The Friends of Women World Banking, Ahmedabad provides micro-finance to organisations and women entrepreneurs and is engaged in capacity building of these women. As part of FWWB team we went on a field trip to Viramgam, Ahmedabad District and Kadi, Mehsana District of Gujarat to witness and discuss the activities of the organisations funded by this micro finance group.
We visited the Saath Mahila Cooperative Credit Society at Viramgam and met the field officers and staff of the society. The micro finance society FWWB is mainly lending for agricultural activities and hence we learnt about agriculture and impact of climate change on it. The field officers were all women and they told us about the nature of agriculture, the loans given and repayment.
How to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers to have ecofriendly agriculture? We asked the field officer if they saw the impact of climate change on agriculture. One of the field officers said she noted that low or delayed rainfall leads to more pest infection. This required larger doses of pesticides, which is obviously not ecofriendly. A suggestion from the field officers was planting rye (a type of mustard seed) along with cotton which helped to distract the insects! The pests attack the rye plants and leave cotton alone!
Regenerative agriculture is an approach of conserving and rehabilitating food and farming systems. As the field officers told us the farmers also took precautions to rejuvenate the land. In summer the farmer dig out mud from the dry ponds and fill their fields. Different plots of land were rejuvenated each year. Could this be called regenerative agriculture?
We visited Trent Village (odd name) to meet women farmers. In the villages, the women were organized into self help credit groups (SHG).We met a seven member women’s SHG group. While the loans are given to individuals there is a collective responsibility of the group for repayment. If a member is unable to make one of the EMI payments on the loan, it becomes the collective responsibility of all the members to help her out. The woman (loaned) repays the instalment to the members when she is able to.
The main crops in the village were castor, tuvar (lentil) jeera (cumin) and wheat. One of the women reported that half of their land was share cropped with the rent being 1/3rd share of the crop. The village got irrigation from the Narmada canal. They took loans from at least two agencies each, a credit cooperative and a new small finance bank, to meet their agricultural needs. Some women took loans from other micro finance institutions. When we asked if they have need for more loan, their answer was very clear. ‘We cannot afford to pay more interest’.
We travelled to Kadi, a small town in Mehsana District to meet ‘beautypreneurs’! There were ten women who were running their own beauty parlours from home. They were being trained in new beauty techniques and products, maintaining hygiene, and professionalism in conducting the business. The women were also taught how to maintain accounts and given tips on how to grow the business.
The women were very excited by the new prospects that were shown to them through the efforts of FWWB. However, only a few were able to tell us how much investment they had put into the business. None of them felt the need for loans to expand. Being young and inexperienced they were not sure that they could or would set up business outside their homes. They said that setting up a separate enterprise required a lot of equipment and they did not feel they had the physical or capital resources to undertake such a venture at this point in time.
Official statistics show low participation of women in economic activities in India. During our visit we saw varying kinds of work being done by women in rural and small towns in India. The field officers were all women who had a good knowledge of the agricultural activities for which they were extending and monitoring loans to women farmers. We met women farmers who were also members of the self help credit group. In the town of Kadi we met young enthusiastic women who were ‘beautypreneurs’, making a transition from livelihoods to entrepreneurship. It would take time and effort, but a large percentage of these women would expand their businesses and hopefully set up their own enterprises outside their homes.