Showing posts with label Livelihood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Livelihood. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Enterprising Odisha women take to selling fish to improve lives

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.

Disregarded women

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 groups.

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 facilities.

Sustainability

“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 availability.”

“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 periodically.

“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.

Tax hurdle

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.”

Beyond business

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.
The report first appeared on May 28, 2018, at the VillageSquare.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gandhamardan: The Bauxite Battleground

At 58, Jambavati Birja of Dunguripali village near Paikmal in Bargarh district of Orissa has a reason to be upset. The news of big companies making their way to dig out bauxite from Gandhamardan hill range has turned into a nightmare for Jambavati and her husband Iswar who have lost almost everything in their fight to save the hill range that is the abode of their God Nrusinghanath.

Jambavati is believed to be one of the saviours of Gandhamardan because twenty five years back she stopped heavy earthmovers from mining the bauxite reserves in the belly of the hill by throwing her two sons before the wheels of the trucks and herself calling the heavy vehicles to ride over her. During her struggle to save Gandhamardan, Jambavati’s husband Iswar lost his job in a government department. They lost seven acres of their family land to the government for their involvement in the movement against BALCO that had come to extract the bauxite from Gandhamardan. But, they have no regrets over what they have lost because the efforts resulted in saving Gandhamardan.
Most people of Jambavati’s time living in and around Gandhamardan joined the movement against BALCO to save their God and the primary source of livelihood – Gandhamardan.

Everybody who participated in the movement to save Gandhamardan looked victorious till the silver jubilee of the movement against the mining of bauxite in Gandhmardan hill range was celebrated last year. The queue of companies vying to get a lease for mining bauxite in Gandhamardan has again threatened the hill and its unique biodiversity that is central to the life of the people living in the surrounding areas. With a thick green cover full of medicinal plants, a variety of orchids and other species, the hill provides livelihood to the people and plays a major role in balancing the local ecology.

Clad in dense vegetation which is rich in a variety of rare and useful species, Gandhmardan hill range is now in target of companies who have eyes on the 213 million tonnes of bauxite reserves in the hill. The green cover that provides livelihood to at least 20000 tribal and poor families hardly makes any sense for the government that is infatuated by the revenue possibilities that can come from the mining of the bauxite reserves. The possibility of mining poses a direct threat to Gandhamardan hill’s thick green cover and about 20 major fountains merging with two main rivers Ang and Suktel.

With the medicinal plants and herbs available in the Gandhamardan Mountain, an ayurvedic medicine research and application centre – Sri Sri Nrusinghnath Ayurveda College and Research Centres (SSNAC&RC) are run. The college produces medicines by collecting roots, stems and other materials from Gandhamardan and treats people from within and outside the area. The college has its own pharmacy which produces a variety of ayurvedic medicines and oils of a superior quality.

“As per a survey, there are over 360 varieties of medicinal plants available in Gandhamardan’s forest cover out of which about 25 are rare species. In our college we are using 233 species for our drugs required to serve the medical needs of local communities. Since the mining activities by BALCO in the 1980s, many of the species have become extinct. Now that we are coming across the news that many other companies are trying to come here for mining, we are afraid that this unique source of medicinal plants will turn into a desert leaving thousands of families jobless,” says Dr Sushil Kumar Mahapatra, Principal of the Ayurvedic College and Research Centre.

Gandhamardan is not only the source of medicinal plants for the Ayurvedic College, but is also the source of livelihood for local people who live on collecting and selling medicinal plants, their produces and extracts. For them, Gandhamardan is the only source of livelihood and they are going to lose everything if the hill is handed over for the mining of bauxite. Apart from medicinal plants, other forest products like firewood, broomsticks, fruits and orchids provide complete livelihood support to the communities living in hundreds of villages around the hill range. Over 20000 families are directly dependent on Gandhamardan for their livelihood.

Mining would cause large scale damage to the local agriculture and natural water supply system as the streams flowing downhill would dry up one after the other with the expansion of mining activities. This would result in severe water scarcity for the local people as well. Even though the government elected by the people has not yet been able to make a bridge over Ang River to improve the life of the people in the villages on its banks, people are happy because they are provided with a standard life by Gandhamardan that makes the river flow. They can’t think of life without this river.

“Gandhamardan is our god. It makes rain here. It provides water throughout the year for irrigation and drinking. If it is sacrificed for mining, the whole area will be deserted. Their 10-15 years of mining would take away everything from our future generations,” says Subhas Bhoi of Mundhela village. People living beside the Ang River are in no mood to hand over Gandhamardan for any price.
The reasons behind the people’s opposition to mining are not just hypothetical but based upon their experience with the small time mining activities pursued by BALCO in the 1980s. The experience of test blasting by BALCO was terrifying to many like Jambavati. “Our kitchen utensils fell down when the blasting took place in the hill top. We were terrified to think about the results of continuous mining when the impacts of blasting were so powerful. So we all came out to force out the companies that had come here for mining on our hill god,” says Jambavati. People still shiver when the memories of the blasting 27 years back come to mind.

The check dam at Manabhanga bears the harsh memories of the mining attempted 27 years back by BALCO. In the name of supporting irrigation in the fields of the villagers, the check dam was then created over an orchard that provided livelihood to people living in three adjoining villages. The stumps in the water still exist as remnants of the orchard which remind people of the severity of mining activities in Gandhamardan. The test blasting for mining by BALCO drove many plants to extinction and many fountains also died. Signs of dead streams on the mountains still exist as a testimony to this fact.

Apart from these harsh experiences, the emotional bondage and religious links also inspire people to oppose any destructive operation in and around Gandhamardan that is believed to be a god because it is the abode of lord Nrusinghanath and Harishankar. Thousands of devotees from neighbouring Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh drop in everyday to worship the deities. Nrusinghanath temple has both historical and archaeological importance whereas the fountain just beside it is believed to be the Gupta Ganga (Secret Ganga) which is as important to these people as River Ganges is to the people in the rest of the country.

Overlooking all these aspects and specialities of Gandhamardan Hill range, companies like Vedanta, NALCO and a few others have cast their eyes upon the hill’s bauxite reserves. The governments at the state and Central levels are also greatly lured by the 213 million tonnes of bauxite reserves in the hill.

After mining in Niyamgiri was stopped by the Ministry of Environment and forests, Vedanta seems to be very interested in the Gandhmardan hill range for the mining of bauxite. In order to feed its refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi with bauxite, Vedanta Alumina has requested Orissa Mining Corporation for a lease to carry out mining activities in the Gandhamardan Hill range. Apart from Vedanta, other companies like NALCO and government leasing bodies have also applied for mines in Gandhamardan.

While Gandhamardan Suraksha Yuva Parishad - the pioneer organisation that led the first movement for protection of the Gandhamardan hill and the biodiversity it offers – has rigorously started its campaign to bring the veterans of the movement and the local youth together to fight out the corporate houses who have eyes on Gandhamardan for mining of bauxite, the corporate houses and the government in the state are trying their best to elbow their way to the hill range and extract the mineral reserves in it. As a part of its efforts to suppress the movement, the state police has allegedly killed two active members of Gandhamardan Suraksha Yuva Parishad in an alleged fake encounter. One of them Madhav Singh Thakur was a BJP worker in Paikmal Block and the other, Ramesh Sahu was a local businessman and both were involved in the movement to save Gandhamardan. While local people believe it to be an organised encounter to curb the movement that intends to stop companies from mining, National Human Rights Commission has ordered a probe into the matter. However, after the alleged fake encounter, the leaders of the movement apprehend more repressive actions such as this from the government. “We may have to lose our lives and everything but will never allow anybody to destroy the dense and diverse vegetation and the streams for mining of bauxite. Let the government decide if it becomes the people’s government or a corporate sympathiser,” says Dhiren Mohanty, the Convenor of Gandhamardan Suraksha Yuva Parishad.

At this point, nobody knows what will happen and who will emerge the ultimate winner – whether it is the allure of 213 million tonnes of bauxite or the livelihood source of at least 20000 families that plays a vital role in balancing the local ecology.

A node for mining will definitely be disastrous for the people living on Gandhamardan and the dense forest cover that plays a vital role in controlling environment, providing direct livelihood to more than 20000 families and over one lakh indirectly, making it the source of water for a larger population apart from offering a unique bio-diversity  to mankind.

The report was first published in the April 2011 issue of the Eastern Panorama.