How Over 500 Women in South India Built Sustainable Livelihoods in Face of Drought

POWERGRID-ICRISAT project in Karnataka empowers through integrated watershed management

Women who have been empowered gather for a meeting in Ukkali village. Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT

Women who have been empowered gather for a meeting in Ukkali village. Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT.

Farm-dependent households in Ukkali now have an added source of income, thanks to the village’s enterprising women who availed of the POWER GRID-ICRISAT watershed project.

Underway in the northern Karnataka village, the watershed project ‘Improving rural livelihoods through farmer-centric integrated watershed management’ has been empowering women through skills-based trainings since 2014. Over 500 women who have never been provided opportunities, are now self-sustainable through tailoring, computer skills and small enterprises.

Over the past many years, crop failures due to perennial drought in Vijayapura district, where the village is located, forced families to migrate for work. However, the POWERGRID-ICRISAT watershed project has helped farmers retain water in water harvesting farm ponds, masonry check dams, well recharge pits and percolation tanks. As these initiatives help agriculture in the village bounce back, empowering women is helping hasten household
financial recovery.

“The CSR activities we took up under the guidance of ICRISAT has not only helped farmers but also the women in the village, where skill development, education and training has accrued benefits to the community,” said Mr D R Murty, General Manager (HR), POWERGRID, Southern Region Transmission System-II, Bengaluru.

Entrepreneurship to the rescue

Recognizing the scale of efforts required to empower women, the project is supporting entrepreneurship to amplify livelihood opportunities. A revolving fund provides to enterprising women the necessary seed capital to set up their stores or start a venture from their homes.

Ms Kalavathi, for instance, received a loan of `30,000 from her SHG group through the watershed program. She set up a bangle store and turned it profitable. Selling bangles alone, she nets a profit of `6,000 every month. Likewise, Ms Hameeda set up a store to sell snacks and stationery from the `10,000 she received.

Others like Ms Muktha Bai, who had no source of income until 2018, started making jowar (sorghum) rotis (traditional Indian bread) at home for sale in hotels, weddings and other events. Severe drought in the region forced her to take up this activity as the family was running out of savings. She now sells about 5,000 rotis a month.

“I turned a food entrepreneur while at home with just `3,000 to start making papad (crispy rice foods) for 4 months in a year. I now sell 1,000 packets per month for a profit of `5000,” Ms Yamunakka, another beneficiary, said.

A few amplified their farm activities with the financial support they received. Ms Shankaravva Kothanapur took up goat rearing with `30,000 assistance and manages to turn in a profit of `25,000 a year selling them.

Investing in the future

Ms Bhagyashree, a computer trainer, has made more than 25 students computer literate. The computer training initiative of the POWERGRID-ICRISAT watershed program aims to impart skills to enhance employability of young women.

“Through the computer training program, I learnt basic computer operations, typing, use of word processing and basic image editing and printing. Now, I want to enroll for an advanced course that will help me secure a well-paying job,” Ms Gangambika, a pre-university student, said.

In some, the computer training program instilled entrepreneurship. Ms Pallavi Hiremath wants to use her skills in word processing, image editing and printing at her own computer center that provides specialized documentation services and internet access.

Tailor-made initiative

Ms Nagamma Kalmath, the master tailor in the village, has trained 430 women under the program. She has helped the women learn stitching, designing and customizing outfits. One of the beneficiaries, Ms Bharathi, learnt designing ethnic outfits for weddings and established a cloth store that now earns her about `5,000 per month, covering the education of her children and ensuring savings for the family.

Ms Ashwini, another beneficiary, has gained employment at a local garment center after learning tailoring. Besides a regular income, she also devotes time at home tailoring to augment her income.

“Apart from providing inputs to farmers in Ukkali through water harvesting structures, micronutrients etc., we have strived to benefit families by empowering the women. Trainings in tailoring, computer education and income generating activities like goat rearing and vermicomposting have helped families through the extra income generated by the women,” said Dr Sreenath Dixit, Head, ICRISAT Development Center.

Bhagyashree has been playing the key role of a computer trainer and has trained 2 batches of more than 25 students in basic computer skills. Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT

Bhagyashree has been playing the key role of a computer trainer and has trained 2 batches of more than 25 students in basic computer skills. Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT.

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