Women leaders as change makers in resilience building

Background

Malkoshkapur is a model village showing how a vibrant learning community with women leadership can change their community thru women leadership and leaning strategies. Located in remote place near Nepal border Malkoshkapur is 13 kilometres away from the nearest town Birpur. This village like other villages in Supaul district has a history of flood and its impact on human lives and livelihoods. In the changing climate and recurring floods, women leaders are paving the way for implementing sustainable and innovative initiatives and motivate other communities to implement and scale it up. This is what happening in Malkoshkapur village.

The Problem

Sand deposits after the Kosi flood have destroyed the fertile land, soil and the environment. This has led to decrease in income and difficult to run the family. There was no Self Help Groups prior to 2008 in this area. After 2008 flood, GPSVS an NGO based in Madhubani came to this village and mobilised women in SHGs in 2011. In short time they showed that the group and togetherness has a meaning and significant change in their life.

Initiatives to reduce the problem

Malkoshkapur women groups learned how they can mobilise around local risk linking with development and partnership after a learning exchange conducted to Jagir Araji village which is 8 km away from Jagir Araji. Motivated women groups came back with a determination to take lessons from Jagir Araji. They conducted vulnerability mapping in the village and identified priorities to address for solution. They actually exposed and aware of local risk and what are the priorities to address. It was an eye opening to many issues for them. In the mapping and dialogue process, ward members and community leaders were participated. They identified weather changes, flooding, poor infrastructure, sanitation, drinking water, health and livelihoods are the main problems they face.

To address the issues in agriculture and livelihoods, women group decided to start collective vegetable farming on leased land. The group received Rs. 15,000 as Community Resilience Fund (CRF) from SSP. The group bought 3 khatta land initially to start vegetables under the leadership of Lalita Devi.

“We need unity and strength in collective work. We also have to empower with information from meetings and learning visit.” – Lalit Devi

The first experiment was a success story and they got Rs. 4000 as profit. After motivated by the good result, the groups comprising 11 members bought another 5 more khatta of land on lease. This time they cultivated maize and wheat which again provided a good profit. It was a success again and the community now plan to cultivate paddy in this season.

“When we cultivated vegetables last year we got good profit of Rs. 4000. If we expand to more areas we can get much better profit.” says Ranjana Devi, women leader from Malkoshkapur.

After success in agriculture and livelihoods, they also showed their leadership skills in demanding community infrastructure and facilities for the community. Women groups are active in Village Development Committee and developed a community plan and submitted to panchayat. Their main priorities were raised hand-pumps, strong houses, proper roads and drainage, toilet scheme and water for drinking and irrigation. The panchayat included their plan in the Panchayat plan and submitted to Zilla parishad and the community so far got 6 hand-pumps, 32 houses raised the platform and strengthened with EQ resistant features, 12 toilets for houses.

Ranjana Devi – “Whenever you do any good work in the village think about development”

Impact:
Now the groups are recognised as leaders and change makers in this village. They are now visiting local panchayat and block level offices to demand for new schemes and programmes, seeds and vermin beds etc. They started attending meetings and workshops organised by civil society organisations and gain knowledge thru sharing and learning. They are inspiring other neighbouring villages to develop safe communities in disaster and climate change situations. More women leaders are developed thru the initiatives and partnership with local panchayat has strengthened.

“We contributed money and work in field together. We want to take our community forward”.

“Earlier we were not sitting in front of women. Now we are organized thru meetings and talking to panchayat mukhya for solutions. We will increase our strength in the coming months”, Says Lalita Devi.

Story of two women farmers from Masala- Khurd village, Maharashtra

Masala Khurd village is 10 to 12 km away from Tuljapur in Osmanabad. The community in Masala Khurd were benefitted from various government schemes and programmes and in the lead of various innovative ideas and practices. Earlier community from this village were using chemical pesticides and fertilisers in high dose. Due to high use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in the field, fertility of soil and quality of production came down. This lead to high investment in agriculture and less income. To address these issues, SSP intervened in this situation to mobilise grassroots communities in sustainable agriculture practices. SSP educated community in shifting the current practice to innovative sustainable agriculture initiatives. The focus was introducing organic agriculture and address food security and nutrition. .

This initiative of introducing organic method was taken up by two Sakhis Mrs. Shila Shrikant Narwade (Shilatai) and Parvati Mauli Narwade (Parwatitai).  When they initiated this task there was high resistance from the men of the village as women had earlier never involved in agriculture and in decision making at home. They only worked as labourer in the field. Informed women community did not get discouraged from this action, but continued their activities.  They mobilised 41 women from the village who were keen to initiate organic farming in their respective farming field and formed a ‘farmer women’s federation’ in 2005. Each member would save Rs. 200 per month with the federation for effective functioning. Shilatai selected as the president of this federation. The federation was facilitated by SSP and technical support was provided by ‘Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK)’ Tuljapur. SSP’s field co-ordinator organised the first meeting of this federation and oriented all the women farmers about how this federation would function and importance of organic farming and related activities. Scientists and experts from Krishi Vigyan Kendra trained women members on several best practices of organic cultivation and their importance in sustaining the agriculture. In these trainings, women farmers learnt about soil and water testing, vermi composting, preparation of bio pesticides, Amrit Mithi and Amri Jal. They also learnt the ill effect of chemical fertilisers and pesticides on their body and soil and realised that if the soil is nutritious, it produces good vegetables and food grains thus leading to a healthy community.

After being trained, the most difficult task was to convince the men in the village, but with efforts of Shilatai and SSP’s coordinator Leelatai, the men agreed to let women practice organic vegetable cultivation in one gunta of land. The input cost decreased almost 30% whereas their total production increased considerable. Last year 2012-2013, their production accounted to almost 34,000 whereas this year their production almost accounted to 74,000. As their vegetable cultivation benefitted for their household consumption and also improved the land’s fertility eventually. Today many of the women farmers are cultivating vegetables on almost an acre of land. KVK’s Varsha Marvilkar also trained the federation members on soya processing and many women are manufacturing soya products and selling them in the local market.

Shilatai cropped Brinjals through organic cultivation and has been consistently getting a bumper yield. The demand in the local market for her Brinjals is very high and people buy Brinjals from her in the village for marriages and other social functions. She has also represented with her Brinjals in various exhibitions in Parbhani and Pune. Shilatai had six buffalos and one cow. With these six buffalos and one cow, Shilatai has started a dairy business and earn around Rs. 300 to Rs. 350 per day from it. She is very keen on experimenting various adaptive practices on her fields and show them to other Sakhi’s to motivates them to practice them.

Today income levels have improved in the village and villagers know that healthy soil leads to a healthy community. Efforts of Shilatai and Parwatitai to initiate organic cultivation in the village with SSP and KVK’s facilitation and training have found laurels among community and outside.  . The soil’s fertility has increased and yield has doubled. Women and children are being able to consume nutritious food in the village and men in the village today respect Shailatai’s suggestions.