MILONPUR, INDIA, Aug 08 (IPS) — Seema Devi is a 39-year-old woman hailing from India’s northeastern state of Assam. She lives in a village called Milonpur, a small hamlet with no more than 1 000 inhabitants. While most men from the village, including Devi’s husband, move to cities and towns in search of work, women are left behind to take care of the house and kids.
Devi says that after the COVID-19 lockdown in India in the year 2020, the family income drastically plummeted. As most of the factories were shut for months, the workers, including Devi’s husband, were jobless. Even after the lockdown ended and workers were called back to the factories, the wages witnessed a dip.
"Earlier my husband would earn no less than Rs 10 000 a month (125 USD), and after the lockdown, it wasn’t more than a mere 6 000 rupees (70 USD). My children and I would suffer for the want of basic needs like medicine and clothing, but at the same time, I was considerate of the situation and helplessness of my husband," Devi told IPS.
However, there were few alternatives available at home that could have mitigated Devi’s predicament. With the small area of ancestral land used for cultivation, the change in weather patterns caused her family and several households in the village to reap losses.
However, in 2021, a non-government organization visited the hamlet to assess the situation in the post-COVID scenario. The villagers told the team about how most of the men in the village go out to cities and towns in search of livelihood and work as labourers in factories and that their wages have come down due to economic distress in the country.
After hectic deliberations, about ten self-help groups of women were created. They trained in livestock farming and how this venture could be turned into a profitable business.
The women were initially reluctant because they were unaware of how to make livestock farming profitable. They would ask the members of the charitable organisation questions like, "What if it fails to yield desired results? What if some terrible disease affects the animals, and what if the livestock wouldn’t generate any income for them?"
Wilson Kandulna, who was the senior member of the team, told IPS that experts were called in to train the women about cattle rearing and how timely vaccinations, proper feed, and care could make livestock farming profitable and mitigate their basic living costs. "At first, we provided ten goat kids to each women’s group and made them aware of the dos and don’ts of this kind of farming. They were quick to learn and grasped easily whatever was taught to them," Wilson said.
He added that these women were living in economic distress due to the limited income of their husbands and were desperately anxious about the scarcity of proper education for children and other daily needs.
Devi says that as soon as she got the goat kids, she acquired basic training in feeding them properly and taking them for vaccinations to the nearby government veterinary hospital.
"Two years have passed, and now we have hundreds of goats as they reproduce quickly, and we are now able to earn a good income. During the first few months, there were issues like feeding problems, proper shelter during monsoons and summers, and how and when we should take them out for grazing. As time passed and we learned the skills, we have become very trained goat rearers," Devi said.
Renuka, another woman in the self-help group, told IPS that for the past year, they have been continuously getting demands for goat milk from the main towns. "People know about the health benefits of goat milk. They know it is organic without any preservatives, and that is the reason we have a very high demand for it. We sell it at a good price, and at times, demand surpasses the supply," Renuka said.
For Devi, livestock farming has been no less than a blessing. She says she earns more than five thousand rupees a month (about 60 USD) and has been able to cover daily household expenses all by herself. "I no longer rely on my husband for household expenses. I take care of it all by myself. My husband, too, is relieved, and things are getting back on track," Devi said, smiling.
Kalpana, a 32-year-old member of the group, says the goats have increased in number, and last year, several of them were sold in the market at a good price.
"The profits were shared by the group members. Earlier, women in this village were entirely dependent on their husbands for covering their basic expenses. Now, they are economically self-reliant. They take good care of the house and of themselves," Kalpana told IPS News.
Note: Names of some of the women have been changed on their request.
IPS UN Bureau Report