CORD’s Community Based Livelihood: Farm and Allied Sectors Department strives to empower women farmers to make informed decisions in their households and collectivize with other women farmers in their communities. While agriculture has been an essential part of the Himachali lifestyle, women farmers are often marginalized and are not given formal resources to learn about innovative farming practices. However, through CORD, women farmers are grouped into Women Farmer Groups (WFGs) consisting of eight to ten members. CORD currently serves a total of 2,500 women farmers across 24-26 panchayats, or local villages. WFG members can attend special training workshops on organic crop intensification methodologies and locally sourcing inputs to decrease input costs. Specifically, Himachal’s hilly terrain and summer monsoon season lends itself very well to paddy farming.
Among other assignments, I had the opportunity to document the success story of one of the farmers in the Paddar panchayat. Sunita Devi, a fifty-year old illiterate farmer, has four daughters who are all married and one son who is completing his BA. Her husband runs a local catering business, earning about Rs. 1,800 per month, which equates to about $27 per month. Before adapting MKSP’s farming initiatives, Sunita Devi participated in government schemes for employment for Rs. 165 ($2.50) per day. However, she experienced a large gap between her earnings and her financial needs.
After the initiatives of CORD, she was able to learn and adapt the integrated agriculture techniques, leasing two kanals (0.25 acres) of land from local Paddar residents. Sunita Devi attended trainings led by her Women Farmer Group and CORD agricultural assistants, perfecting the Vermi compost method to produce organic, highly effective fertilizers. She was able to locally source her demand for high quality seeds and saw an increase in her production of crops, including rice paddy, wheat, all vegetables, ginger, and garlic. Also, by using organic cattle feed for her cow, she is able to produce five liters of dairy products a day, including milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Sunita Devi, combining her motivation with clever enterprise, found her niche in the community, catering her surplus organic products to the population of women who do not have kitchen gardens and cannot grow their own vegetables. Sunita Devi’s son delivers her dairy products around the village every morning. During the afternoon, Sunita Devi leaves her home with a large bag of vegetables and travels by foot around her panchayat. She advertises her organic products as chemical-free and serves a group of about twenty to twenty five families. However, not only does she promote her products in her panchayat; she also walks a few kilometers to the local Chamunda Devi Temple area with her vegetables, dairy products, and flower arrangements, selling these to at least ten regular customers everyday. Because of her driven and tireless nature, Sunita Devi is now able to bring in a total of about Rs. 20,000 per year through her sales. Sunita Devi states that, through CORD, she feels like an empowered entrepreneur, able to sell her organic vegetables, increase her family income, and actively serve her village with healthier produce.
Like Sunita Devi, I met countless other individuals who have transformed their lives after adapting CORD’s farming initiatives. Reflecting on how these women have taken their lives into their own hands, fighting gender inequities in the decision-making process at home, I am truly motivated to work harder and take advantage of the opportunities I have been given.