Women’s Livelihood Programs at Tiruvannamalai

by Parthasarathi

Women’s Livelihood Programs at Tiruvannamalai

The Beginning – Earning Trust, Building Connections

When we started our Bhoomi Vivasayee Maiyam - Farmer’s Centre at Manikkal, Tiruvannamalai, we began work with harvesting rainwater, planting indigenous trees and  dryland farming.

The local women were the ones who came forward to work with us – and working to co-create new livelihoods for women was the natural next step.

In the village setup, usually women face numerous problems related to lower income or seasonal income, lack of academic skills, lack of formal credit available, dependence on middle men, alcohol addictions of family male members, practicing chemical based farming and lack of knowledge on nutritious food and well-being.

But, the best thing is that they have better life skills for self-sustainable living like local climatic knowledge, years of art of farming practices (though it is conventional) and related skills (like land preparation, manual ploughing, simple farming tools making), farm animals care and handling skills , sowing skills (when to sow, sowing techniques), intercropping,  irrigation timings, pest identification and controlling, harvesting timings, post harvesting processes and seed saving techniques.

The elderly people in villages who can still recall the traditional way of cultivation methods and who are also knowledgeable of traditional foods were immensely helpful. In general they are not enamoured of the goodies of the modern economic system, follow a simple lifestyle and have a strong sense of ethics and values as well.

Over the last two monsoon cycles of farming, our women farm helpers are gradually trusting us and the idea of naturally farming. They now believe that it is possible to get a good yield with suitable rainfed food crops in the absence any fertilizers and pesticides; they now also accept the  importance to mulching and planting more trees. They have also developed a good bonding among themselves, forgetting some age old family fights!

Forming the Self-Help Group

We then shared and seeded an idea of self-reliance through moving to the next step of forming a self-help group. They were a little reluctant initially but soon became enthusiastic.

With the help of a Bhoomi’s senior fellow, Partvathi ____ , we made arrangements for a site visit for about 15 women to meet members of another self-help group at a village near Pondicherry. They got to interact with women making herbal based personal and wellness products, hearing their stories and seeing how they seem to be a happy and thriving community.

We then conducted a few workshops to clarify the idea behind collective efforts, to visualise how they could empower themselves self-employment. Informal conversations with our visiting resource people  created awareness about the value of local herbs, plants and trees.

The flame had been lit! It was great to watch their excitement as they began to discuss, debate, agree and disagree to come up with a name for their group, discuss its purpose and what herbs and plants they could start with.

Looking Forward

Some of the ideas for making value added products evolved based on locally available trees, plants and herbs are:

  1. Arappu Powder - Leaves of these plants from a drought-resistant local tree can be powdered and used as hair was to clean and condition the hair
  2. Rosella jam  - made from fresh Roselle flower petals ( ie. Gongura/ Pulicha keerai)
  3. Mudakathan Keerai oil/powder – which has strong anti-inflammatory properties, a good home remedy for rheumatoid arthritis and nervous breakdown.The powder made from the leaves is mixed in popular south Indian dishes like idly, dosa, vada etc.
  4. Neem Oil and Honge (Pungai) seed oil – Both are natural pesticides and insecticides.
  5. Nilavembu Powder -  used popularly in Tamil Nadu for a Siddha preparation with antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties
  6. Traditional Millet Snacks – Murukku / Chakli, Adhirasam
  7. Personal Health Care products – like handcrafted all natural soaps

This women's livelihood programme has kick-started  with the making of Arappu Powder, Rosella Jam, Mudakathan Keerai oil & powder, murukku out of samai and adhirasam out of thinai. The products were sold at the Bhoomi Santhe in Bangalore.

Volunteers are welcomed to support this self help group in adding new value add products, marketing, connecting with urban customers and enriching the entrepreneurship and life skills.