Women empowerment, Livelihoods, food and nutrition security in the wake of climatic changes – a case study

*This article is a brief from the case study done for one of the NGO.*khatijaIndian census of 2011 indicates 70% of Indians still living in rural areas. Despite all sorts of economic development in the past 2-3 decades, there are still high rates of unemployment  about 49 unemployed / 1000 people in urban India and 51 unemployed / 1000 people surveyed in rural India according to  (Ministry of labour and employment – GOI, 2016). Often the marginal community suffers the most. What do you hope to find in coastal Indian villages interior to a city? For some it is despair and despair and yet for others it is Despair but hope – hope for better tomorrow.

However there are stories of courage, of people who have risen from nothing to something with their own will power. And this case captures well as to how women empowerment initiatives along with alternative livelihoods and food and nutrition security initiatives for vulnerable women can come as a climate adaptive strategy.

This is story about Khatija –a  fisher women, a salt pan labourer who turned to become a community mobiliser and an organic farmer.

It describes her journey to confident living and her vision for not just herself but her fellow women residents, uplifting of community and of her village as well while intacting them against climatic changes and addressing many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The women empowerment story:

Water woes and the saline land were increasingly making it impossible for  Khatija Akbar (37 years of age)  and her family of 7 from Miyana community to sustain from the harsh climate of Khirai – the coastal village of Miyana taluka in Morbi district of Gujarat state in India. Climate change is making sure that life is going to get tougher.

Khatija was married early and belongs to Below Poverty Line (BPL) family. Her 5 children consisted of 2 daughters who are now married while 3 sons are studying in 6th, 8th and 10th standard. Due to lack of livelihoods opportunity, she and her family resorted to migration. In the vicinity were the salt pan companies employing multitude of labourers. They decide to try their luck at the salt pans for livelihoods and better economic security near Surajbari – Haripar village at 2 hours distance from her village. With this decision their ancestral land of 3 vigah[1] ( 1.2 acres )  was left for further degradation only to later realize that salt pan work for 8 months a year and prawn fishing near creek of Halvad in monsoons was never ever going to aid them to fulfill their aspirations with their elder’s daughter’s wedding looming over their head. Those stays went by creating temporary huts in the shanty’s where every 15 days they used to ferry to their own village to bring their grocery. This gave them hardly Rs 4000-5000 a month as savings.While prawns farming  which would let them make Rs 200 for 7-8 kgs of one tin box daily. Since these fisherfolks were uneducated, the middle men who used to come and buy from these fisher folks and sell in bigger market used to cheat by weighing less and paying less. These hardworking women would sit and talk about this injustice but nothing beyond it as they didn’t have voice to raise their concerns. Spectator..

Khatija’s changing needs and her courage led her to become a trend breaker and setter when she choose to go to the seas with her husband as helping hand for more prawn farming. This effort led them to start earning Rs 2000-3000 daily and thus they accrued Rs 10000 as savings in a season. Moreover, she gave her farm on rent to fetch further Rs 30000 and with the Rs 40000 thus obtained she got her elder daughter’s wedding in 2010.

While back at salt pans she used to hear about the women empowerment programs and on money saving tips on radio on returning to her temporary ‘home’ post her daily work. This made her think on their need to do saving of money for their better economic stability. She used to discuss with other women these ideas of the need to do saving of money at their shanty. On women agreeing, they got inspired to form their first ‘mahila sangathan’  – women group. Many determined ladies joined it. Each women who joined the group started saving Rs 100 and handed it over to Khatija to take care of it. As the women strength reached to around 13 and money saving to Rs 7200  she started thinking of need to record each women’s money properly and also to seek help of some one for what to do of the collected money. That was the time she approached the NGO which she knew had been working in their region since 2001 earthquake but they had never approached due their own misconceptions. Account of the fisherwomen of the group was formed with NGO’s help.

In 2013 she came in touch with an employee of this NGO who used to work to conduct malnutrition study. On seeing Khatija’s spirit she asked her to initially join for 10 days at this NGO where her work was to over see kids at the Anganwadi and to take the pregnant women to the primary health care center at Mamta Diwas. Starting from Rs 1000 / month she now gets Rs 4000/month. With this initiative she started earning a steady income for her family now which got her thinking to move away from salt pan and prawn fishing works permanently. The other positive impact of this work was that she didn’t have to leave her village for long duration of time which also meant that she could take care for her kids better while also enforcing them to attend school. She started meeting fellow villagers to discuss and solve bigger challenges of community through this NGO’s works which led her to internal empowerment and progress.

In 2 years by 2015 the women group’s savings reached to Rs 50000. On seeing the bank deposit of such amount, the bank manager also came forward to give a loan of Rs 1,00,000 to this women  group for starting their self enterprises. So 9 women were given Rs 10000 each and the remaining 4 women from the deposited Rs 50000. Thus the bank account still had Rs 20000 in savings. Ladies from that loan money started selling clothes, mini flour mill, spice business, a grocery shop and few like Khatija stared investing back in their own farm. The ideas of businesses and technical help came from discussions and guidance with the NGO.

With her successes and making her family come up from drudgery, people who used to mock and laugh at her back now had started supporting her, calling her, asking her for her opinions. She is happy.

In 2013 she thought to start farming in their own ancestral land. It also got her thinking to re-work on her ancestral farm as farming work was for her own family and not like the work which was done for others where her family worked like a labourer. Her in-laws used to grow mung (green gram), Bajro (Pearl millet) but she would need some technical guidance inspite of having also worked as a farm labourer which Local NGO helped provide with experts advices for turning to organic farming. By this time Narmada irrigation canal has also reached their region.

She had earned Rs 20000 from her farm. There were lot of experiements, few losses, yet every thing was a learning..Khatija had gained her needed confidence in farming. 2016 was her second year and now other Patel farmer came forward to give his 13 vigah (5.2 acres) degraded land to be cured through organic farming that Khatija has adopted. She also took loan of Rs 15000 to get a water pump used to raise water from the narmada canal which passes near by to her fields. She sowed Organic traditional cotton of which she has already earned Rs 30000 and still expecting another Rs 30000. From her land she received Rs 25000 post all expenditure from organic traditional cotton  produce. She will harvest maize now as animal feed and would sell at Rs 50 / 20 kgs  locally and Rs 70 / 20 kgs if sold outside in Mahajan wada at Morbi. While in monsoons she plans to sow and harvest Bajro (pearl millet) and til (Sesame). Now she has started to draw from her failures and successes in farming and stared to memorise techinques, other technical concepts of farming and harvesting. When she gets stuck in trying to treat the sown crops she tends to ask the patel farmers to solve her problems at farm. She says “ the good thing is we started with clean slate and growing and treating organically  is all we have learnt. Now other village people also come and ask me for any advice, , my relatives come and buy those organic fertiliser and pesticide from me which I sell at Rs 100 / litre. My husband Akbar supported me and now there are other people also who come to support me because they think that I will bring with me some thing useful. Now people also come home to discuss with me on any NGO’s meetings, its agenda which I share with them freely. All of us now at my house have a bank savings account with atleast Rs 5000 as balance. ”

On gaining confidence, she readied 21 fisherwomen who had ancestral land but were still going for labour to salt pans, as farm labourers and for prawn fishing to start cultivating their own farm and have helped their children to send them to school. Another of her dream got fulfilled. Moreover these women were given various vegetable seeds to grow in their own small courtyard so as to cater to their daily nutrition needs. The excess produce if it happens is again sold in the market to give them some more earning.

On asking her future vision for herself and for her community she quickly utters “ there are lots of things to do but foremost is to have women’s name in the jameen varsa ( land entitlement documents ) , for which I will keep fighting, also I feel ladies should know their rights so I will help them prepare for it. More over all poor should have their name registered for 0-16 form for BPL so they can fetch the benefits that BPL government schemes provide more over she feels that vulnerable single women should also be put under BPL so as to provide them relief and appropriate support to sustain. Want to walk far by holding all together…” It is miles to go before she sleeps ….!

How would such initiative help the planet?

What does this story teach? Most often than not rural women’s voices in decision making and action are missing. However this case study indicates that if women empowerment, capacity building is taken as central to rural development it may work as multi pronged approach to turn to appropriate climate change action while catering to multiple SDG goals like Goal 1 – End poverty, Goal 2 – End Hunger, Goal 5- Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, Goal 8 – Decent work and economic growth, Goal 13 – Climate action while also inspiring women to educate their children for their better future and uplifting their entire family’s status.

By just hand-holding and training for women for income generating livelihood alternative led to  Women empowerment and multitudes of outcomes like food and nutrition security, and also combating climate change impact by moving to organic farming with traditional seeds of farm produce which traditionally grew in the soil which are more resilient to local climatic changes.

More over all women who were inspired equally participated in the initiatives and decision making of not only local NGO but at their respective homes too.

This initiative is not only scalable by building the organisations capacities for further expansion but also there is scope of more proliferation through strategic partnerships with other organisations for knowledge transfer for more such success stories of change. Such initiatives not only empower women to become important change agents but equal stakeholders and entrepreneurs. More power to such striving women who are change agents!

[1] Vigah is a local measure of land : 1 acre = 2.5 vigah

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