Resilience story of Harichanda village

5 kms from Darbhanga town, Harichandra village of Darbhanga District has over 1200 households and is populated by predominantly SC and OBC families. The most popular livelihood options are agriculture and local construction work, the average income per household being Rs.24,000-30,000 per annum. Harichandra falls under a flood prone area and because of it closeness to the Kosi river, suffered severely during the 2008 floods. The S-S Project in the village first started with eight SHGs in 2010 and has now grown to include 12 active SHGs with the aim being building community’s resilience against the frequent phenomenon of floods. Women from Harichandra have been most upbeat in identifying infrastructural improvements to reduce the community’s risk during floods – improving school facility and building concrete roads being the most prominent. Their pro-active attitude towards engaging with government entities to meet their development goals has been admired both by the community and the officials themselves. Cultivation of dhaincha [1] and SRI[1] have been key agricultural innovations adopted by them.

Context

Like Maulaganj, Harichandra (its neighbouring village) in recent history experienced a disastrous flood (Kosi Floods) for the first time in 2008.  However, because of its close proximity to another river, which usually overflows during the monsoons, the village gets flooded every year. Over just a few hours most houses get submerged with ankle-deep water, becoming most challenging for those who live in the high-lying areas as almost the entire village, along with their livestock and belongings, flocks to their houses for safety.

During the 2008 Kosi Floods, the rainwater gushed straight to the agricultural fields, making it completely un-productive due to sand deposits. Most lost their only means of livelihood, as well as their stored grains, livestock, and other precious belongings – “Stranded in the village without any supplies, many of us fasted – ate one meal a day or sometimes not even that.” Children’s education got discontinued for almost a year and water-borne diseases rampantly afflicted children. “No medical facilities were available. Also, since there were no toilets, the state of sanitation was very poor – widespread diseases were inevitable.”

After the disruption which lasted for almost six months, it was very challenging for the community to build back their lives. Most families in the village own very marginal pieces of land or none and thus, usually take land-on-lease for cultivation. Those with such land, cleared it of the river silt by using their bare-minimum savings and started vegetable cultivation for initial income. A large number of men found work in Darbhanga town or even migrated to Punjab and other cities in the North.

Almost all women admitted to not having ever thought of planning ahead for a flood till the 2008 floods hit them – “We had never seen a massive flood till the 2008 Kosi Floods. Our parents had told us about the floods in 1973, but since nothing had happened for so long we never planned ahead for one.” The only aid the community received from the government was distribution of rice and one rescue boat per village during relief work and distribution of 50kgs of rice and wheat each, and Rs.2500/household post floods. Efforts of the village men to channelize government schemes and funds to the region bore no success. “The Mukhya has never paid heed to anyone’s request – our husbands used to go to request cooperation from the Gram Sabha and other PRIs to rebuild our community, but no concrete action was taken by them.” In a state of despair, the community was floundering about how to rebuild their village.

The partial flooding that affects them every year, impacts critical aspects of life – commuting becomes impossible; access to drinking water gets affected as handpumps get submerged; state of sanitation, health and hygiene plumits because of no toilets, poor sewage and drainage facilities and, lack of availability of healthcare facilities; schools come to a halt for 1-2 months as water surrounds the school premises and its impossible for the school to run in such a risky environment. “We are scared of sending our children to school – they are bound to fall ill if they study in such dirt. There is no toilet in the school premises and children have to walk 2kms to use one. In heavy rains it’s very difficult for them to walk such distances and we parents also worry about their safety.”

DRR Journey

Having dealt with the fury of floods for a few years, eight SHGs which had earlier been formed under the BGRF[1] but had dismantled due to the 2008 floods, were re-mobilized by Kanchan Sewa Ashram[2] in 2009. The SHGs had a renewed mandate of building community’s resilience against floods and climate change, reviving sustainable agriculture and, boosting overall village development, all via women-led collective action and by co-partnering with government bodies & PRIs.

The eight SHGs started by conducting a three-day mapping exercise for which they were mentored by experienced women leaders from Maulaganj village– “Our women friends from Maulaganj explained to us the merit of the programme, how we could all work together to improve our village. Creating a map, identifying problems faced by the community and also solutions to them – all this was taught. Since they were there we developed confidence in the program.” The exercises brought to notice the crucial need to concretize the artery roads of the village, improve the village school facility, build better sanitation provisions (toilets and sewage system), raise village handpumps and enhance agricultural productivity. Post consultations within the women’s groups and other village leaders, women members prepared a Community Development Plan which proposed seven issues warranting government support. On sanctions by the District Authorities, three of the seven issues have been tackled over the last three years.

Issue Problem Statement Activities Undertaken
 

 

 

Health

Poor functioning of government’s medical machinery at the village and Panchayat level – no ANM visits, absence of any immunization at aanganwadis, etc Liaisoning with government authorities like Public Health Department (Civil Surgeon) and District Magistrate to ensure timely and effective delivery of medical services in the Panchayat
Mobilized government support (DM) to organize a medical camp to check the rapid spread of measles among children in the village
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Education

 

 

Insufficient facility – Only one building with 2 rooms for 7 batches of students

 

School gets partially sub-merged every monsoon with dumps of garbage all around it

 

The school master was approached by the women but he took no action; Created & forwarded a proposal to the MLA, Block Development Officer, District Development Commissioner and the District Education Officer to improve the facility in all aspects
On orders from the District Education Officer and funds of Rs.14 lakh from the Bihar Education Project (Shiksha Pariyojna), following actions were taken

·         2 new rooms built in the school premises

·         Building raised to avoid flooding

·         Garbage dumps cleared (by civic authorities)

No toilet at school – walk 2kms in rain and dirt to access a toilet A toilet is in the process of being built within the school premises via the Bhihar Education Fund
 

Sanitation

No toilets at homes- forced to travel long distances to  fields even during floods – safety concern for women and girls and landlords also protest Created proposal for installation of toilets for every household in the village
Group of 10 women approached PHD but matter still unresolved during to red-tapism and blatant unfairness
Connectivity Un-cemented roads – difficult to travel within and around the village post rains/floods; Absence of drainage systems resulting in clogging In close collaboration with the PHED, the village roads concretized via the BRGF (Rs.3,89,000) and MLA’s Development Fund (Rs.2,70,000)
 

Sustainable Agriculture

High and ill-informed use of expensive pesticides and fertilizers leading to poor fertility of land Vermi-composting

10 women (2 SHGs) trained in 2012 on how to use agricultural and organic wastes to produce home-made compost at a fraction of the cost of fertilizers/ pesticides. 6 women now do it and are substitute it for fertilizers

Unusable nature of agricultural land during monsoons (high levels of flood water) SRI (Sytemic Rice Intensification) (Flood-Friendly)

From 2011-2012, 30 women from five SHGs attended training on SRI of which 25 have taken it up on individual basis. Training was conducted by the Block Agriculture Office, facilitated by KSA.

Cultivation of ‘Dhaincha’[3] Crop

5-6 women leaders learnt Dhaincha cultivation via peer exchange at Shivdaspur (organized by KSA). All SHG members were also told by the KSA team of the merits[4] of growing dhaincha. KSA distributed seeds free of cost for women who were willing to cultivate it – 35 women now actively farm dhaincha on an individual (land on lease using savings) and collective basis (using CRF) – first time cultivated dhaincha using CRF in January 2013. Also save the seeds such that can sell them in times to come and also save on costs of buying them.

Besides large-scale development activities, women members formed a Disaster Task Force in late 2011, comprising six committees[5] to ensure timely and effective management of the community just before, during and after floods. “Earlier women used to only worry about their own families, but through this initiative there is a rise in community spirit and cohesion”. All SHG members also prepare and keep aside dry foods atleast two months prior to the monsoons – inspired by them, all non-SHG members also follow the practice.

While on a one-off exploratory visit through the village, the Medical Team of the Task Force detected a bout of measles affecting 15-20 children about which no government action had been taken. Alarmed by the Aanganwadi’s negligence, women leaders petitioned the Block Public Health Department. As a result, the District Magistrate promptly ordered a camp to treat patients immediately, which demonstrated to the community the real power that these women now wield. “People very openly said to us that never before had they scene so many doctors/nurses/ANMs in our village. They were surprised to see how we had managed to arrange that. People now know that we are here to look after the interests of their families and children.”

Women leaders from eight of the twelve SHGs have visited 7-8 active women’s groups in other villages in the district. Most exchanges have been centred on sustainable agricultural practices like cultivation of ‘Dhaincha’, maintaining a seeds bank, and also how best to function as the Task Force Committees (Jamal Chak and Maulaganj). “We learnt functional and easy early warning strategies from the Maulaganj women, as well as how best to function as teams within the Women’s Disaster Task Force. Seeing and learning from them gives us the confidence that someday we will also be able to be as proficient as them.”

The groups have received a total of Rs.15000 via the Community Resilience Fund – Rs.5000 in 2011 to cover their expenses for community development initiatives, and Rs.5000 each as revolving funds in 2011 and 2012 for collective farming. Till date, seven groups (5 members each) have made use of revolving fund to cultivate on 5kathha of land (0.41 acre) each, with each rotation lasting 6 months. Besides vegetable cultivation, a couple of groups tried Dhaincha and made a profit of Rs.1000 per group member per rotation, proceeds from the sale of Dhaincha seeds and firewood. Profits from SRI[6] have been in the same range, and the CRF was used to incentivize it as people otherwise found it a very risky proposition.

Impact of DRR Initiatives

The 25-30 women who have adopted sustainable agricultural practices, now recognize tangible benefits of the same – reduced costs of inputs (Rs.2000-3000 per woman per annum) owing to lower use of fertilizers, higher soil fertility and better use of wastelands to name a few. They have also reported increased income from collective cultivation of rice & dhaincha – Rs.1200-1500 per member per rotation which fares as an additional month’s income for their households. “Till few years back, we were forced to get loans at an interest rate of 5% to take agricultural land on lease. Now we can use the CRF amount to do collective farming which doesn’t seem very burdensome and investment-heavy.”

Those who engaged in SRI and kept the produce for personal consumption, share that they now save on the cost of buying rice from the market and instead can spend that money on their children’s books and health. Like before, we still take money to buy rice from our husbands, but since we grow our own rice, we spend that money responsibly on our children’s healthcare and educational needs. We also convince our husbands about practices like vermi-composting, mixed cropping and SRI.”

Sustainable practices like vermi-composting have re-emphasized the wisdom of old traditional practices that their ancestors used to follow – “Our ancestors used such organic ways only to produce compost, where did we have DAT, urea and other pesticides in those times. Now we have slowly understood the merit of their knowledge and will give it more credence from now on”. 30 families are also making better use of available resources like wastelands by leasing that land at a fraction of the cost (5times cheaper) and growing dhaincha, which can be done on unfertile/flooded wastelands. It has also resulted in improvement of soil fertility – not only are the farmers pleased, so are the landlords.

From no stake in their own households’ decisions earlier, these women are now not only major contributors to their family’s income and growth, they share a sense of responsibility for their village’s progress as well. In their own village, the expansion and improvement of the school premises and roads are cases in point – “We shoul contribute to make our village prosper and progress – if we won’t then who will. Many people also compliment our determination and that we have been able to attract government funds and schemes to our village. Everyone’s kids study in a better school now, so they would obviously be happy.”

The fact that the programme started with only 8 SHGs in Harichandra, and has grown to 12 thriving SHGs, demonstrates proof of concept and that the women pioneers have been able to convince other women to also join the bandwagon.  They have also inspired women from across the Panchayat to establish SHGs. – Based on our own experiences we have prompted women across the entire Panchayat to establish SHGs and have also made them aware of the benefits of collective farming, vermi-composting, disaster preparedness, etc.”

Inspired by the women’s activism in Maulaganj, women members from Harichandra interacted with a host of government authorities at the local, block and district level for a range of issues – besides the issue of toilets, the women have been successful at garnering the authorities’ support and appreciation for their constructive contribution to village development. Liaisons with government have meant that the women in Harichandra have been able to mobilize almost Rs.21lakhs of public funds via various government schemes and funds. Partnering with the government has not only meant petitioning and demanding improvements but also monitoring the functioning of government projects in the village, something that has been entrusted by the government/PRI authorities themselves. “The MLA told us that she had never seen women work in such a unified, empowered and aware manner.Interacting with the government officials has also boosted their self-esteem – We have been respected by government officials and representatives. Our minds have opened up and we are certainly more confident after having met various dignitaries. Earlier, our husbands only used to handle these matters and we had never thought that there would be a day when we would ourselves go to meet officials and negotiate with them.”

The concept of collective action has resonated well with the women – “If we work as a collective force there will be nothing to fear. Many old men and other people in the village taunt us for our boldness but we take it as a challenge. We know that we have to be as unified as ever.”

Future Aspirations – Looking ahead, most women members are enthusiastic about experimenting not only with collective farming but also collective livestock rearing by buying livestock via pooled savings. Having realized the value of technical trainings, peer-learning and workshops, they wish to acquire skills in livestock rearing such that they follow best practices and reap maximum benefits. As part of building resilience against floods, the women look forward to conducting a round of review mapping – installation of toilets, better drainage facilities, and construction of new houses in high-lying areas continue to remain their top priorities. They are also exploring setting up their own ‘samudayik bhawan’[7] for health and schooling provisions during the 1-2 months of floods – the Health Committee of the Women’s Task Force hopes to spearhead this. For the women of Harichandra, ‘collective action’ has been their key takeaway – “We need to continue to work collectively if we are to succeed the same way as we have. We wouldn’t have any voice if we weren’t together. This way we know that we only march ahead and never back out or die down!”

[1] Government’s Backward Regions Grant Fund prompted formation of SHGs to further literacy among women)

[2] SSP’s local partner-NGO looking after the S-S Project in Darbhanga District

[3] Sesbania (Scientific Name)

[4] Natural manuring plant, abundant in flood affected lands which is 5times cheaper, requires minimum inputs and upkeep, good source of firewood, etc

[5] Early Warning, Protection, Search and Rescue, Medical, Management and Relief Distribution

[6] System of Rice Intensification

[7] Community Centre

From Vulnerability to Empowered Role Models

Keelamoovarkarai, Nagapattinam District, Tamil Nadu

Context

In 2004, when the Indian Ocean Tsunami battered the east coast of India, the rampaging waves swallowed 6000 lives across the country. The coastal district of Nagappattinam in Tamil Nadu was the most affected on the Indian mainland, 76% of the total lives lost to the tsunami were from this district. Since then, other cyclones like Nisha (2008), Nilam (2010) and Thane (2011) have continued to wreak havoc in Nagappattinam. Apart from displacing people from their homes, each cyclone and the resultant floods also destroyed crops like paddy, groundnut and maize; and amaged catamarans (fishing boats), small enterprises and precious livestock. Every disaster in the region has meant a loss of at least one month’s income for the community. For the predominantly fisher folk of the region, earning a livelihood had become a highly cost-intensive business due to the severe depletion of fish stocks. While earlier, traditional catamarans could reel in a good catch, now the fishermen had little option but to rely on diesel powered motor boats and expensive nets to go deeper into the sea to find fish.

Life for the villagers of Keelamoovarkarai got tougher with each calamity. Drinking water became scarce as the ground water got contaminated and salt-saturated to the point of rendering it unfit for both consumption and irrigation. The community had little choice but to depend on water tankers or the river Kollidam for their water needs.

The Community Disaster Resilience Journey

For over a decade, 32 SHGs functioned successfully in Keelamoovarkarai, largely focusing on savings and credit functions. After the 2004 Tsunami, the community started to actively brainstorm about building disaster preparedness and resilience in order to minimize the losses suffered in every calamity.

Initially, it was a challenge to gain the confidence and trust of the community and Panchayats. The women of the fishing community faced stiff opposition from men, especially of the traditional village Panchayat, which is even more powerful than the elected Gram Panchayat. Until a few years back, many of the women members had not even stepped out of their houses. However, they soon realized the need for collective action and, as SHG members, they organized and attended meetings. They also began gaining the confidence to visit banks within and outside their villages.

The hazard and vulnerability mapping carried out in the village with the support of SSP included federation and SHG members, youth groups, the president of the Panchayat, and ward members. They collectively identified local issues like infrastructure, inadequate sanitation facilities, poor road conditions, unsafe drinking water, lack of drainage and water channels, insufficient awareness of disaster mitigation and the need for setting up an early warning system.

“After our mapping and focus group discussions we approached the village Panchayat President. They initially they did not care about our activities. Through our continued effort, the village Panchayat has now come forward to solve some of the local issues with via the MNREGA scheme.” – A woman member.

After the mapping, the group presented a petition to the village president and the Block

Development Officer (BDO) to carry out these activities. Simultaneously, the community ensured that these issues were raised in Gram Sabha meetings until all necessary clearances were secured.

“In the beginning whenever we talked about disaster management, no one really bothered but with SSP and the Women Federation’s guidance, we continued to mobilize the community, and conducted house visits to encourage participation from women.” – A group leader

One of the first initiatives to be carried out by the Panchayat was the clearing of the Karuvelam shrubs that surrounded the village. These shrubs had led to several villagers getting entangled and drowning in the floods caused by the tsunami. The district administration also pitched in and completed road repairs, constructed drainage channels and cemented a one-kilometer-long village road under the tsunami fund. This was a vital development as it ensured easy and quick evacuation in the event of a disaster.

Building Partnerships: From the very outset, the women’s group’s focused on building community ownership driven towards change. They ensured that key stakeholders like the local gram Panchayat and the Block-level Development Officer were equally involved in the infrastructure projects. Similarly, for other risks and vulnerabilities mapped, they began liaising with other institutions like the Fisheries Department and Thiruvangadu Primary Health Centre. The District Rural Development Office (DRDA) in Nagapattinam also contributed via capacity and skill building training programs for the community. The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS), TVS and many other voluntary organizations also offered support to the women through various livelihoods and skill development trainings.

Groups of women were also trained in organic farming, mushroom cultivation, handicraft making, developing kitchen gardens and vermi-compost making. A learning exchange at the beginning of the project to Alli Vilaham (an organic village developed by CIKS, Chennai) instilled confidence in the women to participate in new experiments in the field.

“Initially banks never recognized us. But when we became part of Women federation, financial institutions started supporting us on various livelihoods and skill development programs.” – Amutha, Woman Member

Formation of a task force team: With support from SSP, a 30-member disaster task force team was created to provide early warning and initiate the rescue of vulnerable people in the event of a disaster. Teams were created and divided into subgroups, including Early Warning, Rescue, First Aid, Monitoring, and Assessment. Each team had three members and an ideal gender balance. This task force was equipped to understand community needs, negotiate with the government, prepare the community to reduce risk, and train local people in search, rescue, warning, and rehabilitation.

This force is now providing training to other village communities to equip themselves in a similar fashion. So far, they have formulated task forces in eight neighbouring villages. On completion of training, the team even performed mock drills near the sea shore and all the team members proudly demonstrated their newly acquired skills to the public. The team also opened a bank account and initiated an emergency fund, with a contribution of INR 50 made by each member every month, which could be accessed in time of a medical emergency or other contingencies in the family.

Impact of Community Disaster Resilience Activities

Traditionally people in this region held more fatalistic attitudes, resigned to nature’s fury. The Women’s Federation and the initiatives that they introduced in partnership with SSP introduced a change in mindsets. From silent, uncomplaining endurance, they transformed themselves through collective action into changemakers. They demonstrated that they could not only map risks and prepare the community to face disasters, but also become resilient to recoup post- disasters with minimum damage. The negligible damage left in the wake of cyclone Thane of December 2012 was due to the alert community response to the possible calamity.

Emergency response & rescue efforts during the Thane cyclone: A group of active women leaders alerted many villages by using messaging and mobile telephones based on messages received from the local Panchayat and the cyclone updates on television channels. They acted quickly to inform families inhabiting low-lying areas and organized the evacuation of 50 aged and physically challenged people and 300 others to safe-havens and shelters like government schools and cyclone centers. Basic needs of evacuees like food rations, milk, and water were also provided for until it was declared safe for people to return home. The team also worked with the local government and community to clear the area of electricity poles and trees, restore drinking water, improve roads etc.

Eight women leaders who led the disaster relief and rescue operations also visited the affected villages in Cuddalore and conducted a need assessment with communities, which they submitted to local authorities to replicate the model.

Over the last three years, another significant change has been the improvement in the overall health of the community, mainly due to increased awareness regarding relevant government healthcare schemes. The Women Federations also promoted the cultivation of kitchen gardens to encourage local food security and to curb anemia among women, bringing down healthcare-related expenditures.

Forty women from the groups that underwent training developed their own kitchen gardens. These women, who had earlier never stepped outside their village, now participated in peer learning and exchange programs in neighbouring villages of Nagappattaniam and later in Maharashtra in Maharashtra. As many as eight such exposure visits were organized, which incrementally raised the confidence of the women in their own abilities to cope with, manage and bounce back from disasters.

Advocating Self Reliance and Sustainable Development

Katgaon, Osmanabad District, Maharashtra

Context

Katgaon, a village in the Osmanabad district close to the border that Maharashtra shares with Karnataka, was a classic example of the damage wrought by climate change and poor agricultural practices. Inadequate and untimely rains, rising temperatures and depleting water tables had led to drought, crop losses and the spread of disease amongst the community and their livestock populations.

Like in other villages of Marathwada region of Maharashtra, Katgaon’s population was heavily  reliant on agriculture for its main source of income. The villagers too had moved to growing cost-intensive cash crops like sugarcane and cotton over traditionally grown ones like millet and sorghum. Water-intensive agriculture had depleted the water table by as much as 65%, leaving bore wells and reservoirs dry. Continuous droughts over two years reduced the yield of crops like sugarcane, grapes, soyabean and onions further. In some cases, farmers cut their standing sugarcane crops and razed down their grape orchards, as there was no water available for irrigation. Fodder availability was also low. The situation was compounded by unpredictable weather conditions and rising temperatures, which led to an outbreak of infectious diseases within the livestock population.

The Community Disaster Resilience Journey

There were 40 active SHGs in Katgaon and a Krishi Mahila Mandal, which was set up with the help of SSP. The vulnerability mapping exercise, facilitated by SSP, witnessed the participation of over 150 women from the community. The key issues that came up were decreasing agricultural output due to vagaries of weather, the lack of quality drinking water, health and sanitation related problems and a pressing need for anganwadis. From the very outset, the group ensured maximal involvement of the Sarpanch and the Gram Panchayat and built their cooperation into all plans and activities.

To develop a partnership, both sides should recognize and respect each other: partnerships develop when there is confidence, trust and commitment.” —Sanjivini

As the women came together and took the lead in addressing local issues, they also gained confidence in their own abilities. Development committees on varied issues were formed so as to allow each group to imaginatively expand its ambit. The women worked hard to build relationships with the local- and district-level institutions to ensure support for their planned activities.

Building Partnerships

Scientists from Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) Tuljapur visited Katgaon to provide on-site training on organic farming, soil testing, local seed preservation and conservation. KVK collaborated with block- and district-level agriculture departments and trained 100 women in local seed preservation, soil testing and intercrop/mixed crop cultivation. Another 150 women were taught vermicomposting.

Twenty-five women farmers were also taken to Bangalore for a study tour organized by the district agricultural office that taught them about developing kitchen gardens and group farming.

Sixty-five women from Katgaon and nearby areas attended a ten-day-long training organized by SSP on community entrepreneurship. They actively participated in sessions that looked at the theoretical and practical aspects of starting and managing a business, conducting need analyes, marketing and account keeping. Following this, fifteen women started their own small enterprises, including cloth and bangles stores and stalls for homemade products like noodles, papads and milk.

In 2012, two farmers’ field schools were also organized to help women understand jowar and gram crop management. These programs built the capacities of women at grassroots and helped raise their confidence. They began slowly transforming into tough negotiators, ready to take charge of their land, village and its resources.

Water scarcity was another key problem that emerged during the vulnerability mapping. The women tackled it with the support from the GP and the MNREGA scheme. One hundred defunct wells were cleaned, deepened and widened at the cost of INR 2 lakhs per well. These were then recharged to build water sufficiency for the village. Soil was extracted from a 16-acre pond, the biggest water resource across Katgaon, at the cost of a whopping Rs 2 crores, by tapping into various schemes. The water from this pond caters to a vast variety of community needs, including livestock and agriculture. All these efforts have led to an increase in the ground water level as well as guaranteeing at least five years of water availability for agriculture and other purposes.

With the Gram Panchayat’s support, the women’s groups also accessed the Nirmal Abhiyan scheme, a Maharashtra and Central Government scheme for BPL families, which aided in the construction of much needed toilets for 35% households in the village. The women also succeeded in procuring land from the GP and, with support from the Women and Child development department, opened four anganwadis (child care centers) in the village.

The women’s groups also addressed the health concerns of the community by regularizing the functioning of the Primary Health Centre (PHC) at Katgaon. Although previously functioning, it was not running optimally as the doctor did not live in the village and was only available for a fixed period every day. Representations by the women’s groups and meetings organized with the district health officials led to the guarantee of a doctor’s presence in the village. Buoyed by the success of their negotiations, the group met with district authorities to further improve local health infrastructure.

One of the potentially hazardous practices identified by the women during the mapping exercise was the indiscriminate dumping of waste around the village. The SHG members worked with Gram Panchayat and, in a massive exercise that deployed 100 tractors, cleared the accumulated waste over a period of one month. Thereafter, the waste was segregated and the biodegradable component put to good use on the agriculture land.

Impact

The current goal of the women in Katgaon is to make their community 100% free from open defecation in the coming years by ensuring adequate toilet access for their population. They also ensure the periodic conduct of health melas and community checks, which assure check-ups for women for common health ailments like anemia and malnutrition. Today, the village and its residents have access to not just a doctor but also a nurse, a basic stock of medicines and an ambulance service. This health care centre is now accessed by more than 12 neighbouring villages.

The Gram Panchayat resolved the issue of unsafe drinking water by laying a new pipeline and installing a tank and filter to improve the water quality. As a result of this project, waterborne diseases in the community have reduced significantly in number. Waste accumulation, which had been a big issue in Katgaon, is now a thing of the past, as waste segregation continues to be adopted as a best practice.

The organic farming initiative that began over two years ago has been expanded to include more than 500 women in Katgaon. A measure of its success is the significant increase of over 30% in women’s earned income. Their role in improving their individual lives and those of the community has earned them respect and recognition. There has been a palpable improvement in the health of the community due to the use of organic home-grown vegetables and jowar (sorghum) cultivation for their personal consumption too. The community also reports a reduction in the expenditure on healthcare and vegetable purchases from the market.

Before any decision is taken on a development issue, the Sarpanch now takes the women’s groups into confidence. Block and district government officials have begun visiting the village regularly to keep them apprised of subsidies and other supporting schemes.

Today, a rich pool of more than 100 women leaders in education, health, sanitation has and community enterprises has been created. This ‘expert group’ from Katgaon has also visited around 40 villages in the neighbouring districts to share their skills and experience with other women. More than 50 women from other villages have visited Katgaon to learn about best practices in resilience building.

Emboldened by their success, women are eager to experiment with new varieties of crops as well as to try different agricultural techniques. Another group of five landless women took an acre of land at lease for a year for INR 5000 to start collective organic farming. They enjoy working together and believe that their investments will yield favorable results. The group is currently waiting for the rains to start sowing bajra and tur under inter-cropping and plan to use their own local seed in the future.

Leading Water Conservation and Drought Coping Practices

Walki, Washim District, Maharashtra

Context

The Vidarbha region of Maharashtra was once the rice bowl of Maharashtra. Unpredictable monsoons, combined with the shift to monoculture of input-intensive cash crops like cotton and soybean, wreaked havoc on the region’s ecosystem. Today, Vidarbha faces the twin threats of food- and water-insecurity. The villages of Vidarbha reflect this grim reality. An overwhelming 90% of the residents of Walki village in the Washim district of Vidarbha, Maharashtra rely on agriculture as their chief source of income.

Walki relies on seasonal rains for irrigating their crops. However, the high returns from the cultivation of cash crops lured farmers from Walki to change their cropping patterns. In the last two decades, the farmers moved away from traditional crops like sorghum (jowar), millets (bajra) and cereals to water-intensive cash crops like cotton and soyabean. When climate change began playing spoiler, untimely rains and long summers made farming conditions more challenging. The farmers’ difficulties were compounded by the rising cost of agricultural inputs (seed, fertilizers and pesticides) that made farming unviable. The intensive and widespread use of chemicals also adversely affected the ecosystem – leading to soil degradation, ground water pollution and pest resistance.

Traditionally, the crop residues from jowar became the feed for their livestock. However, the shift from traditional farming to cash crops also decreased the availability of fodder. The prolonged years of severe drought also affected the water table in the region. The reservoirs and wells dried up and the population of livestock began to dwindle. The skewed emphasis on chemical-aided cash crops at the expense of local and low cost food crops also added to the food insecurity of the community. As the debts began piling up, the hapless farmers had few options left to explore. According to an estimate by the National Crime Records Bureau, 8702 farmers committed suicide in Vidarbha between 2001 and 2010. In the case of Walki, 71% of the farmers defaulted on loans taken for agricultural purposes from banks.

To meet crucial living expenses, many in the community had to borrow from informal local moneylenders. Food- and water-insecurity led to malnutrition. Bacterial infections like dysentery and typhoid fever became common and the majority of the women became anemic.

The Community Disaster Resilience Journey

SSP facilitated the detailed mapping of the village and identified the key issues that the women’s groups wanted to address – water scarcity, health and sanitation, soil erosion and food security. Many SHG meetings were conducted and a Gram Sabha was organized to discuss the issues and explore solutions. At first, the men and the village elders, habituated to making all decisions, were skeptical about the efforts that the women’s groups wanted to initiate. Doubts were also expressed over the ability of the women, who had so far been relegated to their households, to accomplish all that they had set out to do.

“The men have always dominated agriculture and all the decision making whether it was farming or local issues and this was one of our biggest challenges. Earlier they never called us for Gram Sabha or discussed anything related to the matters to our village with us.” Vandana Bai

Gradually as the groups linked with the PRIs, district authorities and other institutions to access government schemes like the MNREGA and relevant information on agriculture, the men and other village leaders changed their opinion.

Building partnerships and capacities: SSP facilitated a partnership with the Agricultural University at Akola to train the community on new practices and techniques in agriculture. This resulted in the setting up of an Agriculture Formation Centre in the village. These formation centers were advised by Krishi Doots, agriculture practitioners who taught other farmers about the benefits of friendly pests, use of bio-pesticides, steps in seed preparation, soil testing, timing for sowing and ways to reduce the use of chemical pesticides. They also helped the farming community in Walki to optimize the efficient use of appropriate chemical fertilizers and provided them critical information on available government schemes.

The Krishi Doots thus began to slowly change the attitude of farmers, which led to the adoption of more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. Apart from working closely with the Panchayat Samiti and district and block agricultural departments, the women’s groups also initiated partnerships with other institutions like NABARD, Cooperative Banks, and Dr. Panjabrao Krushi Vidyapith for agricultural/technical knowledge support, credit facility and access to relevant schemes and services. They also tapped into available technological advances through the agriculture information centre. The community used mobile-based technology supported by Reliance Foundation and MSSRF to receive updates on the market rate, weather etc.

The women’s groups tackled water scarcity, another high-priority issue, by introducing efficient water management practices like recharging community water sources like wells and ponds, constructing new structures where needed, and planting trees. As much as INR 150,000 were mobilized through Government schemes and the MLA Fund and over 70% of the community came forward to volunteer their labor and time.

Partnerships with the district authorities, access to the Gram Vikas Yojana, and a government fund of INR4 lakhs were crucial facilitating factors in carrying out the water conservation initiatives in the village. The women led a campaign to recharge the existing wells through diverting rain water, the deepening and widening of ponds, wells, and the construction of check dams and bunds to increase the water level. Effective techniques of land mulching also improved the surface water availability on farm land, soil moisture and reduced evaporation losses, thereby improving soil fertility. Use of efficient irrigation systems such as drip irrigation and sprinklers also helped reduce the overall water consumption.

The local authorities were persuaded to repair the access roads to the village. The community contributed their labor for the desilting of a local nala (drainage system). Over INR 1.25 lakhs was mobilized towards planting of 2000 trees along the roadside in collaboration with the Forest Department to improve the green cover in the arid region. Another notable achievement was the creation of a 2-km-long, 80-foot metalled road, constructed at the cost of INR 1 lakh, sourced from the 13th Economic Plan.

The fertile soil extracted from wells and ponds was sold to the farmers for a small fee of INR 150. The farmers then used these in their fields to rejuvenate their pesticide-polluted cultivable lands. The community lobbied with the NABARD and Panchayat and received a sanction for the construction of loose boulder structures, plugs for water percolation and contour building. All these water harvesting activities transformed Walki from a drought-ravaged area to a model village, a leader in water conservation and drought coping practices.

Impact of Community Disaster Resilience Initiatives

The transformation of Walki over a period of two years inspired over 500 women from nearby villages and districts to visit the village and learn from their success. Watershed management and techniques for using and implementing the recharge pit program became the key focus of these peer learning exchanges.

As many as 90 recharged pits have been constructed across Vidharbha and Marathwada, following the Walki model. The women’s group from Walki has visited more than 20 villages in the district to share their knowledge and experience of resource management and building disaster resilience.

Over the last two years, greater awareness of the harm caused by the indiscriminate use of pesticides and fertilizers has encouraged other villages in the area too to adopt low-input based organic farming. This has resulted in a steady drop in the use of chemicals and today each family manages to save at least INR 2000 per acre. Also practices like soil testing, vermi-composting and local seed preparation saves each farmer INR 6000 per year.

Walki today is a water-secure village and has enough water reserves for the next two-three years for drinking and irrigation needs.

Revolutionising Lives Through Sustainable Organic Farming

Gandhora, Osmanabad district, Maharashtra

Context

The Marathwada region of Maharashtra is not just strapped for resources but also highly prone to drought. The eight districts of Maharashtra that fall in the Marathwada region are among the 100 poorest districts of India. Lack of rain, unpredictable weather conditions and little to no conservation methods in place to manage water resources have added to the hardships of the communities living here.

For the inhabitants of Gandhora in the Osmanabad District of Maharashtra, water scarcity had become a way of life in the last five years. Climate change, coupled with a systemic neglect of traditional water conservation practices, had resulted in perennial drought. For the pre-dominantly agrarian community of Gandhora, it became difficult to eke out a single kharif crop. As a result, there was critical lack of fodder for the livestock as well.

The shift from food crops like sorghum and millet to water-intensive sugarcane and other cash crops that took place in Gandhora began over ten years ago. Lured by the high returns yielded by cultivating sugarcane, the farmers traded in their food crops. What they did not realize was that a hectare of sugarcane consumes 70,000 liters of water per day, which is equivalent to the daily requirement of 3,000 people. The sugar factories that fueled the need for sugarcane in the region, apart from using up water resources, also contributed to severe water pollution. The result was a drastic drop in the water table across Osmanabad district by over an average of six meters over the last five years.

As a result, Gandhora’s villagers began to face acute drinking water shortages. There was also little water left to irrigate their crops or for their livestock. About 90% of the community was forced by the acute water scarcity to abandon cash crop cultivation, which drastically impacted their incomes and quality of life. The dehydrated land, stripped off its nutrients and polluted by the excessive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, had also hardened to the point of being useless for cultivation. Livestock perished to hunger and disease. The government intervention to improve the plight of these unlucky farmers was scattered and temporary. The aid focus was largely on drought relief measures like supplying drinking water at sporadic intervals and setting up an animal shelter. There was no attempt made to initiate policy-level changes or look at long-term solutions towards building community resilience.

The Community Disaster Resilience Journey

Nine SHGs were already active in Gandhora but their focus had been largely on small savings and providing loans to its members. The Women’s Federation and SSP spearheaded the formation of Krishi Mahila Mandal (KMM) in 2010 with 25 members. They mobilized women and conducted vulnerability mapping trainings within 20 villages to identify the key issues with respect to agriculture, livelihoods, environment and livestock. The trainers returned to work with the community in partnership with the PRIs and helped the women to take the Sarpanch, Gram Panchayat, ward members and village elders into confidence. Together, they mapped vulnerable areas and village resources.

 “Our Gram Panchayat was not supportive in the beginning due to lack of confidence in our skills and leadership. However, when we started identifying issues through various activities and met government officials many times in a group and demanded more information, training, support schemes to sustain our activities, the Gram Panchayat started recognizing us. After doing mapping, we realized what is the problem in our village and how could we address it.” — Anita Kulkarni

Building Partnerships

SSP facilitated the partnership of women’s groups with a Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in neighbouring Tuljapur, block and district agricultural offices and Parbani University. KVK trained 50 women’s groups in six villages on a myriad of activities ranging from organic seed processing, land preparation, soil testing, production of organic compost, pest control and selection and timing for seed sowing to marketing their products. In another training conducted by KVK, twenty-five women farmers from ten villages were taught about internal mulching, the use of water and the selection of seeds according to the land quality. In all, more than 150 women were trained in soil testing, 20 in organic composting, 100 in local seed preparation and more than 100 women were given exposure to inter-crop/mixed crop cultivation.

The KMM also partnered with NABARD and ATMA (Agriculture Technology Management Authority) on organic farming-related initiatives. This association led to creative initiatives like information melas for farmers and facilitation of group exposure visits.

It was difficult in the beginning to convince our family and community about these agriculture practices. Our husbands were focused on cash crops even though there was no water. There was no trust or self-confidence within the community. Women hardly ventured out and we did not know how to take decisions. All these years our community leaders and husbands were making all the decisions and plans.”

Efforts were taken to recharge water bodies in partnership with the Gram Panchayat and a three km-long water pipeline was created. Around 110 wells were constructed in this manner and recharged under the MNREGA scheme. Soil extracted from four ponds not only helped in deepening the water source but was also used to enrich more than 750 acres of farming land.

Women also turned their collective attention towards the health and sanitation issues faced by the community. They accessed the MNREGA scheme in collaboration with the Panchayat and built as many as 215 toilets. They also ensured that there were regular visits by doctors to the local Primary Health Centre. These measures, along with the consumption of nutritious organic food, improved the overall health of the community, bringing down hospital visits and expenditure on health.

Impact of Community Disaster Resilience Initiatives

The Women’s Federation took charge of verifying community proposals and identified those members with the highest potential to sustain and replicate these initiatives in other areas. SSP lent its support via the Innovation Fund, which amounted to a substantial INR 1 lakh to translate their ideas into action. The women had complete control over their funds and their key focus was low-input based agriculture, multiple cropping with water efficient varieties and the preparation of seeds to reduce the overall cost of production. Subsequently, thirty women, of which four were landless and had leased land for cultivation, began organic vegetable cultivation in selected areas of their land.

Initially, women cultivated water-efficient crops like Toor, Urid, Soya and Moong on small, halfacre plots of their family land. However, they soon began expanding their area of cultivation to two acres. Those who were landless leased land in their names from big farmers and initiated collective farming. They also adopted mixed cropping, which increased the yield for both crops. There was enough for both their own consumption and retail in the local market. Thus, the women managed to raise their incomes significantly by about 25%. The women also managed to secure drip irrigation sprinklers and other equipment for subsidized rates from the government. This further improved water management and minimized consumption.

The training in local seed production from KVK inspired around 100 households to begin germinating their own seeds over 200 acres of land. This resulted in huge savings as seed prices had gone up as much as three times in the preceding few years. Optimum utilization of water, organic and collective farming and methods adopted to enrich the barren lands also bore fruit within a couple of years. The cost of cultivation per acre decreased from INR 10,000 to INR 7000. Additional training on sales and marketing strategies gave the women farmers greater confidence to take their products to the local markets.

We were using chemicals earlier and it damaged our soil and environment. We came to know about the bad practice of using chemicals and fertilizers after joining Krishi Mahila Mandal and received training. We are now converting agriculture waste to bio-compost.” – Anita Kulkarni

In the last three years (2011-2012), as many as 12 learning exchanges occurred across Maharashtra, Bihar, and Tamil Nadu, in which over 300 women participated to transfer best practice stories. Fifty women leaders from four states took part in a conference in Bihar that proved to be a big morale booster. The woman leaders were also instrumental in sharing their learnings in 40 villages across Osmanabad and Nanded in Maharashtra.

To address water scarcity and lack of quality food, conversion of cash crops to food crop was a big change in our life. We have convinced our husbands and community by doing it and showing good results in organic farming. Now our family also converted from cash crops to food crops and sugarcane remains only on 10% of land.”

The most significant outcome of these initiatives has been the growth of self-esteem and confidence among women members. They began believing in their abilities to make a difference to their own lives and their community’s all-around development. Today, women are at the core of various village development committees and proactively take the lead in meetings and Gram Sabhas to monitor the local health, education and water agendas of the village.

For any issues in the village, now the Gram Panchayat approaches us for our ideas and suggestions.” Damyanti Bosale

Future Plans: The women’s group looks forward to greater access to technology, growing collective farming and replicating similar initiatives in the state. The next actions on their wish list are starting a dal mill and setting up a company to sell their produce directly to the market. They also hope to develop more community leaders with expertise in building community resilience.

Women come together under Community Practitioners Platform (CPP)

Purpose:  Build a common platform for communities to come together to transfer practices and advocate with government.

Community practitioners, government officials, and civil society organizations came to??????????????????????gether at PUSA Agriculture University, Samastipur, Bihar on May 7, 2013 to discuss the challenges and achievements in local partnership in addressing disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and the role of grassroots women community.

More than 50 women leaders representing 13 NGOs and CBOS across Bihar, Orissa, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra have demonstrated different initiatives by community in addressing disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Women leaders from different states shared their problems in their area and how they have address to reduce the impact.

After introduction of the participants Naseem Shaikh from SSP has given a brief picture about Community Practitioner Platform and how SSP is going to present the recommendation from forthcoming session of Global Platform for DRR in Geneva from May 19-23.  She narrated how SSP is facilitating grassroots resilience initiatives across Asia, working with Huairou Commission and GROOTS International.

To make women more powerful and strengthen the grassroots community to access more resources and take lead in creating safety community, she explained the launch of CPP in Delhi in 2010. The strategy to develop leadership we promoted CRF fund, local planning, identify priorities and partner with local government. Mapping learning and resilience funds are the community design for resilience.

Women leaders from Bihar shared how they did vulnerability mapping in??????????????????????????????? the villages, identified risk and initial challenges in working with local panchayat, block officials and district authority. NGO partners who facilitated grassroots resilience initiatives explained the importance of learning and organizing dialogue with govt authorities and community women.

Godavari Dange from Sakhi Federation, Tuljapur articulated how women federation facilitated community in mapping agriculture resources, addressing water scarcity and drought in Maharashtra, mobilizing landless women to hire land on lease to start organic initiatives thru collective action and the role of Women Federation in linking Krishi Mahila Mandals (Agriculture Women Groups) to Krishi Vigyan Kendras, Agriculture Universities and District agriculture departments in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of Maharashtra.

Grassroots leaders from Bihar, Orissa, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra shared their challenges in working with local government and how they overcome and bringing the change locally.

???????????????????????????????Anil Sinha, Vice Chairman, Bihar State Disaster Management Authority expressed his confidence in women leaders skills and capacity in addressing disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. He also recommended that HFA should be named as CFA (Community Framework for Action).

At the end of the programme recommendation was made to present to Global Platform for DRR in Geneva from May 19-23, 2013.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

After HFA there should be COMMUNITY FRAMEWORK FOR ACTION (CFA): Develop community framework for action in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation for the next 10 years

CPP – SIMPLIFY THE LANGUAGE INTO LOCAL: Change the Community Practitioners Platform (CPP) into regional languages in a simple way that communicates to local people to understand grassroots practice. Encourage their communities to come up in their local language

PARTNERS AND (LOCAL) LEADERS: To strengthen partnership, leaders should develop from both sides. Partnership at local level is important

PUBLIC INFORMATION AND EDUCATION to reduce disaster: Work with govt on education and awareness on safety through songs, drama etc

UNDERSTAND RISK AND CONDUCT ASSESSMENT: Give vulnerability mapping and education a priority

COLLECT THE EXPERIENCE OF WOMEN LEADERS IN DRR

GLOBAL VISION for LOCAL ACTION: Focus on local action. Learning exchanges should be promoted globally. Leadership, organizational power, vision of women leaders is more important to take it forward.

–          Swayam Shikshan Prayog, 2013

Innovative Agricultural Practices in Devsingha village

Adopt Innovative Agricultural Practices

Devsingha village is five kms.  from Tuljapur town in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra. It is witnessing not only the emergence of women farmers but their eco-friendly innovations in cultivation. Like other rural communities, traditional agriculture is their main livelihood. Most of the households own small pieces of land. Their livelihood depends on land, climate, limited resources and market. This community has shown that collective work with Gram Panchayats and local administration is essential to pool local capacities to identify and solve local problems and to bring about some enduring impact.

Background
For the last 10 years, the community has had less rain and has suffered water scarcity. The use of costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides along with market variations in product price have contributed to degradation of land and low productivity. Thus farming is a business of high investment and low returns. Unexpected weather conditions, lack of information and training on new methods to cope with climate risk are some of the problems faced by the community.

The Women’s Federation (henceforth referred to as the Federation) in Tuljapur organized a meeting of SHGs of this village to understand the vulnerabilities and resources of the village which led the women to undertake a hazard mapping in May 2011. Community leaders, SHG members, youth and Panchayat members participated in the mapping process. It was decided that local problems should be taken up with elected Panchayat and government officials to solve them and also initiate their own remedies.  The Table below presents the details of their deliberations.

Table: 1
Problems and Priorities of the People of Devsingha village

Problems

Priorities

  • Many trees have been cut and no new saplings have been planted
  • Houses do not have safety features and strength
  • Land has become less productive
  • Shortage of water
  • There is no water harvesting system in the village
  • Farmers depend on single cash crop. Village agriculture does not address local food security and nutrition. Thus, despite being a farming community, they to buy vegetables from outside market, thus their expenses increase.
  • Vulnerable to diseases due to unsafe drinking water
  • Community practice of open defecation that impairs personal hygiene and causes disease, environmental pollution
  • Promote low cost organic farming, create local inputs, adopt new technologies
  • Address labour issues by sharing the work with women’s groups
  • Start with small pieces of land of people who are interested
  • Slowly expand the areas and varieties that are required for local communities
  • Change the crop pattern according to the availability  of water (increasing number of farmers have resorted to sugar cane cultivation which is highly water intensive in the entire Latur district which has eight sugar mills)
  • Demolish the old bridge and build new one for safe travel
  • Construct a road to agricultural field should be to facilitate movement of people, cows and buffaloes and agricultural equipment.
  • Improve infrastructure at the health sub centre

As can be seen in the above Table, agricultural problems are prominent, although demolishing the old bridge to build a new one, constructing a proper road to the farms, open defecation, felling of trees, water pollution figure in the list of problems identified. Hence, the Federation encouraged the SHGs to form a Krishi Mahila Mandal or KMM (Women’s Agriculture Group) to think and act collectively on agrarian concerns.

Krishi Mahila Mandal

In June 2010, Krishi Mahila Mandal was formed with 17 women members to address various issues in cultivation, labour and marketing on a collective basis. Each member contributed Rs. 50 per month towards Krishi Mahila Mandal savings. They used this money to give small loans to members for purchasing seeds, preparation of land, buying motor and irrigation pipes, etc.

Krishi Mahila Mandal held monthly meetings to deliberate on ensuring family food security. They dealt with the following:

  • What they can do collectively to reduce the cost and increase productivity in agriculture
  • Methods of traditional seed  preparation and cultivation of different crops
  • Which crops can be cultivated with organic manure.
  • How to get control of land for women to cultivate required pulses, oil seeds and cereals.
  • How to develop a demonstration plot for learning
  • How to do inter-cropping to get additional income and protect the soil without any  extra investment.
  • Share their experience of  increasing the productivity with low costs to other communities

Since they were practicing the traditional and harmless way of farming 20 years back, they are aware of the benefits of organic farming. However, technical knowledge is required from experts for improving the productivity of the land (soil testing, application of appropriate nutrients to overcome deficiencies and to identify the appropriate crop for the type of soil), for crop diversification, etc. For the purpose, the Federation connected KMM to Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) at Tuljapur, Agricultural University at Parbhani and to the Department of Agriculture.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog, February 2012