02Feb2015

Anandi: The story of a woman farmer

By Charu Khanna

One day, God looked down at his plant paradise and said, “I need a caretaker.” God created a farmer. He said, “I need somebody determined enough to grind the rocks into soil and tender enough to wean the calves and milk the cows.” He created a woman farmer.

The story of Anandi, a resident of Moreda village in Alwar district, Rajasthan, is such a woman farmer. Her day starts much before dawn, when most of us stretch cozily in our beds. At five in the morning, irrespective of the weather, she reviews the list of endless jobs awaiting her attention. She starts by mopping the floor, cleaning the house, fetching water for drinking, making food for family, helping children go to school, and feeding poultry and dairy animals.

Even at the age of 50, she finishes her daily chores before moving to the field to tend the crops she raises to feed the family and earn money. She lives with her husband and nine children (eight girls and one boy). With children ranging from 8 to 28 years of age, she shifts effortlessly between the various roles of a mother meeting the needs of her family.

Throughout the year, she plants seeds, ploughs, spreads manure and other fertilizers, harvests the crops, and performs post-harvest jobs in the fields. She grows millet, mustard, and wheat. With six acres of land at her disposal, she has to produce enough to meet the everyday needs of her family of eleven. After at least 8-9 hours of manual a labor in the field, she returns home to attend to the needs of the family and animals. Without even a single break all day, she moves between jobs at home and on the farm.

Despite her hard life, Anandi is a happy woman. She walks in the village with a smile on her face. Wherever she goes, people greet her with warmth. Every woman in the village feels connected with her. With the help of their trust, she engages herself in an ongoing struggle to improve the lives of many in her village, Moreda. Every household welcomes her, she reports with great pride.

However, “life was not always this way,” said Anandi. She used to work as a laborer on someone else’s farm. The wages were not enough to support her family and were often not paid on time. Repeated requests to the farm owner for wages due to her went ignored. The family was living hand-to–mouth. There were days when the couple could not manage sufficient food for their children. There was no other source of money to meet the demands of their family.

The tale of tragedy came to a halt when Anandi decided to fight back. From an NGO called Ibtada she found out about self-help groups (SHGs). She learned how a group could support her, and other women like her, to secure their necessities.

Seized with an idea, Anandi talked with the women in the village and with her husband. Her plan was to collect Rs. 10 from every household on the weekly basis. SHG members could then use the funds in times of need.

When she first floated the idea, nearly all the women in the village expressed fears of being robbed of what little money they had. However, finally persuaded by Anandi and Ibtada staff members, the women formed a SHG in 2000 under Savera Mahila Munch, Umrain. The group was formally registered in 2006.

The aim of the group was to find solutions of the problems troubling women of the village. Once they realized the importance of the effort, women gained confidence in the collective.

The Sehgal Foundation helped Anandi and others leapfrog toward a better life. A major break for women in the village was the Unnat Krishi project that the foundation started in their village and in other villages nearby. The aim of the project is to educate the women farmers about better agricultural practices. The SHG women were given free fertilizers, as required for each crop—millet, mustard, or wheat.

“When I adopted modern agricultural practices learned during the project, my millet and mustard yields doubled”, beamed Anandi. Before adopting the practices, her fields yielded 8-10 quintal of millet. The yield rose to 15-20 quintal of millet per season. She persuaded other women in her SHG and village to adopt the modern agricultural practices as well. She became a role model for other women farmers by replicating her learning techniques on four-five acres of land.

“We have been farming for ages. Nobody ever told us about soil requirements and the benefits of using different fertilizers. When Unnat Krishi experts came to our village and asked us to adopt their practices, we were reluctant. But gradually, looking at the benefits, we adopted the measures,” she added. The benefits of the additional crop yield brought more income into the house. The family could live a more dignified life and educate their children.

The days are still hard for Anandi, but she at least gets her due. With knowledge of modern agricultural practices and the strength of collectivity, she is capable of meeting the needs of her family.

She smiles when her youngest daughter adoringly says she wants to spend her life doing what her mother does. Anandi hopes that education will give her daughter other options, too.