Fighting Poverty in India Series: Part 2
Special to American News Report
Mina Devi has struggled to free herself from the clutches of poverty her whole life. Now, she and her family don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from because she can participate in KindSight’s Women Farmers in India project.
She grew up very poor in a small village in India where she dropped out of school in third grade to take care of her brothers while her mother worked as a sharecropper.
“Some days we could take [sic] two meals, but many times we could only have one meal a day,” Mina said.
She married at 18, and when her first-born was three months old, she contracted Tuberculosis.
“I had to sell our food stores that we were going to eat for the coming year in order to go to the nearest city for treatment,” she said.
Farming is effectively the only way Mina and other women in her community can contribute to feeding their families and earning any income. Unfortunately, they lacked the skills and experience to be successful farmers because everything they knew about farming was “inherited from their forefathers,” said Pranjal Saikia.
Saikia understands agriculture and poverty. He works for PRADAN, a nonprofit that has been fighting poverty in India for over 30 years. Saikia is a team leader on a project funded by KindSight that equips, trains and empowers women farmers in the Banka Region of Bihar, India.
The women needed different seeds, new equipment and training in order to grow profitable vegetable crops. With support from KindSight, PRADAN is fulfilling these needs and creating sustainable new traditions to be handed down to future generations.
“From PRADAN we’ve learned new technologies and methods involved in vegetable cultivation. Previously we didn’t treat our rice and vegetable seeds before planting. We’ve learned about the use of the polyhouse and making compost and trenches. Previously we used to not maintain proper planting spaces in our garden. Now we’re following these methods,” Mina explained.
The training, supplies and equipment are making a significant difference.
“We used to use about 10 kilos of seed for every 30 decimals of land (about 30 kilos of seed for every acre of land). After the training, we’re only using a fraction of that. We’ve learned about treatment of the seed and how to make use of the nursery. We use less seed now, and the yield is more,” she said.
“Five years back, if someone had told me you could earn 20,000 INR [Indian Rupees] in one season, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Mina said, while pointing out that she earned more than twice as much income as her husband did last year.
The changes Mina sees in her life go beyond being able to feed her family and earn desperately needed income, she’s experiencing the empowerment and cultural change that comes with it.
PRADAN taught Mina and other women farmers the value of working together in a Producers’ Association. Through the group, they wield power none could ever wield individually.
Mina explained, “We used to have to borrow money from the money lenders at an exorbitant rate. When the twenty of us come together and each contribute 10 rupees a week, we don’t have to take loans from the money lenders. When there’s a need or an emergency we can get money from our own group.”
Outside of financial freedom, the Producers’ Association has changed the women’s status in the community.
Mina says the group “Has brought about solidarity among the women of our village. We act together. Recently we’ve been able to negotiate with authorities to bring a road to our village. It used to be the men that were doing these things and make [sic] decisions. We’re now part of the decision-making process.”
Through the funding of KindSight, Mina and others have learned sustainable ways to fight poverty, and along the way, they have become empowered on many levels.
Mina, the third grade dropout, now has enough income to send her eldest son, Sita Ram, to a private school in another town. Her seven-year-old son is in school and loves to read, while her young daughter is in kindergarten. None of her children will need to drop out of school so their mom can tend to crops, like Mina did.
Mina’s family was accustomed to having one or sometimes two meals a day. “Now, the children eat whenever they’re hungry, really, three or four times a day,” she said.
“I’m so happy that it has worked out with this project. I’m so, so happy. Now I don’t have to worry anymore, I’m happy. My life is secure, and most importantly I can provide for my family.”
Editor’s Note: If you want to support KindSight projects, a generous donor is giving $20 to each person who signs up at www.myKindSight.org to donate to whatever part of the PRADAN project you choose.
Read other articles in American News Report’s Fighting Poverty in India Series
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