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'Prerna' empowers Punjab farm women as changemakers

Friday - April 9, 2021 10:57 am , Category : HEALTH
Chandigarh, April 9 (IANS) Benefiting at the grassroots by gaining economic independence and turning into a changemaker in agriculture, Baljinder Kaur, in her late thirties, is the wife of a marginal farmer who owns two-and-a-half acre of land in the Hulka village in Mohali district.
In less than three years of a project initiated by the Mahindra group to empower women in agriculture, she's one of women entrepreneurial role models of Punjab by selling milk to a state-run cooperative along with other customers.
Under the 'Prerna' programme of the Swaraj Division of Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, she has been associated with self-help group of Mai Bhago Prerna Swayam Sahyata Samuh with 12 women farmers, located just 20 km from here, with limited access to credit, healthcare and education earlier.
Like others, she is now managing her family dairy business, making a positive impact on lives by taking responsibility for their well-being, including food provision and care for children and the elderly.
The group, formed in 2019, was formed by initial training on dairy farming coordinated by Krishi Vigyan Kendra.
With initial savings, the Swaraj team helped in regular monitoring and training through Skill Upgradation Training Services, one of the partner NGOs, and helped provide financial linkage under the Joint Liability Group scheme under which each got Rs 60,000 for supporting her dairy business.
This helped Kaur to purchase two cows, costing Rs 35,000 and Rs 55,000 each, in 2020.
This enables her to sell around 20 liters of milk every day to direct customers as well as to Punjab State Cooperative Milk Producers' Federation Ltd (Milkfed), which markets its products under the brand 'Verka', in her village.
Kaur is now earning around Rs 4,000 per month that is not only helping support the family but also meeting the critical requirements.
Like popular Amul's dairy development model, the Prerna project was launched to empower village women, besides addressing their issues with the promotion of gender-neutral, efficient and ergonomic farm tools and equipment.
The company has tied up with nationalised financial institutions like the State Bank of India and regional Punjab Gramin Bank.
Under the Joint Liability Group scheme, an amount upwards of Rs 84.7 lakh is disbursed among 160 women beneficiaries as direct agriculture advances.
The project aims at formation of a federation of the women farmers into a producer organisation for realising the better and institutional sale of the milk produced through Milkfed or other private dairy units in Mohali within one-and-a-half years.
It aims at generating livelihood opportunities among the women and female farmers through sustainable solutions.
"Our initiatives are strategically aligned with local social and national developmental goals. These are designed through a participatory approach keeping in mind the needs and aspirations of the community. The Prerna project approaches the communities in a carefully planned manner with an elaborate process and focused areas of intervention," said Mahindra & Mahindra.
The major focus area is formation and supporting the existing women groups through which they are empowered by training them in savings, developing entrepreneurial and technical skills, besides raising income opportunities.
The project has introduced training for the women on dairy farming, organic kitchen garden, besides institutional financial linkage through appropriate institutions for increasing livelihood opportunities.
Awareness generation workshops and training on issues related to farming and farmtech prosperity have been part of the programme.
The project was launched on October 15, 2018 at one of the villages in Mohali district, located on the outskirts of the state capital Chandigarh.
To achieve the core objectives of the project through group approach, company roped-in Ludhiana-based NGO Skill Upgradation Training Services in 2019.
In addition to milk, the manure from animals provides a good source of organic matter for improving soil fertility and crop yields. The women had been formally associated with self-help groups and joint liability groups for leveraging the financial schemes and other support of the government and banks.
Under the project, tie-ups with nationalised financial institutions were carried out. An amount of Rs 84.72 lakh is being disbursed among 160 women beneficiaries as direct agriculture advances.
All the beneficiaries have excellent loan repayment performance within the groups and to the banks, due to the rise in their income levels, said the project executor.
With the sanctioned loan and the margin money, women farmers purchased the cattle and were able to get the additional average daily milk produce of around four kg, after meeting their household requirements, resulting in an increase in the monthly income of around Rs 4,000 of each women dairy farmer.
The women farmers of 20 villages of Mohali with both the technical and financial linkage have helped more than 100 women farmers in supplementary monthly income of around Rs 4,000-4,500 through the sale of milk.
"The Prerna model helps us gain economic independence by offering a wonderful opportunity to learn and adapt women-friendly technologies," added another beneficiary Harjinder Kaur.
Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, 20 women of the Abrawan village stitched 30,000 three-layered cotton face masks at home last year, a state government spokesperson told IANS.
The order for the masks was given by Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.
The training, fabric and other raw material were arranged by NGO Skill Upgradation Training Services.
Each member earned around Rs 3,000 per month and supported their families during tough times, said the spokesperson.
As per International Labour Organisation estimates, the rural women comprise one-quarter of the world's population. Women also make up 41 per cent of the world's agricultural labour force, a ratio that rises to 49 per cent for low-income countries.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at vishal.g@ians.in)

--IANS vg/dpb

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