Sanavver Shafi | Mar 28 | 7 min read
The park running on 28 acres of government land for the last two years has become a source of livelihood for 284 women of Bhaukhedi in Sehore district
Sehore, Madhya Pradesh: From a distance, it appears like any other gaushala (cow shelter) in rural Madhya Pradesh. Once you enter the MGNREGA & Livelihood Park, you would see groups of women involved in pasturing, community plantation and managing community poshan vatika (nutrition garden) and fish ponds, among other activities.
The park has been running for the last two years on 28 acres of land that was once an encroached property. Now, it serves as a source of livelihood for 284 women of Bhaukhedi village, about 16 km from Sehore district headquarters.
This year during the Holi festival alone, they managed to make Rs 40,000 by selling 2,200 cow dung cakes and 3,600 gaukashta (cow dung wood).
Women take collective decisions on what to produce and sell. The endeavour has not only made them more confident, but also financially self-sufficient. However, not everyone was ready to join hands at first.
How it began
“It was very difficult to bring together the women of 20 self-help groups (SHGs) to work here… In the beginning, we were only running the gaushala… the women did not want to work in a cowshed; they did not want to clean cow dung. Somehow, we managed to persuade them. But then their husbands would create trouble by not allowing them to work,” said Manisha Malviya, the president of Jai Gurudev SHG located in the park.
The Kanhaiya Gaushala came into being under the Project Gaushala of the Madhya Pradesh government. “We were searching for land for building the gaushala, but could not find a suitable plot in Bhaukhedi gram panchayat. Around the same time, we received information about the encroachment of 28 acres of land belonging to the revenue department. We evicted the encroachers and finalised it for the gaushala. Eight of the 28 acres of land was allotted for gaushala-charagah (cowshed and pasture),” Sehore District Panchayat Chief Executive Officer Harsh Singh told 101Reporters.
The SHG women were selected to manage the site, which did not sit well with the leaders and other male members of the village who objected to the women’s participation in the project. Singh, along with Livelihood Mission District Project Manager Dinesh Barfa and Nodal Officer Dharmendra Upadhyay, went door-to-door to counsel the women and their families, after which they joined the effort.
“Once the gaushala started functioning properly, we decided to allot the rest of the land to the Livelihood Mission. That was when we ran into trouble due to lack of funds. Ultimately, we got the required funds from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA),” Singh said.
Out of the one crore rupees made available to them under MGNREGA, Rs 3.94 lakh was sanctioned for community plantation, Rs 4.73 lakh was given for pond development, Rs 14.34 lakh for community nutrition garden, and Rs 12.29 lakh for fish farming. Apart from this, a medicinal plant garden under Devaranya scheme, a community sanitation complex, goat sheds, nursery sheds, toilets and boundary walls were also created, enabling employment generation in the village during the construction phase.
Barfa told 101Reporters that they wanted to develop separate units of sustainable livelihood on 20 acres of land to help build the community. “We discussed it with the women and sent a proposal to the administration.”
Jai Gurudev SHG secretary Rekha Verma recalled how people made fun of her when she started working at the park. “They said I cleaned up cow dung throughout the day. Nevertheless, all that hard work has paid off. Now, many women earn a good income for their families. This has changed people’s perspectives also. They look at us with respect… I was here from the beginning. Sometimes we made a profit, other times not. By saving whatever money I got, I bought a Honda Activa. I am also sending my two children to a good school.”
Finding market linkages
Manisha Malviya still remembers the initial trepidation of the workers when Jai Gurudev SHG was making no profit. “The women would get nervous because they were spending the entire day here, but not making any money… They were planting saplings, cleaning cow dung, and sowing and watering crops. We were neither facing a loss nor making a profit.”
Verma said there were only five cows in the gaushala in the beginning. Now, their numbers stand at 119 including four milch cows.
To earn a living, women started making pots, lamps and other decorative items from cow dung. When the products were ready, they started looking for a market. During Deepavali season, they sold lamps and incense sticks to earn about Rs 1 lakh.
“But after Deepavali, we were back to how it was earlier… We then decided to approach the local market and start selling incense sticks and cow dung cakes at prices lower than the market rates. We approached local dhabas (roadside food stalls) near the gaushala and slowly built a market base. Our strategy of selling at lower-than-market prices worked because the vendors now approach us directly,” she said. This also works better for them as they are able to do away with transportation costs while selling in bulk. They sell the cakes for Rs 4 and Rs 8 and the sticks for Rs 5 and Rs 10, moving over 500 of each variety every day; and they received an order for 5,000 cakes from a company in Harda.
To move things forward, the women of 20 SHGs decided to club their groups together and form a village organisation, for which five members, including the president and secretary, were elected from among themselves. Manisha serves as its president at present.
“We started strategising. Different groups were given different responsibilities. We kept a record of different activities separately to know where we were making mistakes and how to fix them,” Bhaukhedi village organisation secretary Madina Khan told 101Reporters.
Explaining the thought behind the idea, Khan said, “We started assigning one activity to a particular group following the success of our fish farm. When Vinayak SHG was given the responsibility of fish farming, they took loans from all the groups. Altogether it cost Rs 4.18 lakh for fish seed (which constitutes the largest expenditure), to set up the fishing equipment, procure medicines, feed, traps and other necessary items.”
“After six months, we produced 7,000 kg of fish and sold it for Rs 90-110 per kg in the markets of Bhopal. We made a profit of Rs 3 lakh,” she said, adding that they learnt things worked better when one group managed one activity from top to bottom.
Proper division of responsibilities also made record-keeping easier and encouraged innovations. Lalita and Avanta Malviya of Rakhi and Radha SHGs, respectively, told 101Reporters that they had planted 120 paper lemon plants along the edge of the park. In three years, 120 plants produced 50 kg of fruit per plant, which they sold in Bhopal. Similarly, they had also planted 400 Thai pink guava saplings, which earned them increasing profits over the last three years.
“When we were getting ready to sell the first crop of lemon and guava, we did not have much knowledge of the market and price ranges. We got help from a local ASHA didi’s husband, who sells fruits in the market. Once we got acquainted with the market’s functioning, we sold the second crop by contacting the traders of Bhopal and also in Bittan market,” they said.
Cover photo - The MGNREGA Livelihood Park has been running for the last two years on 28 acres of land that was once an encroached property (Photo - Sanavver Shafi, 101Reporters)
Edited by Tanya Shrivastava
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