Vermicomposting & Women’s Empowerment
The contribution of women to rural economy has often not only been neglected but underestimated as well. They are, even today, seen only as caretakers and home makers. As a consequence, they have less access to productive resources and opportunities – land, education, financial services, technology and rural employment. In spite of this gender bias, the contribution of women to household income has been changing over the years in rural areas.
Development efforts by governments, NGO’s, women’s groups, CBO’s and civil society have helped create awareness among rural women about their true, but underutilised potential. Rural women are being encouraged and supported to get out of their conventional roles and take on a more active role in agriculture and other related and allied activities. The motives behind these community efforts can be summarised as follows:
• Sustainable practices of agriculture has the potential to address in an effective manner the current crisis of decreasing yields, depleting natural resources, pest and disease problems of the agriculture sector;
• Sustainable practices like vermicomposting have a considerable effect on soil fertility management; and,
• Community effort has augmented family incomes, increased food and nutritional security of these households, developed entrepreneurial, management and training skills in village women.
The concept of Self Help Groups (SHG’s) and the formation of these groups in rural areas have sufficiently impacted the rural economy. As a collective, the SHG’s have helped women get out of the confines of their homes and participate in social, environmental, economic, health and in some cases also political and community issues. What primarily started as a unique method of financial intermediation has now also become a platform for women to become active in broader development programmes. Their contribution to the overall growth and progress – both at level of the household and the community – can no longer be ignored. Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) has been working with one such women’s group – TANWABE since 2006 in Allivilagam village of Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu.
The group consists of 15 members all belonging to the same village and are primarily involved in agricultural activities. This group has been together since 2004. CIKS involvement in this village started primarily as an organic farming initiative under a programme – Organic Vegetable Cultivation – supported by the Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi. During interactions with farmers of this village under the DST programme, it was observed that the women from this SHG readily followed most of the suggestions and also willingly improvised and experimented with new practices. The dynamic interactions within the group members and the level of confidence, unity, commitment and motivation they exhibited prompted CIKS to take on a proactive role in the development of this group.
To explore other possible avenues for income generation, the group members were taken on exposure visits to places like Gandhigram Rural Institute and to a vermicompost production unit at Panikkampatty near Pollachi. After the visits and due deliberation and discussions among the members themselves and with CIKS, it was decided that a community vermicomposting production unit be started in the village. The rationale for choosing this activity is as follows:
• Ready availability of raw material;
• Quantum of capital investment available;
• Ease of maintenance – about 2 hrs per person per day;
• Allied activity to organic farming;
• Local demand for vermicompost; and,
• Technical support available locally (CIKS).
To support this initiative CIKS extended a loan of `25,000 in October 2008, with the understanding that it would be repaid within a period of 10 months. In addition to this they also received a grant of `15,000 from Norway and a loan amount of `10,000 to the SHG. The group’s contribution amounted to `4,900.
Vermicompost Production Unit: This unit started functioning from November 12, 2008. The cow dung required to start the production process was brought in by the members of the group. Once the decision to start the unit was taken, all the members started keeping 10 kg of cow dung per day and would also spend approximately two hours every day to help with the maintenance of the unit – watering, making beds, collecting and drying the vermicompost, sieving and packing.
There were initial setbacks such as over-watering, drying up of beds, worms dying out and more, but once the members understood the little nuances of maintenance of the vermicompost beds, all issues concerning production per se were sorted out. However, as is common and expected, there were a couple of management issues that needed to be sorted out – continuous and regular supply of cow dung and division of work among the members.
The members, after a series of discussions, came to a consensus and agreed to increase the collection cost of dung to `0.25/kg. To ensure participation of all members in the maintenance of the unit, since July 2010, a fixed rate of `225 is paid as salary to all members who put in about two hours of work for 15 days in a month. These two measures have helped to streamline the production system as well as have all the members contribute to the smooth running of the unit.
With increased experience in running the unit, there has been a gradual increase in the production of vermicompost. Initially, it took about 45 days to produce one tonne of vermicompost. Now, after production procedures have been streamlined, a tonne of vermicompost is being produced in 30 days. Therefore the demand for cow dung has increased. Members were already bringing in the maximum quantity of cow dung they could share. There was very little chance of meeting the extra demand for cow dung from their existing cattle.
After discussions amongst the group members and with CIKS, it was proposed that if each member could purchase one more head of cattle, the additional requirement of cow dung could be easily met from within the group itself. Accordingly, a loan of `15,000 was extended to each member in December 2010, through a program of NABARD, for purchase of cattle.
The record of all the activities are maintained and periodically updated. The production of vermicompost is efficient as is seen from the conversion rate (from cow dung to vermicompost) of almost 50 percent. This implies that these women have learnt the technique of fine tuning the production process. There has been enough demand locally to absorb the present production levels, with local farmers, a local nursery and CIKS being the main buyers so far. There is an immediate need to explore and capture newer markets as production levels are bound to increase.
Another source of income from this vermicompost production unit is through the sale of earthworms. A kilogram of worms is sold at `300. These women who have learnt the nuances of vermicompost production are now sharing their knowledge and imparting the skill to other groups in the surrounding villagers by conducting training programmes.
This women’s group is very cohesive and committed, taking efforts to ensure that any disagreement or difference of opinion is sorted out within the group itself. The secret to the success of this group, lies in the fact that the women see this enterprise not as a mere income generation activity but as an opportunity to share and bond with one another. This programme has augmented family incomes, increased food and nutritional security of these households, developed entrepreneurial, management and training skills in village women. An interesting and very positive development in this group is that, these women who were earlier limited to managing their homes and families are now confident of speaking in public and voicing their opinions, are profitably managing rural agri-based enterprises, are involved in all the activities right from production to marketing, and are also conducting training programmes on vermicompost production and a skill based course (tailoring) for girls from the village.
What started as an organic agriculture programme has grown and developed into activity that has empowered rural women.
Source: This case study is based on the field work of the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems. The case study was prepared by Development Consultant, Shylaja R Rao. Publication of this Success Story is supported by a grant from the Dutch Ministry of Development Cooperation.