took her help to organize skill groups of aged women in her village. Group meetings were conducted. The community members resisted the inclusion of aged women like Anita. Their impression was that the aged women were good for nothing and were physically weak and also prone to illness. But the community organizer could finally persuade others to include her in the group.
She oriented a group of aged women who were mostly from small and marginal farm households on skills like seed treatment, germination testing, application of biofertilizer, compost making, application of balanced fertilizer, use of high yielding and high breed varieties of vegetable seeds, growing off-season vegetables, etc. Before the community organizers arrived, the aged women had virtually no idea about those skills and techniques. That was a turning point not only for Anita but also for other aged women of the neighborhood. A visible change occurred in the livelihood perception of aged women due to the support of the initiative of SNEH. The CO introduced the cultivation of offseason back yard vegetables as an entry point activity.
Anita mobilized the aged women of her neighborhood to grow off-season vegetables in about ½ acre of common land. The aged women (60+) involved themselves in all types of horticultural activities like growing off-season vegetables; from watering to selling to vendors. It became highly successful. From beans, green peas, brinjals, lady’s finger and cauliflowers, etc. they earned an income of Rs. 22000 from sale besides their own consumption in the home.
Anita took active interest to develop the demonstration plot and when the plants bore fruit, it created a miraculous impact on other aged women. Anita along with other aged women got a good harvest of vegetables round the year. Other aged women were inspired. They volunteered to consult Anita regularly. Anita said that when she went on a study tour to Bhubaneswar with other aged women, she learned about the use of biofertilizer and pesticides.
The CO introduced the method of making bio-fertilizer using local weeds and cow dung. Anita always tried some innovation. She put sodium bicarbonate on the ground. Above that, she spread cow dung in some layers. After some days the material took crystal shape (granules) automatically. That was very useful for the vegetable crop. Anita called it Kalandisar (organic fertilizer).
The CO organized the aged women into an SHG namely Maa Brundabati. Anita said that she had to approach everybody for mobilizing resources for the aged women groups including the DRDA, NGOs, and other line departments for a life of dignity for helpless and marginalized women in their families.
Ligingi Bindhani, another aged woman in the group said that previously, as they were not doing anything, they had no acceptance in their respective families and the community as a whole. But now, their contribution to the family income is gratefully acknowledged. This could happen only due to the inspiration and guidance of Anita and SNEH’s community mobilizer, agreed Ligingi.
The introduction of off-season vegetable cultivation and cash crops like maize and sunflower through the support of SNEH solved their problem. They have received an income of about Rs 22000 from vegetables and Rs. 30,000 from the cash crops. They decided to use Rs. 35000 as a group fund. The group fund thus created from their income and deposited in SHG solved their problem from depending on informal sources for credit. The support from the SHG not only helped them undertake economic activities but also could meet the food security of their household, health care, and other needs.
The aged women of the village said that the SNEH’s support opened income avenues for them. They were using their limited back yard land resource round the year and practicing intensive farming activities. They are getting immediate income from the sale of vegetables round the year. The women together shared that their children have started consulting them on household decision-making matters. The initial lead by Anita brought the change in the living condition of the aged-women and acceptance in their families with respect.
From Ratoon Management to Organized Agro-business
The village is Dadapada in G.Udayagiri Block of Kandhamal district. The agriculture assistant of SNEH oriented the farm women on the method of making good quality compost, mushroom cultivation, and cultivation of off-season vegetables. She made a demonstration of high breed vegetables like beans, brinjal, and lady’s finger, cabbage, and cauliflower cultivation. Later it was adopted by all the farm women of the skill groups.
Farm women were found practicing ratoon management in the case of maize, brinjal, and cabbage introduced by the agriculture assistant of SNEH. The farm women adopting the practice of ratoon management earned Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 20,000 per annum in addition to their earnings from the crop. The importance of off-season vegetable cultivation also increased to a greater extent. The living conditions of the farm women improved, so also the quality of life, income, and status of farm women in the family and community.
Some farm women invested their earning in growing cash crops like turmeric, ginger, maize, and sunflower. Farm women also got good income from mushroom cultivation. They had earned sizeable income from ratoon management of maize crops.
The agriculture assistant of SNEH helped the farm women to organize SHGs. The farm women deposited Rs.50 per month from their income. Hemalata Pradhan, secretary of Jasmin SHG and a farm woman said that previously middlemen and traders were taking away the income and produce of the farm families using faulty weights and measures and also in terms of demanding excess interest on the money they lend to the farm women in the pre-showing season. She added that the SHG members were no more depending on moneylenders to meet their emergency needs. The moneylenders no more considered the SHG women as their customers. One moneylender said that when the agriculture assistant of SNEH made the tribal ladies conscious to earn from ratoon management, that day signaled the end of their trade in the tribal belt.
Sebati Pradhan, a farm woman said that they could meet the emergency needs of children and other members of their family with income at hand. They used their income on buying educational materials and dresses for their children.
Development through Competition and Co-operation
The village Sarusinangia is under G.Udayagiri Block of Kandhamal district. The agriculture assistant of SNEH oriented the farm women on mushroom cultivation, preparation of jelly, jam, compost making, thrift, and saving, etc. The farm women were impressed. She formed several skill groups of farm women and oriented them on skills like seed treatment, germination testing, balanced application of fertilizer and pest control measures, shallow and erect transplantation of paddy seedlings, seed replacement in every three years, crop rotation, etc. The farm women had adopted most of the skills.
Manjusa Pradhan and Purnima Pradhan, two women of nearby Ratingia village are producing mushrooms commercially and supplying to the nearby market in G.Udayagiri. They have also started collecting mushrooms from others in their village and trading through retail outlets.
Previously they were growing vegetables in small patches but after SNEH’s intervention, they increased the scale of cultivation. They sent vegetables to nearby towns for sale. From every decimal of land covered by green leaf, the income fetched by the farm women was around Rs.2000. The farm women also grew coriander leaves, palak, etc. The farm women preferred to grow an early variety of vegetables to fetch a better price.
Menaka Pradhan, a farm woman said that previously they were hardly coming out of their houses. In the changed situation, they were freely interacting with extension people, which had become an economic necessity. In the process, they were exposed to learning and adopting improved and beneficial agricultural skills, growing crops, involved themselves in trade and small business, saved their surplus income to meet emergency needs. Mukta Nayak, a farm woman said that their priority was on supporting the education of their children. When they had no money it was difficult to support the education of their children but in the changed context, ‘we realize that our children receive a good education and health care’. Mukta had two children. Her daughter was doing an undergraduate course in the college, and her son was undergoing industrial training in ITI. She was able to meet the expenses from her farming operations alone.
Umarani Pradhan, a farm woman said that she built her pucca house. Sandhyarani Pradhan a farm woman said that she had invested money in buying agricultural land. The SHG in Ratingia village had supported farm women to buy sprayers, winnowers, and storage equipment. There were 8 SHGs in the village. The members decided to deposit Rs.50 per month per member.
The members of Jasmin SHG have started poultry farming with institutional finance availed from the bank. Similarly, Maa Tarini SHG members have started pisciculture in the community tank with bank finance. Previously these women used to borrow at the rate of 10 percent per month from the money lenders by mortgaging gold ornaments or land. Now they can avail loans from their respective SHGs at the rate of 2 percent.
Purnima Pradhan, a mushroom grower said that she earned about Rs.20000 from mushroom trade, from an investment of Rs 6000. There was competition among different SHGs to flourish in trades, business, and agriculture both at the group and individual level and there was co-operation within the group members and also among the groups in terms of sharing labor and new skills and inter lending.