A Bee’s Life, Tamil Nadu-style

Last Thursday our funding strategy officer, Mark, shared about a new beekeeping initiative in Orissa. But this isn’t the only region of India in which we’re supporting honey projects. From another part of the country – Tamil Nadu – and another Jeevika partner, we’ve got a second bee story for you…and this time, with lots of photos!

This bee story begins with one of our six Indian partners, the Annai Mary Foundation. In the past couple of years, they have trained 100 women from eight groups in beekeeping with the support of Jeevika Trust.

Wooden hive boxes have been supplied to 67 women, which have then been placed in banana groves with dense foliage and close proximity to water sources.

An initial reluctance and fear in handling bees gave way to interest and commitment among the women. “We check the bees’ at least once every two days and make sure they are doing alright,” one woman involved in the project said.

Women´s Empowerment in IndiaWomen's Livelihood in India

Women´s Empowerment in IndiaThe women are eagerly waiting to harvest their first yield of honey. “We will use it for our own needs and feed it to our children. Honey has nutritional value. Once we begin to get more honey, we will sell some of this,” says an excited Indrani who hopes to get Rs 50 to 100 per kilogram of honey.

Indrani dreams of a bright future – a future in which additional income will pay the medical bills from treating her disabled son.

The women are eager to share their new skills with other women in the neighbourhood and also to enhance their knowledge through an exposure visit to a private beekeeping enterprise.

Women´s Empowerment in India

Women´s Empowerment in India

Women´s Empowerment in IndiaDo you have a bee story of your own to share? We’d love to hear it!

“Bees and honey”: Small-scale honey production in Orissa

A few weeks ago, Jeevika’s programmes officer, Judith shared some exciting news–a new eco-project on Chilika Lake made possible by the Innocent Foundation. Today the good news continues as our funding strategy officer, Mark, discusses another new project, focused on improving the commercial viability of small scale honey production in Orissa.

In Cockney rhyming slang, “bees and honey” also means money. For the women bee-keepers of Orissa, bees and honey certainly do bring hope of money and secure livelihoods. The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) is helping to support Jeevika’s work with our partner Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP) to improve the commercial viability of honey production in Orissa.

There are many small scale bee-keepers in the region producing honey for local markets and personal consumption. Often their production of honey is limited by minimal resources and skills and they have few opportunities to access wider markets.

Bee-keeping skills training with the help of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology, new equipment, and the creation of a District Resource Centres will help the bee-keepers increase their production. They can then pool the honey they produce, giving them better access to wholesale markets whilst improving the quality of the honey.

New livelihood projects in India

Over 300 bee-keepers are taking part and with help from JRP, they are setting up a Women’s Bee-keepers Association (WBA) in the region, which will make them less isolated and better able to share skills and resources.

An annual honey market is planned to promote sales and membership of the WBA and eventually they hope to apply for Fair Trade registration, gaining access not only to markets in Orissa and within India but also possibly opening up export opportunities.

Beekeeping projects in India

But bees do more than just make honey. As Nick Holland reported for the BBC in 2009, when bees fly, they polinate all sorts of fruit and vegetables which adds to local food production. Indeed in the UK the National Audit Office collated research working out the value of bees to the UK economy. The value of bees’ services were estimated at £200m a year. The retail value of what they pollinate was valued closer to £1bn!

“If we had a serious loss of honeybees in the UK, then inevitably food prices would have to increase,” said Simon Potts, head of pollination research at Reading University.

In China where bees are extinct in some areas, people have to be employed to go around with feather dusters brushing the inside of plants with pollen. Reading University is working out what an apple would cost in the UK if you had to employ someone on the minimum wage to pollinate the trees. Estimates suggest that the cost would more than double.

Did you realise bees play such a vital role in our economy? We’d love to hear your thoughts below!

Voices from India, part 3: Basanti in Orissa

Over the past month, our series “Voices from India” has been sharing stories of various women involved in our livelihood projects throughout India, from Dhani in Orissa to Priya in Tamil Nadu. This week we’re heading back to Chilika Lake in Orissa to speak with Basanti…

43-year old Basanti is there to meet us when we first arrive on Mahinsa, a palm-covered island in Orissa’s Chilika Lake. She was born and raised in a village of the same name, and although she studied up to 7th class, there was no school for her as she grew older. She was married at the age of fourteen before giving birth to her son and two daughters.

Women's empowerment in India

Since Jeevika Trust and partner Jeevan Rekha Parishad began Project Eco on Mahinsa three years ago, Basanti has become involved in a number of activities, from cultivating crabs and ground nuts to installing new toilets and hand pumps to motivating schoolchildren. She uses the extra income to fund her children’s education, and even to help towards the healthcare for her recently discovered tumour.

She says: “Earlier we were dependent on our husbands. They used to go to the lake and get fish. When the NGO came, we got financial support and now we are self-dependent because we are earning. Earlier we were very idle, sitting inside the four walls of the house. Now we are active.”

Village livelihood projects in India

“The last four months, we are not getting any income from the lake because of rain. Now we have the savings to live. I have become self-dependent and sufficient. We are free from the four walls of the house.”

It’s this last phrase that keeps echoing in my mind when we leave Mahinsa–”free from the four walls.” Because as we walked with Basanti and other women across the island, it was clear this freedom really is now their reality.

My Jeevika Journey: Michael Connellan

Occasionally we’ll be hearing from people who have been involved with Jeevika over the years, whether as a supporter, volunteer, or sometimes both! Today journalist Michael Connellan shares about his experience of volunteering with Jeevika in India for a year.

My four-year relationship with Jeevika Trust has taken me from London to the length and breadth of India and back. The stories I most often tell to friends about my experiences with Jeevika in India are of course the ones which raise an eyebrow or raise a laugh.

These include watching a farmer from Uttar Pradesh allow his camel to take a puff on his cigarette, and learning from another farmer in Tamil Nadu about how to sell cow’s urine as a thirst-quenching drink.

Volunteer in India

But my most vivid memories are of witnessing the challenging grassroots work that Jeevika’s Indian partner organisations carry out in India’s remote villages.

With Schumacher Centre, Jeevika’s sister organisation based in Delhi, I visited two villages in the Badnoli district which is just two hours north of the capital. The residents were struggling to exist in extremely impoverished conditions. Local landowners and politicians limited their access to jobs and food supplies. They had no sewage system and no access to electricity.

The usual response for a Westerner visiting a remote corner of rural India is intense curiosity from the local children. But many of the children in these villages were listless and disinterested – a classic sign of chronic malnutrition which is very unsettling to witness. Their parents were living blighted lives too. Several of the men, struggling in casual and seasonal labour, had succumbed to alcoholism and their wives were paying the price.

Speaking to a group of mothers, one said to us: “Whatever the men earn, they spend on liquor. They come home and wreak havoc. They beat us.” (You can view the women talking on Youtube here.) The lack of a sewage system meant that their waste would sometimes run into nearby fields - resulting in threats from a local landowner.

The villagers explained that they craved electricity, because without much access to other fuels, work life, family life, and everything else was effectively ended for the day as soon as the sun went down in the evening. Night really meant night in this corner of the world without electric light.

Schumacher Centre in Delhi

Schumacher Centre staff pledged to work intensively with the village, and by 2010, after I had returned to the UK, I heard about the first substantial results - Schumacher Centre had successfully installed solar powered lights in the village. This required painstaking lobbying and diplomacy with local politicians. But now residents’ lives are being transformed.

A resident named Nisha said to Schumacher Centre: ‘Since solar powered lights have been installed, my son is doing well in studies as he can study late in the evenings… the solar fans keep the mosquitoes away from my kids… this is a source of happiness to our family.’

I continue to support Jeevika Trust as a volunteer because I have witnessed the strength of its Indian networks, so I can be sure that the time I donate is well spent. Jeevika’s partner organisations penetrate deep into rural India and ensure funds collected in the UK make a real difference.

We would love to hear about your own personal journey with Jeevika! Leave us a comment below, or if you’d like to share it as a blog post like Michael’s, get in touch with Candace at candace@jeevika.org.uk.

Hidden Tamil Nadu

We’re taking a quick break from our “Voices from India” series to let you know about a unique trip to Tamil Nadu later this year. Read on to learn more about the opportunity…and hopefully we’ll see you in Tamil Nadu in November! 

“Hidden Tamil Nadu” is a chance to learn about social development among the rural poor of southern India, to visit villages and off the beaten track places, to meet the people making a difference, to shop for and cook delicious southern Indian food, and to rest at both a mountain national park and at the beach.

Tour through Tamil Nadu

The two week trip to Social Change and Development (SCAD) is an exciting but safe way to see a different side of India – an India in which stunning temples, dusty villages, various crops, goats, cows, chickens, ponds, projects and people all come together to weave the fabric of rural India.

The itinerary has been created to give you the opportunity to experience this rural India – an India that many don’t often have the chance to see.

Accommodation is modest but western style with en suite wet rooms. The cost of £350 includes all travel and accommodation (including hotels) from arrival to departure. Also included are all meals taken at SCAD.

You will need to arrange your own flights, travel and medical insurance, visa and spending money, and a donation (for which you could fundraise) to SCAD of £250 minimum is requested.

To give you a quick idea of what the tour will look like and the adventures it holds, we’ve put together a short slideshow of photos:

For more information, take a look at SCAD’s website and feel free to contact the tour’s coordinator Trisha at hiddentamilnadu@hotmail.co.uk if you have any questions or would like to sign up.

We hope you can make it!

Can a crab change a life?

Wonderful news! The Jeevika Team has won funding from Innocent Foundation for a new livelihood initiative we’re calling Project ECO.  It will be located on Barhampur Island in the Chilika Lagoon located on the southeast coast of Orissa, which is one of the most important wetlands in the world and home to a phenomenal variety of birds.

But this is not a tourism project.

It’s to ensure that the islanders of Barhampur establish income-generation activities that combat their poverty from a lack of employment opportunities and address some of the environmental issues they face.

Our partner organisation, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP), is thrilled that we can now go ahead with this, their second island project, as are our potential beneficiaries.  They’ve been pushing JRP to include their island in its eco-development strategy for over three years and, finally, their dream has come true.

The difficulties the islanders face are many.

The islands in the region are exposed to high seas and cyclones from the Bay of Bengal on one side and brackish water in the lagoon on the other.  Also, as a result of past over-fishing, local authorities have banned commercial fisheries working in the lagoon.  This has severely reduced fishing, which is the traditional livelihood of the islanders.

JRP’s eco-development project on the island of Mahinsa (2009-11), for example, managed to save its islanders from poverty by building the capacity of the women to cultivate crabs in island ponds which catch the monsoon water and, after fattening up the seed-crabs, grow these into the monster you see below.

Crab cultivation in India

The crabs are now sold to mainland and export markets and the women – now formed into Self-Help Groups which manage the project and make savings and loans using a Revolving Fund – are thriving!

Groundnuts and peanuts in IndiaWhatsmore, with the savings made from crab sales, these women have gone on to start other income-generation activities such as the cultivation of peanuts which are sold to wholesalers and vermicompost (organic compost complete with worms) which is bagged up and sold to mainlaind garden nurseries.

There’s no stopping the Mahinsa women now.  And this is what Jeevika and JRP will shortly do on Barhampur Island.

Watch this space!

Voices from India, part 2: Priya in Tamil Nadu

This is the second post in our series, “Voices from India,” in which we hear directly from women involved in our projects in India. Last week we spoke with Dhani in Orissa, who leads beekeeping projects in the Chandaka Forest. This week we travel further south to Tamil Nadu to meet Priya, a health educator and leader in her self-help group…

It’s late afternoon in the Tamil village of Kasturibai and nearly thirty women have gathered together for a meeting of their Self-Help Group (SHG). The group was started by one of Jeevika’s six Indian partners, Women’s Organisation for Rural Development (WORD), who have been based in the Namakkal District of Tamil Nadu since 1985.

At the front of the group sits their leader, 30-year old Priya. Born in the village of Gobi, she studied through 10th standard before marrying at 18 and moving to Kasturibai. While her husband is frequently away as a truck driver, Priya raises their two children—a daughter aged ten and a six-year old son—in addition to playing an active role in the village.

NGO in Tamil Nadu

Since joining two and a half years ago, Priya has been a leader in her SHG, calling twice-monthly meetings and recording minutes. But her involvement in Kasturibai doesn’t end there. While she spends ten days a month in agricultural labour, Priya also teaches at an afternoon tuition centre as well as educating villagers on health issues.

Drawing on prior informal training at a hospital, Priya has since received additional training through WORD, which she uses to promote proper health and hygiene in her village.

She says: “Now I’m working to talk about health in the village, taking people to the hospital for operations, and talking to families about family planning. Because I am a member of the SHG, I know a lot of people, so it’s easy for them to talk to me in confidence.”

While the diversity of Priya’s commitments in Kasturibai is great, what is equally as interesting to hear about is what has changed in her life since the SHG was formed.

Priya recalls: “Before we joined [the group], if we needed money, we had no savings. Even if we only needed 100 rupees, I would have to go and ask my neighbour.

“It’s a very drought prone area so there was little work if I needed money for emergencies. Finance was always the problem. We would have to borrow money from money lenders at 10% interest. Now it’s only 1% if we borrow from SHGs.”

And it’s exactly this 1% that enables women like Priya to not only begin to save, but to look ahead and explore new possibilities for the future.