Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way

Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way

When Manju Devi was married off at a very young age, she had given up on her dream of becoming a teacher. Her life pretty much meant caring for the family, helping the husband, bringing up children, and rearing the animals. Things changed the day Oxfam India and SEWA Bharat came to Mudheri village in Bihar’s Munger district. On this day, in 2016, began her journey of becoming a farmer and eventually the president of a Farmers Producer Company.

She recalls the day a few members came to their village to discuss a project about agriculture and about new farming techniques. “I was in my house. I was too shy to go outside, so I peeped from the window and tried to listen to their conversation with the other community members,” Manju remembers. One of the volunteers of SEWA Bharat approached her and explained that they were forming a women farmers producer group and they would be trained on new techniques of farming to be able to increase their productivity. This was the turning point in her life.

The SEWA Bharat meeting piqued her interest and she wanted to attend more meetings. Her husband wasn’t so sure; he was bothered with what the village might say if Manju went out to attend meetings. It took some persuasion for him to finally let her go for one of the meetings. As the saying in Hindi goes, जहाँ चाह वहाँ राह or ‘where there is a will, there is a way’ — Manju says that was the day she found her राह, her way. That day she decided to join the women farmers producer group.

Read more about the project

In 2016, with the support of Oxfam Germany and Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Oxfam India in collaboration with SEWA Bharat (a federation of women-led institutions providing economic and social support to women in the informal sector) started a 3-year joint project in two districts of Bihar — Munger and Bhagalpur. 

The project was aimed to directly engage with 3,000 households to enable them to avail government scheme benefits in 35 villages in 6 blocks of Munger and Bhagalpur districts (1650 households in 3 blocks of Munger and 1350 households in 3 blocks of Bhagalpur) of Bihar. Since 2016, nearly 1400 women farmers have been benefitted by this.

The first year she grew tomatoes on her 4 katha land on raised bed, a new technique. She earned Rs 15,000 the very first year. Her husband was happy and she was thrilled and felt confident about augmenting the family income with new agriculture techniques. She started learning more about farming and attended all the trainings on block and district level organised by SEWA Bharat.

“This was an eye opener. I understood how women organisations worked for women to build their agency. In addition, I attended the skill development programmes and agriculture training which was not just making me more skilful but was also boosting my confidence immensely,” she said.

From an information seeker, Manju had become the source of information. Women farmers sought advice from her. She was also evolving as a mobiliser forming women samoohs in the village. It was suggested to her to become a community mobiliser for Jeevika - State Rural Livelihood Mission.

And the next year, not only did she become a community mobiliser, she also bought land for farming. She bought the small patch with her income that she earned and had saved. “This was an accomplishment. I was doing well on the agriculture front and my husband was very happy with my success. He backed me whenever I had to go for meetings, whether they were within the block, or district, or even to Patna,” she said with a spark in her eyes.

Click here to watch their amazing journey of women farmers- Her Veggie Basket

When SEWA Bharat and Oxfam India formed the Karnbhoomi Farmer Producer Company, farmers from Bhagalpur and Munger nominated her to become the President of the Farmers Producer Company (FPC). “It was my hard work and  commitment towards work that I was selected the president of the FPC. Now men and women farmers come to me for advice on seed selection, the variety and the company,” she smiled. In fact it was her strong liaising with dealers and vendors that helped community members to purchase seeds at a better rate.

It is her sheer grit and determination that over four years she increased her land holding size from 4 katha to 10 in vegetables and an additional 2 kathas in paddy. Her annual profit from agriculture has been between Rs 60,000 to Rs 80,000. As a Master Trainer, she has encouraged dozens of women to adopt agro-ecological practices.

“Vegetable cultivation has empowered me and many women farmers like me. It has contributed to our rural economy. But most importantly, we are no longer financially dependent on our husbands,” she smiled.

But it is her children’s reaction to her success that has truly been the icing on the cake. Her son (staying in a hostel), called her to show all his friends his mother who was ‘travelling to Bangladesh for work’. “He was very proud. I feel very happy that I have achieved something that my children look up to me as a role model. It was a memorable day for me,” said Manju.

She plans to keep it like that. She is certain that she and her other women farmers will continue to sustain this initiative started by SEWA Bharat and Oxfam India.


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