Women Leaders - Hari Bai
By M Jemima Margaret

A bad monsoon cannot dampen her spirit

Through the self-help group (SHG) thatís part of the watershed initiative, Hari Bai availed a loan of Rs 2,000 (US$ 32) in 2010, to buy her first goat. She now has ten goats. The SHG also brought out the leader in her Ė she is the president of Shiv SHG in Siyalwada village.

Year 2014 was a difficult one for 58-year-old Hari Bai. The monsoon failed – the rains were much lower than normal in her village Siyalwada – a tiny hamlet on the forest edge in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India. Though the rainwater harvesting pond that she shares with a neighboring farmer provided some relief, her rice harvest was not as abundant as the previous year.

Of rice prices and politics

Hari Bai and her husband Dhanraj Singh, harvesting rice on their field. Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

To add to her woes, the market price for rice had gone down. The previous year she was able to sell rice at a better price for ‘political’ reasons – the Legislative Assembly elections were due and local politicians saw to it that the farmers received a better deal in the market place. But this year she has no hope of securing the same price for her grain. And she has a huge family of nine members to feed. 

In spite of this, Hari Bai hasn’t lost her smile.  The holistic approach of the Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed project has helped her face the situation with confidence. The Self-Help Groups are an important component of the watershed project helping educate the women on farming practices and financially empowering them by providing loans for income-generating activities.

Hari Bai has attended the nutrient management and water use efficiency trainings that were conducted as part of the SHG activities, and apart from rice she has been successfully growing wheat, chickpea, red lentils and the Asha (ICRISAT) variety of pigeonpea on her 7-acre (2.83 hectares) farm. What more! She also has her goats to fall back on in bad times! Besides loaning her the money to buy her first goat, the SHG also brought out the leader in her – she is the president of Shiv SHG.

The power of SHG

SGH Meeting. Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

Recalling her first interaction with the field workers from BYPASS trying to start an SHG, Hari Bai says, “At first we were afraid of these new people. We never used to talk to them but they persisted. Fifteen of us formed a group. We started saving Rs 20 (US$ 0.32) a month and met every fortnight. I was asked to lead the group as I talk to everybody and explain things to everyone.”

In 2010, Hari Bai opted to avail a loan of Rs 2,000 (US$ 32). “Initially, we used to borrow money from outside the group and pay Rs 2 (US$ .03) as interest per month for every Rs 100 (US$ 1.62) we borrowed. That’s a lot of money for us. Now we borrow internally from within the group at low interest rates,” she says.

Hari Bai availed the loan but did not really know what to do with it. A couple of women joined together to start a flour mill and she too wanted to do something like that. When she discussed with her husband, he felt that it was better to buy a goat with the money.

Her goats multiply

Hari Bai takes her goats out for grazing. Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

Hari Bai is glad that she heeded her husband’s advice. Her husband went to Bhilai to buy the goat – a special breed that is in demand. In a span of four years, her goats multiplied – she now has 10 goats. The goats are easy to rear she says. “You don’t have to give them fodder. You just take them out for grazing in the jungle. Get them back and tie them up. And during Eid (Muslim festival), you can sell them, sitting at home without any effort. You don’t even have to step outside. We just line them up for our Muslim brethren to pick them up. The goats get sold anywhere between Rs 5,000 (US$ 80.79) to 9,000 (US$ 145.40). At times when we need extra money in the family we can always sell a goat to meet our needs,” she explains.

Goat’s milk is good for you!

Hari Baií son helps her take care of the goats.
Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

Goat’s milk is better than cow’s milk avers Hari Bai. “We use goat’s milk for making tea, it tastes wonderful. My daughters and granddaughters drink it and stay fit. Without the milk they would be skinny. We also use goat’s milk to prepare mithai (Indian sweets) – mawa (evaporated milk), gulab jamun (fried dumplings made of flour and evaporated milk and soaked in sugar syrup), kalakand and peda (both made from evaporated milk, flour and seasoned with cardamom).

Apart from the goats, there are two cows tied up in Hari Bai’s yard. She ensures that the cows get fed, cleaned and milked. “My daughter-in-law brought the cows at the time of her marriage. We use the milk to make curd and butter. We melt the butter and use it on our rotis (flat bread),” she says.

A huge family to feed

Most of the food at Hari Bai’s home is from her fields. She makes a roti that’s a staple in her village. She mixes chickpea flour and wheat flour to make the dough and then rolls out the dough into rotis and bakes them on a wood-fired stove. The wheat and chickpea she uses are from her field and have been ground in Kaliya Bai’s flour mill (she started the mill with an SHG loan). The rotis are usually eaten with vegetables or dal (pulses such as pigeonpea).

Hari Bai has a huge family. Her husband Dhanraj Singh and younger son work on the fields while her elder son looks after the goats. Her daughter-in-law cooks food for the family and is most often busy tending to her two daughters – an infant and a toddler – and Hari Bai’s elderly mother-in-law. Hari Bai also has four daughters (three of them are married) and her youngest daughter who is studying high school stays with her.

Her family is her strength

The best part of Hari Bai’s huge family is the understanding that they share and the collective decisions that they take. All members of the family pitch in when there is a need. Ask Hari Bai if she calls the shots at home and she sagely replies, “There is no such thing as ruling my home. Work needs to be done. So we do it. When they give me instructions, I follow and when I instruct them they follow! When my husband and sons tell me, go get your sickle, there’s pulses and wheat to harvest, I join them. When it comes to money, my husband handles all the financial transactions. We discuss together how to spend our earnings and manage our home.”

Ask Dhanraj Singh what he thinks about his wife’s role at home and in the community and he says, “I was very happy that we could buy a goat with the loan she availed. We now have 10 goats and we have benefitted a lot. I feel good about the work she does at the SHG. Our community is benefiting through it. ”

Watershed project changes her life

The rainwater harvesting pond. Hari Bai contributed Ĺ acre of land for the purpose. Photo: V Nagasrinivas Reddy

Like many of the farmers in Siyalwada, Hari Bai too has benefited from the watershed initiative. The rainwater harvesting pond in her farm is one among the six that were dug in the region. She along with her neighboring farmer allocated ½ acre (.02 hectares) each for the pond. Excess rainwater from the surrounding land is channeled into this rainwater harvesting structure with the help of diversion drains. This structure helps recharge the groundwater whereby water is drawn from tube wells and depending on the need, farmers directly pump water from the pond. As per the watershed project norms, the beneficiary pays for 5% of the cost of digging the pond and Hari Bai paid her share of Rs 5,000 (US$ 80.78) for the pond which she shares with her neighbor. 

A major achievement for Hari Bai is that for a second year in a row, she has harvested rice, a crop that was never grown in these rainfed regions. Because of the watershed project, farmers are able to harvest rainwater and use it to grow new crops like rice and at the same time increase the yield of the regular crops that they grow – chickpea, pigeonpea, wheat and red lentils.

Summing up the benefits of the watershed initiative, Hari Bai says, “Soil tests were done on our field and we have been using the fertilizers that have been recommended by ICRISAT, we also have adopted the Broad Bed Furrow system for growing chickpea. We have begun to use vermicompost and the seeds given by ICRISAT have given us a better yield. Earlier there wasn’t enough water and therefore the yield was poor. Now when the monsoon is good, the yield is almost double. Even when the rains fail, we still manage a decent harvest!”

Erratic weather can ruin crops, causing heavy losses, rendering farmers easy prey to loan sharks. Self-Help Groups (SHGs) empower women farmers by:

  • Providing loans at low interest rates to members
  • Identifying new avenues for earnings to supplement household income, apart from saving and credit activities
  • Training women in raising nurseries, kitchen gardens, vermicomposting, etc., to generate income
  • Motivating women from poor families to organize themselves into groups
  • Encouraging knowledge sharing to better understand the importance of nutrition, sanitation, savings, and enhancing the productivity of land for improving their livelihood
  • Water Use Efficiency trainings are given to women to maximize production for every unit of water used
  • The trainings emphasize on using quality seeds, applying prescribed soil nutrients, adopting land management practices like Broad Bed Furrow system and drip irrigation

The impact of the efforts led to:

  • Minimizing crop losses  
  • Doubling the yield of crops and vegetable patches
  • Growing new crops like rice
  • Empowering women to generate income by setting up flour mills, raising goats, etc
  • Instilling confidence
  • Grooming women for leadership roles in the community

 The Padarlya-Siyalwada Model Watershed, Raisen District, Madhya Pradesh, India, had an important partnership with international scientific researchers, national government and local NGO partners. It was led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), funded by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development, and implemented by an NGO, Bhopal Yuwa Paryavaran Shikshan & Samajik Sansthan (BYPASS).

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