Women’s self-help groups shore up farm communities (Feature)

June 12th, 2008 - 12:41 pm ICT by IANS  

By V. Vijayalakshmi
Pune, June 12 (IANS) The woes of the agricultural community in rural Maharashtra may be far from over, but a Mumbai-based trust is helping out a sizeable number of farm families through women’s self-help groups (SHGs). The SHGs, being funded by the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan, have instilled confidence in thousands of poor farm families by forging a tie-up with Big Bazar, one of India’s biggest retail outlets for supply of homemade products.

Supriya Sule, a Rajya Sabha MP from Maharashtra who was instrumental in getting the order from Big Bazar, told IANS, “This is a movement on the lines of what Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus did in Bangladesh.”

The SHGs train small women’s groups known as ‘bachat gats’, which have 10 or 11 members doing business financed out of household savings. The cottage industry products made by these groups comprise papads, pickles, spices and other savouries besides hair oils and soaps.

There are close to 250,000 bachat gats in Maharashtra with a total of 2.5 million women under it supplying homemade products to hundreds of grocery shops and department stores in the state. They are doing their bit in the rural parts of a state where over 3,000 debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in the last three years.

Says Supriya Sule, “On an average, a bachat gat with 10 to 15 women is able to earn Rs.8,000-9,000 a month. We provide a platform and the women are enterprising enough to run it themselves.”

Under the new tie-up, the bachat gats of quake-prone Latur district will be supplying jaggery and soybean products to Big Bazar.

Thirty-two-year-old Sitabai Mohite of Ghodegaon in western Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district belongs to one such bachat gat. For Mohite, managing a family of two children and a husband with a small patch of land was a daily struggle.

But things changed for the better as this hardworking mother of two, determined to give a better life to her kids, started her own business of amla (Indian gooseberry) products with just Rs.200 and a whole lot of encouragement from the SHG of the area.

In two years, Mohite, along with her 10 friends, is a success story. Mohite’s small savings group is supplying amla products to several retail outlets in Maharashtra.

“Now my whole family, including my husband, is working along with me and our financial position has considerably improved. We make derivatives like candy, hair oil, soap and pickles from amla and supply the same to retailers,” Mohite told IANS on phone.

Women in her group say Mohite has hardly studied till Class 4 but is now adept at keeping accounts. She has applied for a loan from the Bank of Baroda and does organic farming too.

The most challenging part of the bachat gats is marketing their own products. It is here that SHGs play a vital role.

The bachat gat activity yields roughly Rs.50 a day to each member and is financed by various banks against a small proportion of the women’s collective savings.

The SHG project was started in 1992, but for the last four years, the Yashwantrao Chavan Pratishthan has been funding it to provide vocational training to the women, she said.

Asha Pise, a social worker running an NGO called the Rajashri Shahu Pratishthan in Latur - Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s home district - told IANS, “It is amazing to see how the lives of these women have changed. Financial independence has brought empowerment among women.”

Another exemplary story is that of 50-year-old Girijabai Bhosale, a resident of Kumbechal village in Beed district. Bhosale in the past had been a victim of abuse by her husband and in-laws because she could not bear a child.

“Her husband deserted her and married another woman making her existence tough,” say her bachat gat friends. “She tried to eke out a living by selling vegetables from her little farm but, without any support, it was difficult.”

“My life took a complete turn after I came in contact with the SHGs. They taught me how to make squash powder and many other things,” a grateful Bhosale told IANS.

“By selling vegetables, I used to earn Rs.20 a kg but now I can get Rs.200 a kg from the squash and ketchup I make out of lemons and tomatoes. And collectively, we earn Rs.3,500 in a week now,” she added.

Bhosale’s squash powder has become a hit, especially since it is recommended by yoga guru Ramdev for weight reduction. Bhosale says she could not control her tears when she was invited by All India Radio to talk about her success story.

“Today not only am I financially independent but my social standing has also improved. People look up to me as a successful businesswoman,” Bhosale says.

Bhosale has become a model to emulate for women in her area. She is invited by various NGOs to present her case as a source of encouragement.

(V. Vijayalakshmi can be contacted at v.vijayalakshmi@ians.in)

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