Women farmers from Sundarban region, West Bengal, have to battle floods which restrict their yields to just one plantation a year. In fact the heavy monsoons mean that there is only enough work for four months of the year. During the rest of the time they are forced to migrate and work for other people, often for minimal wages of around £10 per month. Small yields once a year and minimal wages for the rest of the year mean these women and their families suffer from constant food insecurity. Families live in poverty and the children are often deprived of education and health care. The older children resort to either looking for work or fishing in the rivers for food for the family rather than staying in school.
DA, Digambarpur Angikar, is Tzedek’s local partner in West Bengal. They give the women farmers the know-how and resources to cultivate eco-friendly flood tolerant field crops. Special seeds are introduced that can withstand the flooding and create 3 or even 4 yields per year. The women form agriculture cooperatives to support their trading ability and self-help groups to support one another.
Funds to DA will enable 300 women to go to train at a demonstration farm and gain the skills to cultivate these new seeds and collect yields multiple times a year. There will be a change to their lives in terms of food security, education for children and ability to pay for health care. The projected income is £1.20 a day.
After 6 months, the benefits of the projects are already outstanding. 300 women have been successfully sensitized to the urgent need for the cultivation of flood tolerant paddy, and 225 women have been trained. DA, Tzedek’s local partner, has also set up a cooperative and a seed bank.
This method is not only less costly since it does not require pesticides and chemical fertilizers but it also yields more crops. Many of the beneficiaries have already seen their net profit increase from RS. 2 050 to RS. 6 950 in only 6 months.
The Knock-on Effect
DA have devised a sustainability plan where the women’s cooperative create a ‘seed bank’. This bank will then be used in the following seasons to ensure the project continues without the need for additional funding.
The programme also benefits from a knock-on effect by increasing the women’s self-esteem and stature within their community. This leads to a reduction in domestic violence, less trafficking of young girls and ensures children go to school instead of work.
As the women and families increase their income and ability to generate income; the women increase their dignity, self-esteem and their ability to ensure they can protect themselves and their families.