Women's Economic Empowerment through Co-operative Farming, Vocational Training & Business Development

Due to the lack of specific implementation plans and faulty representations, local communities have not adequately accepted government and private schemes for the upliftment of women. Women have not actively participated in their own emancipation due to their lack of economic independence and rampant illiteracy. Therefore, The George Foundation decided to address this important issue of women's empowerment in India by raising the status of women in Hosur Taluk through economic empowerment and education.

Krishnagiri District is the most backward district in Tamil Nadu. In the geographical location selected, there are no high schools, no private schools, inadequate primary health sub-centers, and no NGOs. Roads, water supply, drainage and communication network are inadequate to augment economic development. Fragmented land holdings are not conducive to commercial farming. Child labor is rampant in this socially backward area. Population statistics of our country clearly indicate that quality education is out of the reach of the poor and marginalized irrespective of their innate potential. Women are often exploited by their communities. They have very little voice and no knowledge or means of improving their social and economic status.

In the villages of the area, the caste system is deeply entrenched. The lower caste colonies are ostracized and basic facilities are denied to them. Female infanticide is a common practice and women are punished socially for bearing girl children. Gender biases are very evident in the preferential treatment given to the male child.

Rain-dependent agriculture, home-based animal husbandry, silkworm rearing and brick making are the main income generating activities. Fisheries, horticulture and industries have been established in a few select areas such as Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri and Hosur. Rural folk find it difficult to travel to these cities in search of jobs. The average family income level is below the poverty line.

One of the popular schemes employed by several NGOs, and supported by some international and bilateral agencies, is the so-called "micro-finance" or small loans that usually range up to $100 (Rs. 5,000) per woman to start some form of business. Notable successes have been recorded, and the program has received considerable world attention. Most poor women entrepreneurs are said to have been able to make their businesses successful, and repay the loan. However, our experience in this area with lower caste poor women has been somewhat different.

Poor women, especially from backward communities and lower castes, are mostly illiterate, untrained, and have very little social and economic status. In India, there are over 350 million such people, mainly in rural areas. The unemployed are nearly 200 million people, a great majority of them belonging to these deprived sections of the society. Without meaningful skills, social status, and economic power, they are unable to do any business on their own even with financial assistance.

To start even a small rural business, it takes no less than $500. According to some studies conducted by the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India, Ahmedabad, the average capital need for a one-person small business is in excess of Rs. 1 lakh ($2,000). Further, the chances of making any business successful is very small - the odds are barely 1 in hundred for an educated person. Uneducated lower caste rural women find it almost impossible to initiate any such entrepreneuring work without adequate capital, proper training, and on-site daily support.

Based on our understanding of the problem faced in our rural community, we have devised a scheme for empowering poor and socially deprived women. The key ingredients of this program can be summarized as follows:

  1. Adequate training in an area where the women have natural abilities and understanding (for example, farming and cattle rearing)
  2. Use of superior technology to obtain better output and higher profits (modern farming techniques, such as use of proper fertilizers, deep ploughing, drip irrigation, etc.)
  3. Creation of financial assets through savings (from profits generated from sale of produce, over and above wages received)
  4. Ownership of physical assets (use of financial assets to purchase cultivable land - ½ acre per family)
  5. Sharing of resources such as wells, tractor, etc. among several farmers
  6. Provide a support system that addresses concerns, difficulties, know-how, etc.
  7. Access to information and markets (knowing what high-value crop to grow and when, which markets offer higher prices on a given day, tie up export contracts, etc.)

Only when these requirements can be met, we believe poor illiterate rural women can be expected to turn into entrepreneurs.

The George Foundation has purchased/leased 250 acres of land. An executive committee comprised of representatives of The George Foundation, village panchayath, and agricultural consultants has been formed. Under its direction, the soil is being prepared for crop cultivation. Superior seeds of selected crops have been purchased. The panchayath members are highly motivated about this project. People from the surrounding villages are participating in the preparation of the land for farming. This program will be expanded to cover the neighboring state of Karnataka in its later stages.

Members of the village panchayat, the village administrative officer and the block development officer have been with the project from its planning stage. The geographic community and the community of beneficiaries, particularly poor rural women, were involved in planning and implementation of the project.

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