From earning a mere Rs 145 on the first day, Poonam Devi and her friends have now come a long way. In two years, their daily income is nowhere below Rs 10,000-15,000 a day.
Owner of Didi Café in the Jagganathpur area, Poonam of Kutte village in Nagri block of Ranchi, is now a successful tribal entrepreneur.
She credits her success to the Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), an autonomous unit under the state rural development department.
She says, “JSLPS helped us take a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh through our self-help group in the village. Using that loan, we set up a dhaba (café) on the roadside.”
The first day did not go as she had hoped for, which worried her about the business taking off.
“The first day’s income was only Rs 145. It made us worry about how we would repay our loans. However, we continued working hard, and today, we are confident individuals who can do anything,” she adds.
Poonam is one of the lakhs of women in Jharkhand who have been linked with livelihood opportunities by JSLPS.
The society has been working towards providing livelihood to poor and downtrodden women from rural areas since the last trimester of 2016. And in two years, it has managed to link over ten lakh women.
Kumar Vikas, Programme Manager, JSLPS, notes, “We are trying to make the socially excluded and financially backward women understand their capabilities and make them self-dependent.”
Kumar informs that this innovative initiative was taken up under the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana—National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM), a flagship scheme of the Ministry of Rural Development for Women Empowerment.
The women are given support according to their needs and the market viability in their villages or panchayats. They are also trained in taking care of livestock in areas where rearing of goats and sheep is common. Similarly, women who come from agricultural backgrounds are trained in farming, provided with equipment and informed about the latest farming technologies.
Vikas says, “In Jharkhand, the farming sector is mostly dependent on rain water, as a result of which, farmers cannot grow more than one crop in a year. We teach the women about drip irrigation so that they can reap crops at least twice a year and earn a better living.”
Instead of focusing on the regular crops, JSLPS encourages women to get involved in horticulture and plantation of medicinal plants. The specific occupation for them is suggested district-wise.
A major reason behind selecting occupations district-wise is to ensure that the women get maximum profit from the business. For instance, if a village has many grocery shops but not a single food stall, the woman entrepreneur will be suggested to put up a food stall for better income.
Similarly, if the climate and plantation are more suitable for rearing of silkworms, the women in that district will be promoted to get into the business as it will give them huge returns.
Accordingly, the women in West Singhbhoom are encouraged to rear silkworms and make tussar, while their counterparts in Palamu are pushed towards lac cultivation.
Lac is a natural polymer produced by an insect which is reared on the shoots of trees like Kusum and Ber. It is widely used in the furniture, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
Getting trained by JSLPS was a life-changing experience for Somwari Kui and her family. She belongs to a remote village, Jhilruwa, about 25 km away from Goilkera block of West Singhbhum district.
The only source of income for her family was farming, but as they had a small plot of land, it didn’t contribute much to their income.
Before being linked with JSLPS, the family practised traditional farming methods. But once Kui received training from JSLPS, she learnt about the scientific techniques. She had several trees on her land but did not know about lac cultivation.
JSLPS educated her about it, as a result of which, she was able to cultivate 35 kg lac. She gradually learnt the scientific process and is now implementing it to increase her productivity and profit.
Kui says, “The other women in my village look up to me as their idol. Now, I am working towards teaching them lac cultivation as well so that their lives can change too.”
Meanwhile, the women of Khunti are also supported in farming medicinal plants. In the district, over 500 women are involved in lemongrass cultivation and oil extraction.
“Lemongrass oil is in huge demand, not just in the national but also the international market. Once the production here is good, we can expand the market, which will directly benefit these women,” shares Vikas.
Another interesting concept by JSLPS is Didi Café. Under this project, groups of women are brought together and trained on preparing tribal cuisines and the art of serving, in a completely hygienic environment.
The women are then linked with government offices in every district where they open canteens or offer catering services for government programmes. Also, if any woman has spare land, JSLPS helps her get a bank loan, so that she can set up her own dhaba.
“At present, there are more than 80 Didi Cafés across the state and all are doing fairly well,” Vikas said.
These women are all supported by the village-level Sakhi Mandals, a group of 15-20 women who are trained by the government regarding all the available schemes and facilities. The Mandals also help the women set up their businesses by taking bank loans on behalf of their groups.
At present, more than 21 lakh women are linked with these Sakhi Mandals across the state.
“Today, we are no more restricted inside the four walls of our houses. With the help of Sakhi Mandals, women like me have got wings to dream and turn them to reality,” says Seema Devi, who runs a Didi Café in Jharkhand.
She concludes, “I migrated from my village and worked as a daily wage labourer, unable to meet all my needs. But today, the scenario is changing. I now have my own start up and am confident enough, that in the coming future, I will be a successful entrepreneur.”
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(Edited by Shruti Singhal)