Women in Odisha’s coastal fishing villages have turned to selling fish and value-added fishery products after eliminating middlemen and abolishing the home brewing of country liquor, the root cause of their problems.
Selling fish at the local fish market, Dulana Das (40) of Rambha
village in Odisha’s Ganjam district took pride in introducing herself as
a businesswoman instead of a fisherwoman. “I buy fish every morning
from fishermen who fish in Chilika Lake and the nearby sea,” Dulana told
VillageSquare.in.“With a designated place for me in the market, and a 20% profit, I earn a good income.”
“Women like Dulana have not only contributed to economic progress of
their families, but to improvement of their social status too,” said A.
Kaleya, a young man engaged in community development work. An ignored
lot, the women rooted out problems one after the other, and emerged as
successful entrepreneurs. “We are now treated like human beings,” said
75-year-old B. Chittamma (75) of Kotturu village.
Decades ago, families and the community ignored their women. “Boozing
being common among male members of almost all fishing villages, women
didn’t get any respect, but always bore the brunt of alcoholism,”
Chittamma told VillageSquare.in.
Despite standard catch, the income was low because middlemen siphoned
off the profit. They never paid the fishermen on time. The fisher
families had to struggle for survival under economic pressure. Whether
it was lack of money or the men’s frustration caused by paucity, women
were the victims.
Chittamma came to Kotturu village as a young bride from neighboring
Andhra Pradesh. “She suggested mobilizing fisherwomen to end their
plights,” Mangaraj Panda of Ganjam-based non-profit United Artists’ Association (UAA) told VillageSquare.in.
Women band together
As a first step, nine groups of fisherwomen, with 20 members in each
group, were formed under Kalyani Nari Shakti Sangha in Kotturu. The
number of groups soon increased to 14, when women formed five groups in
an adjacent village named Arjipalli. The women first fought against
brewing of country liquor and succeeded.
Their success in abolishing country liquor production in the villages
encouraged the fisherwomen to address their financial problems next.
They pooled in money and ventured into fish business in local markets.
The women paid cash immediately for the fish they purchased. They
demanded outside vendors and middlemen to pay likewise while lifting the
catch. “Though the vendors resisted initially, since they had to supply
fish to the markets as per commitment and since our men supported us,
they paid up,” said Chittamma.
Federating women’s groups
“This was the game-changer,” said Mangaraj Panda. “With this positive
development, women in other villages across coastal Odisha formed
groups and they too fought to end exploitation by middlemen.”
There were still some issues. Every group did not have equal access
to the market to sell their stock. Prices of fish differed from place to
place. In order to bring all the fisherwomen under one umbrella and
develop common market linkages, they formed a federation named Samudram.
Started with 68 marine fisherwomen self-help groups (SHGs) having
1,360 members in 1998, Samudram now has 149 SHGs from 52 fishing
villages of four coastal districts, namely, Ganjam, Puri, Jagatsinghpur
and Balasore. The women conduct business individually as well as through
In order to empower the fisherwomen as entrepreneurs, Samudram
organized training sessions for them on hygienic methods of producing
dry fish and other fishery-based products. “It opened up new earning
opportunities for us and fetched better profit than the raw fish,” K.
Eramma of Nolia Nuagaon village told VillageSquare.in.
Samudram has set up fish procurement and processing centers equipped
with refrigeration and drying racks for fresh fish, besides weighing and
packaging machines at different places. Women own and manage the
“Even though income was important, catching and selling fish was not
all, because the catch was falling day by day,” said Chittamma. “Instead
of overexploiting this marine resource, we had to ensure long-term
“We didn’t know this resource is limited and the catch may fall
further, and make us go out of business,” P. Kaumudi (50) of Nolia
Nuagaon told VillageSquare.in.“As
experts explained the reasons for dwindling catch and actions needed,
we changed our fishing practices.” The fishermen started using nets to
spare the seeds and fingerlings. They declare no-fishing days
“Women also took up poultry and goat-rearing as alternate livelihoods during no-fishing months,” Kaleya told VillageSquare.in.This helped them make a living during the fishing ban from November to May, in the coastal seas of Ganjam, Puri and Kendrapara districts for the protection of Olive Ridley sea turtles during their annual nesting phenomenon called arribada.
According to fishermen, government and regulating authorities turn a
blind eye to trawlers that violate norms and pose bigger threat to the
ocean, its ecosystem and fish population. “Living on the coast and
depending on the sea for livelihood, we have to protect the marine
ecosystem and the visiting turtles to keep our sea healthy and
dependable,” fisherwoman Kaumudi told VillageSquare.in.
Samudram now faces the toughest hurdle since the implementation of
Goods and Services Tax (GST). “As GST mandates 12% tax on packaged dry
fish items, prices have increased, and so many of the wholesale buyers
have stopped buying,” said Panda.
This has led to a halt in businesses by the groups and the
federation. “The fisherwomen work individually now,” said Kaleya. The
members contend that they are not educated enough to keep accounts and
file GST. Some advised the women to hire a professional.
“It’s not feasible since we are not a corporate business, but make a
living out of it,” said Chittamma. “Our progress will stop if community
development and livelihood activities do not get tax exemption.”
Notwithstanding the let up in business due to GST, Samudram has not
only helped the women earn, but has also empowered them to identify
their potential and dream a better future for their children.
The women claimed stopping brewing of country liquor and stopping
child marriage as their biggest achievements. They have helped
construction of schools in villages to educate their children. “Girls go
to college now, whereas they were not allowed to complete primary
education earlier,” said Chittamma.
Undergraduate students like S. Puja and A. Kamla of Nolia Nuagaon are
proud to be the first girls from their village to have joined college.
“Our aim is to pursue higher studies and find jobs,” they said.
The groups have become sources of support to members in time of
emergencies. “Samudram and the SHGs helped us overcome the damages
caused by two major cyclones, namely, the Phailin in 2013 and the Hudhud
in 2014,” B. Mahalaxmi (40) of Huma village told VillageSquare.in.