Fairtrade Propelling Vidarbha’s Women Farmers To Prosperity

India's Women Farmers

Fairtrade has enabled Vidarbha's Women Farmers to take charge of their lives. Photo: Zameen

Sustainable cotton production is giving a ray of hope in to a group of  18 women in the village of Bhilapur in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, India, who collectively own 100 acres of farmland and grow cotton in 58 acres, becoming a part of a global chain that spans the width from village level self-help groups to Fairtrade premiums that will go into providing drinking water for the community.
The story of the group named after the legendary Indian Queen of Jhansi and called Rani Laxmibai Shendriya S Gat Group has its roots in a silent, and on a few occasions, brutal rural demographic transformation. On the one hand, men have migrated to cities in the quest for steady income. On the other, women have found themselves suddenly widowed by the rash of suicides from impoverishment and mounting debt.
Today, estimates show that over 85 per cent of the rural women in India are working in the fields. Scores of women have found themselves in the primary role of the agriculturist, with little of the support system or access that the men had.  Women face more problems with smallholder farming then men do. They work all day in cotton fields and then they have to take care of the household chores as well. They have a poor access to credit, extension services etc because they generally do not own the lands or face problems to own property. Women farmers also have little voice in producer organizations.
The Bhilapur self-help group owes its inspiration to Zameen Organic, a farmer organisation based in Hyderabad and owned by over 5000 farmers across both Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The women got together to grow cotton and replaced soya with cotton, worked on each others’ farm to reduce labour costs, increased cotton acreage by 35 acres and set up a financial services cooperative with the profits accruing from the higher returns. Each member contributes Rs 30 each week and earn interest on the accumulated tranche which is used to offer loans for inputs at interest rates as low as 2-3 per cent.

The women plan to use their increased profits and Fairtrade premium to reinvest in equipment and seeds for the next harvest as well as use the money for children’s education and sinking a bore well to provide drinking water for the village.

One of the group members says, “We wanted to work together as we are stronger as a group, especially a group of women. We want to work as a united group to solve the problems we have in common. Currently we don’t have any labour costs, so we keep the money we earn ourselves.”

Sarale Pottee, a 31 year old woman from Wankidi district in Andhra Pradesh who joined Zameen a few years ago has her own story to tell. Sarale married at an age of 15, gave birth to a son and remained a housewife for 11 years. After the death of her husband, she remarried and started working with a community action group.

arale joined the Velugu Project or Indira Kranti Patham (IKP) and played a role helping self-help groups, assisting farmers with getting access to credit, marketing their crops and developing their business. Thereafter she joined Zameen and quickly became the first female president of the Producer Executive Body (PEB) which oversees the entire cooperative of 4,500 farmers.

She says, “I liked Zameen’s motto of helping the farming community, it spoke to me. It has been difficult to gain respect from the men, but Zameen has helped me to learn new skills and I know I have the right to hold office with Fairtrade. It shows the men that women can do anything just the same as men. Now I want to do more, I want to help other women.”

For more information: Profile: All Female Farmer Group

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