Crab and Prawn Farming

This story was told to Geraldine, a volunteer for Jeevika Trust who visited India courtesy of innocent foundation.  Thank you Geraldine and innocent! 

Project Eco works with impoverished tribal families in the ecologically-vulnerable Chilika Lake Lagoon. Its goal is to develop sustainable lagoon-linked livelihoods such as crab, fish and prawn cultivation.

Santi is one of the women who has benefitted from the project. With JRP support she has started a prawn farming activity.

india story

“My name is Santi. It means ‘peace’ in Hindi. I am 52 years old and I have one son and two daughters. One daughter is married, but not the other one. She is still at school. I used to have two sons but one died three years ago. The other one is independent, he works and earns money to feed his own family. I also have five younger brothers, whom my husband helped to get educated. Now they are settled in various positions in Bhubaneshwar [Orissa state’s capital, 3 hours’ drive away from the village] and they don’t come to visit. Even though they grew up in the village, they don’t care how we live. I feel very sad about the situation.

Before JRP started the project in my village, I wasn’t working. I was dependent on my husband, who works outside the village but earns very little money.

After Renoo [project coordinator from JRP] came and spoke about prawn and crabs cultivation, I joined a self-help group and was able to invest 5000 Rs towards crab cultivation. I learned the skills to cultivate crabs and prawns, and also learned how to increase banana and coconut production. Since the project started a year and a half ago, I made 70,000 Rs profit. Now I feel very rich.

Fattened crabs are hand picked for harvest

Every day, I wake up at 5 in the morning. I first send my children to school then look after the crabs and prawns cultivation. I have lunch at 10am, then snacks at 4 and dinner at 8. I do all the family work in the morning and then I am free. In my spare time, I plan where I need to invest my money and what I need to buy.

My life has changed now: I used to have a thatched home, now I have a cemented home. Only the ceiling is still thatched. I also opened a stationery shop, which is looked after by my daughter-in-law. Thanks to all these activities, I was identified by the government of Odisha [Indian state in which Santi lives] as someone who could be trusted to make things happen so got extra help from them.

We save the extra money in the bank and I can use that money when needed. I don’t need to ask the other women for money. I didn’t have to ask them for money when my daughter’s husband died three months ago. He was a fisherman and disappeared. It was tragic.

I have hopes for the future: I hope I can build a cemented ceiling on my house. I also hope my son and daughters will get educated and don’t have to depend on anyone.”

Crab and prawn farming are some of the most profitable activities on the island, producing commodities which can be exported to foreign countries.

To support our partner JRP in continuing to establish Self-Help Groups in village India please donate now

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A Positive Match

Kumar and Ellavarasi (names changed) stand behind their cart laden with vegetables at the weekly farmers’ market and call out to passing customers. Their son, a toddler, plays with his toys nearby, as the couple are busy marketing their stock of tomatoes, gourd and pumpkins.

It has been a profitable day and the couple look forward to buying some essentials for their home and, if money is left over, some tasty treats which their son will enjoy. They are like any other young couple in their 20s living in the rural hinterlands of Tamil Nadu, struggling to eke out a living, with one key difference none of their fellow vendors or their customers are aware of: they are both HIV-positive.

Tamil MarriageKumar first met Ellavarasi in 2006 at a meeting which brought together People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHAs) in the Trichy District.  Kumar was a supervisor in a local manufacturing unit and Ellavarasi was a young widow still coming to terms with her husband’s untimely death. Both were struggling to cope with a devastating disease that had infected and impacted them physically, emotionally and socially.

During the meeting, several participants shared their experiences of living with HIV and the challenges they faced in dealing with the disease on a day-to-day basis. Women, in particular, have to deal with isolation and discrimination from their families and neighbours and, worse, economic instability after their husband’s death. There is no-one with whom they can share their concerns and anxieties and they often became sexual prey for other men.

Mithra Foundation – Jeevika’s organisational partner in Trichy, Tamil Nadu – provides livelihood opportunities and enhances social and economic well being of PLWHAs, played matchmaker for Ellavarasi and Kumar.  Mithra, during its monthly meetings with PLWHAs stresses the importance of positive living and proposed marriage as a solution to loneliness and stigma faced by HIV-positive individuals. Marriage with a fellow HIV-carrier provides not just companionship, but also a practical base for dealing with the illness, including mutual monitoring of medication and sharing the cost of treatment.

Mithra Foundation CandlesPLWHAs need love, care and support from their spouses and most importantly someone to take care of their physical and emotional needs and give them the strength to face life’s adversities,” said Mr Peter Nayagam, who heads Mithra Foundation.

Kumar’s family were initially apprehensive about his marriage to an HIV-positive woman, but they have since come around with counselling, and have accepted Ellavarasi.

We caution both men and women with HIV to reveal their positive status and find a partner who is also infected. They understand the trials and tribulations of being HIV positive and are likely to be more supportive and understanding,” says Mr Nayagam.

Encouraged by the marriage of Kumar and Ellavarasi, Mithra has since set up an informal marriage bureau and succeeded in uniting eight more couples with HIV status.

It hasn’t been easy for Mithra to find potential partners for HIV-positive individuals who want to marry. Opposition from family and community is common and widows with children find it more difficult to find a partner. Men do not want to take responsibility for somebody else’s children, especially if they are HIV-positive.

Kumar and Ellavarasi are members of Mithra’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) for PLWHAs and both also engage in votive candle-making which, together with other SHGs, are able to make a small amount of income selling their candles to the local temples and churches. The couple recently received a revolving fund of Rs5,000 (approx. £53) from Mithra (sponsored by Jeevika) and a bank loan of Rs10,000 (approx. £106) and utilised the amount to engage in vegetable vending. Their household income is now approximately Rs4,000 (£43) per month and growing.

Both Kumar and Ellavarasi are on Anti-Retroviral Therapy (a medication provided to HIV-positive individuals to boost their immunity levels) and often fall ill due to opportunistic infections, but their cloud has a silver lining: their two-and-a-half-year-old son, who is the apple of their eye, is free from the HIV virus.


Dedicate your money to supporting the future happiness of couples like Kumar and Ellavarasi today

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Small but not Beautiful?

In a recent report, the World Bank interestingly puts great emphasis on jobs (livelihoods) and “enhancing gender parity” in its most recent studies and reports on South Asia. The reports are detailed and make for rather dry reading, but what is interesting for Jeevika and its supporters is how much employment is accounted for by small-scale “own account” enterprise even in such areas as manufacturing.

Small shop in India

By far, most employment in India comes from self-employment and casual labour and that transition from casual labouring to self-employment will continue to be where the future lies in the near term for most people trying to escape poverty. Salaried employment, despite the high levels of economic growth in India in particular, still only provided 17% of all employment in 2009/10.

I don’t think you will find mention of Schumacher Economics or “Small is Beautiful” anywhere on the World Bank’s website but the statistics they provide show that small-scale employment opportunities make up the bulk of those that exist. The challenge of course is to improve the quality and conditions of such employment with much of the work being “small” scale but far from “beautiful” — especially when it boils down to poorly paid casual labour in bad working conditions.

The way to achieve that is to improve skills, education, and most importantly of all, to “enhance gender parity” as the World Bank describes it, especially if issues like the childhood malnutrition still endemic in the region are to be properly addressed.

Excerpts from the World Bank report on South Asia:

In 2011, the Bank produced a regional flagship report, More and Better Jobs in South Asia. To strengthen the World Bank’s understanding of the policies conducive to inclusive growth, the South Asia region team is working on a new flagship report on Equity for Development, in which inequality in income and consumption will be studied alongside inequality of access and opportunities.

World Bank report on jobs

Building Skills and Improving Health and Nutrition Outcomes

The World Bank has strengthened its focus on promoting a multi-sectoral agenda to tackle the severe nutrition problems in South Asia, and on mainstreaming gender issues into its operations. South Asia has 330 million undernourished people, more than sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Bank is drawing on the World Development Report (WDR) 2012 findings as it intensifies its efforts to enhance gender parity in the region. Efforts include strategic mainstreaming across the portfolio, such as the South Asia Gender Initiative, which is working across sectors to mainstream gender; understand gender identities (women’s and men’s) across generations; and support Impact Evaluations of Rural Livelihoods projects in India and Nepal and gender-specific projects.

In addition, the Bank has many stand-alone gender-based projects such as the National Rural Livelihoods Project in India and the Adolescent Girls Initiative in Afghanistan, which aims to help girls stay in school and build skills so they can find jobs.

If you would like to support Jeevika’s work with the poorest of the poor in India, through livelihood initiatives just like those mentioned by the World Bank, please consider making a donation:

Jeevika Trust JustGiving

First photo used courtesy of and second photo from Chapter 3 of the World Bank report.

Voices from India: Basanti in Bebari

It’s a balmy Tuesday morning in Orissa as we make our way to the village of Bebari, nearly a three-hour drive from the state capital of Bhubaneswar. For the last few miles, the road is nothing but thick red clay, and several times we pause to give way to cows, the cowherds clucking their tongues to clear up the jam.

A year has gone by since I’ve been to Orissa, and I’m delighted to find myself here once again with Jeevika’s programmes officer, Judith, our in-country coordinator, Priya, and Manu and Madhu, directors of our partner NGO in Orissa, Jeevan Rekha Parishad (JRP).

Today is our first day heading back into the field to visit our projects.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Come and learn from bees reads a poster on one of the first buildings we see in Bebari. But today we have come to not only learn from bees, but from the women who keep them. After receiving a two-year extension from DFID, Jeevika and JRP have continued the Madhu Network Project, which supports 300 traditional women beekeepers in 10 villages across Orissa.

The first woman I sit down with is named Basanti. With Manu kindly offering to translate, I learn that she is 40 years old and has four children – a son and three daughters, ranging in age from 8 to 20 years old. While her children are all studying, Basanti herself has no education.

“There was no school at the time,” she explains. “There was only jungle when I was a child. My parents taught me some letters. That is all.

Originally from the Ganjam district, Basanti has lived in Bebari for 25 years, and was married at the age of 15. “Earlier, there was nothing. We were just housewives. Now we have started beekeeping.”

Basanti even tells us she had the first beehive box in the village. And since two Self-Help Groups (SHGs) were formed in Bebari six months ago, she has become president of hers.

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

There are typically three kilograms of honey in a harvest, with each kilogram earning 200 rupees in local markets. Basanti uses the extra income to buy household items, for the treatment of her son when he was suffering from fever, and “also for the study of my children.”

“Earlier no one was giving us a single rupee for our activities. Now we have our group and our savings. We are very happy to be working together in a team for economic activities. It is increasing day by day, so we will not stop.

“Now you all have come. We need to assess our other needs and other programmes. That is our future plan. We are very happy many people are coming to our village now.”

In addition to meeting household needs and expenses, each member of the SHG also currently saves 20 rupees a month in their collective savings account. Hearing this is a necessary reminder of the hundreds of millions of rural people living at the ‘base of the pyramid’ that is today’s modern India.

While those at the top now earn and spend at European rates, women like Basanti still find tiny amounts of money to be a worthwhile return on time and effort. Indeed, I think back to what she had said earlier in our conversation:

We are increasing day by day.

I already look forward to the updates – and to seeing Basanti again – when we’re back in Orissa this time next month.

Please consider supporting Jeevika with a small donation as we work to support Basanti and other women beekeepers like her in the communities of village India:

Donate to Jeevika Trust

Jeevika Trust - beekeeping projects in India

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!

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.

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!

An Inspiring Induction: Making a World of Difference with Vodafone

There is wisdom in smallness.”
– E. F. Schumacher

As Andrew mentioned in his post last week, both Candace and I are winners of Vodafone’s World of Difference (WOD) programme this year. I think Vodafone deserves a lot of credit for coming up with such an innovative CSR initiative.

At our induction day in late February, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of other winners from diverse walks of life. Like me, many of them are being enabled to transform the fortunes of small charities by the WOD programme.

A very small world

By very happy coincidence, one of the winners I met was Tom Stedall. Tom’s charity, The Converging World, works with the same Indian partner as Jeevika Trust in Tamil Nadu, Social Change and Development (SCAD).

Jeevika runs Project Pisces with SCAD, which has brought three traditional water reservoirs, known as ooranies, back into use providing water for farming and domestic use. Here’s an idea of how the transformation takes place:

Restoring ponds in India

Restoring ponds in India

Ooranie pond restoration in India

Additionally, in 2010 the ooranies were used for fish farming and the harvest was consumed and sold by 2,500 villagers in the Tuticorin area.

Ooranie pond restoration in India

The Converging World supports SCAD community development projects on GP consultations, education and women’s self help groups and is also developing renewable energy and woodstove initiatives.

Connecting Schumacher with World of Difference

Both The Converging World and Jeevika Trust draw inspiration from the radical economist, E.F. Schumacher, author of the book Small is Beautiful: Economics as if people mattered.

Schumacher rejected large scale industrial development based on the exploitation of finite, non-renewable resources.

He instead believed in tackling poverty by revitalising rural communities, promoting inclusive, sustainable development and creating and sharing appropriate knowledge and technology centred around human well-being.

At Vodafone’s inspirational induction day, listening to the fascinating stories of so many activists that are improving the world through grassroots, community-based organisations, it occurred to me that Schumacher’s belief that “Small is beautiful” is also a very apt description for the WOD programme itself.

Restoring ponds in India

To learn more about our water projects, such as Project Ooranie in Tamil Nadu, visit our website. Have a question about ooranie pond restoration? Leave a comment below and we’d love to tell you more!

Voices from India, part 1: Dhani in Orissa

For the next month here on our blog, we’ll be running a weekly series called “Voices from India.” Every Monday will bring you face-to-face with a new woman involved in the livelihood projects we support in India, from crab cultivation to getting involved with self-help groups. Today we travel to a forest tribal area in coastal Orissa…

When I first meet Dhani, her face is obscured behind the net of her beekeeper’s hat and her hands are full of honeycomb.

She works quickly, carefully lifting trays from the three hives set out around her house to assess which ones are ripe for the harvest.

Beekeeping in India

Born in Ambapadia, a small village in Orissa, India, Dhani is 30 years old and lives in the Chandaka Forest tribal area with her four children: two sons and two daughters, she tells me.

Through Project Madhu, set up by Jeevika and our partner in Orissa, Jeevan Rekha Parishad, Dhani has been involved in beekeeping activities for a year and currently serves as the project leader.

When not tending to her own hives, Dhani helps other women in the village care for their bees. To harvest the honey, thick layers of honeycomb, oozing with amber-coloured liquid, are scraped off each tray and then placed in a silver extraction drum, where the comb is spun by hand.

Beekeeping in India

Beekeeping in India

As the honey drips slowly down the walls of the drum, a tap at the bottom is opened and old whiskey bottles are recycled to hold the harvest. The women involved in beekeeping currently will keep half of the honey for their own use, and sell the other half in local markets.

Finally, as the last drop of honey is bottled up and sealed away, Dhani’s net comes off and her tools are set down. We find a seat on a fallen tree trunk and talk about her involvement with the project.

She says: “I was doing agricultural labour before, very seasonal work. Because of the project, the economic condition of my family has improved. We own this.

“Some money is saved in the self-help group fund, and some is used for the education of my children and medicine.”

And maybe that’s the only thing sweeter than honey to Dhani—the unmistakable feeling of ownership.

Beekeeping in India

Have you ever kept bees? We’d love to hear your beekeeping stories!