Sawantwadi’s Traditional Handmade Toys Struggle for Survival

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Arts

Shashikant Rane with his wooden fruits. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Shashikant Rane with his wooden fruits. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

PUNE, Jun 14 2024 (IPS) – Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, on the western coast of India, bordering Goa, has always been known for its wooden toys. A picturesque town amid hills and lush greenery, Sawantwadi retains an old-world charm to this day.  The regal Sawantwadi Palace holds pride of place, with colleges, schools, and temples cloistered around the periphery of the lake, which was once an extension of the royal grounds.  In the centre of the town is the Ubha Bazaar, or Hanging Market, which houses rows of shops selling the iconic wooden toys that are a hallmark of Sawantwadi.


The wooden toys of Sawantwadi are a legacy that the previous rulers nurtured, and they reflect the spirit of the area. Generations of children in Maharashtra and Goa have grown up playing with the life-like depictions of fruits, people, and the pull-along toys that were a necessary part of growing up. But today, these painstakingly carved, hand-made toys made of Pongamia and mango wood are struggling for survival. The once-bustling hilltop market in downtown Sawantwadi, known as Ubha Bazaar (Hanging Market), is now a ghost of what it once was. The artisan families who manufactured and sold these toys from their workshops-cum-homes are now reduced to a handful.

So, what caused the busy hands of these artisans to fall silent?

By the looks of it, several factors are responsible.

Female musicians in concert. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Female musicians in concert. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Backgrounder

Unlike the cheap machine-made toys that flood the market today, toys are a traditional craft in India, commanding a hoary lineage from the era of the Indus Valley civilization. Like many other centers in India, Sawantwadi always boasted gifted artisans capable of painstakingly breathing life into wood and carving out an array of life-like figures inspired by everyday life. Over the decades, the life-like depiction of fruits and vegetables was always been a specialty of Sawantwadi craftsmen. Of course, there were other toys too, for every age group of children: pull-along toys for toddlers, kitchen sets for little girls, bullock carts and other vehicles for bigger children, as well as spoons, cutters, and ladles used in the kitchen. What always made these toys stand out was the environment-friendly techniques and colors that were used to produce them.

Toy-making in Sawantwadi had its origins in the arrival of  Telangana Brahmins in the 17th century, who visited the kingdom to take part in religious debates with the then ruler, Khem Sawant II, who was extremely well-versed in Hindu religious scriptures and philosophy. The Chitrali artisans who arrived with the Brahmins brought the craft of toy-making and ganjifa (playing cards) to Sawantwadi.

Ideally suited to the greenery and scenic landscape of Sawantwadi, toy-making here made use of Pongamia and mango wood, which thrived in the thick forests here. The wood used for the toys would be collected in the summer and, after being washed and dried, left out to get thoroughly soaked during the entire monsoon. After thorough drying, they would be carved as per the desired shape. Once the toys were carved out, they would be covered with five layers of earth and left aside for a certain period of time. The lathe would then be used in this stage to impart the desired shape and finish. They would be painted with a powdery mixture made of tamarind and other seeds once dusted off and smoothed with sandpaper. After applying several coats of paint, a coat of lacquer and natural gum would add the finishing touches.  To this day, the lacquer used in Sawantwadi toys is their special feature. It is durable and never fades or chips away, no matter how roughly the toys are used. When toy-making was on the verge of fading out at one point in time, the local royal family gave it an impetus in the early 1970s. Primarily responsible for this shot in the arm were the Queen, Maharani Satvashila Devi and her husband, the reigning king, Rajesaheb Khem Sawant VI, Lt Colonel Shivram Sawant Bhonsale. The reigning royal family also set up a workshop to make hand-painted ganjifa cards at the palace, which is functional to this day.

Sawantwadi Palace grounds. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Sawantwadi Palace grounds. Credit: Rina Mukherji/IPS

Difficulties in Procuring Inputs

Historically, Sawantwadi was a vassal state of the mighty Maratha empire. When the British defeated the Marathas, Sawantwadi continued to exist as a small principality with a benign ruler during the British Raj.  The erstwhile British Resident’s home in downtown Sawantwadi, at a stone’s throw from the Palace, testifies to those bygone days. The early years of the 20th century saw Sawantwadi thrive in matters of education and culture, with the rulers also making efforts to nurture traditional crafts and artisans.

In recent times, however, deforestation has made it difficult to get adequate supplies of pangara (Pongamia) wood, while mango is not suitable for products that need the lathe machine.  Artisans have now turned to Acacia, Shivan (Gmelina Arborea) and Glyricidea, compromising on the quality of the toys.  Glyricidea has particularly emerged as a favorite, notwithstanding its being environmentally unsound and causing rats to overrun homes.

Lack of skilled artisans

The painstaking nature of the job, the difficulties in procuring wood and other inputs, and an uncertain market that cannot guarantee earnings in keeping with the efforts put in have resulted in many skilled artisans moving out of the industry and opting for employment elsewhere.  Industrialization in the neighboring districts has also been a big draw, while government initiatives to train young artisans in wood carving have been lackadaisical at best.

Very few can carve wood now, unlike in the past. So, instead of carving out a toy, the prevailing trend is to fill up sawdust into ready moulds. This also helps keep costs low and is not labour-intensive.  Shashikant Rane, one of the very few remaining master craftsmen in Sawantwadi, who the government approached about opening a Hastkala (handicrafts) Kendra (centre), tells me, “I entered the profession in the early 1960s, thanks to my father, who had received special training from Abha Gawde, a well-known master in the craft. Traditional toy-making requires a great deal of patience, starting with the procurement of the right wood. You procure the wood in May but cannot work on it until a few months later. In these times of quick turnarounds and massive profits, few are willing to put in the effort,” he points out.

Rane has been training 30 youngsters in the craft every year at his modest workshop-cum-home and is a much sought-after craftsman for prominent projects all over India. Referring to the government’s lackadaisical approach to training artisans, Rane tells me,  “The Minister-In-Charge had identified the venue for setting up the Hastkala Kendra and spoken to me about his vision at length.  But it is over a year now, and the plan still awaits finalization.”

Unfair Competition and Dwindling Demand

There are other factors, too. Cheap Chinese machine-made toys have also made consumers move away from these beautiful, hand-carved toys, which, owing to rising input costs, sell at higher rates. One also perceives a change in taste. P D Kanekar and Company, a prominent seller of toys in Sawantwadi, has moved to manufacture non-traditional toys in recent years.  Ankita Kanekar, from the Kanekar family, tells me, “Pangara (Pongamia) wood was always used to make life-like fruits and vegetables in the past. But no one is interested in playing with those now, unlike the previous generation.  Pangara trees are only available in a few villages now. Besides, a single set takes around one and a half months to be made. The work is painstaking and exacting, and the return is very little. There are very few good artisans practicing the trade.”

She also blames the current transport infrastructure for dwindling sales. “Earlier, the road links from Mumbai and Pune passed through Sawantwadi. But the highways now skirt our town.”

Changing tastes are evident when one browses through the shops today. Imitations of machine-made toys hold pride of place as compared to the artistic depictions of musicians, vegetable -sellers, or fishermen in traditional attire. It is tough to spot a bunch of bananas or betelnuts either.

Lack of government support is another major factor.

The active support of the ruling royal family had bolstered the toy industry in the previous century. This kind of support is no longer forthcoming. The lack of a strong toymakers’ cooperative or guild is also partly to blame. “There is no unity among the various people in the trade to negotiate in one voice with the authorities and demand guarantees or protective subsidies,” rues a prominent toymaker, requesting anonymity.

Consequently, Sawantwadi toys were devoid of geographic identification (GI) until now.

Light at the End of a Tunnel

As I write this, toymakers are jubilant about a GI tag having been granted to Sawantwadi wooden toys on March 30, 2024. This opens up a new vista for them. Toymakers like PD Kanekar have already taken to selling their toys online. “ We started selling online during the pandemic when everything shut down,” Ankita Kanekar tells me. The Kanekars sell through the DirectCreate platform to buyers all over India. Otherwise, sales are made to wholesalers based in Goa, who, in turn, sell to those traveling to India. This is because “international courier services are not yet developed from Sawantwadi. ”

Even so, with Goa’s newly-opened MOPA airport just 15–16 km away, international tourists often come down to Sawantwadi to buy these iconic toys.

One could well say that the GI tag and the inclusivity it bestows on these beautiful handcrafted toys are a good beginning. However, a lot more needs to be done if these toys are to capture the attention of a global market. Improving the courier services as well as government subsidies to the makers could go a long way here.

IPS UN Bureau Report

IPS UN Bureau, IPS UN Bureau Report, India

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India’s Farmers Could Use Better Monsoon Forecasts

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Headlines, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Food and Agriculture

Monsoon rains in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India. Credit: Ganesh Partheeban/Unsplash

Monsoon rains in Tamil Nadu, Chennai, India. Credit: Ganesh Partheeban/Unsplash

NEW DELHI , Apr 3 2024 (IPS) – Agriculture in India need not ‘gamble’ with the monsoons if accurate weather and climate forecasts are proactively made available to farmers, according to the results of a new experimental study conducted by the University of Chicago.


Approximately 70–90 percent of total annual rainfall across most of India, a major agricultural producer, occurs during the June to September monsoon, which varies widely in onset timing and quantity, making predictions difficult for farmers, says the study published February 26, 2024, as a non-peer-reviewed working paper.

While the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has advanced monsoon forecasting systems, researchers from the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago found that farmers in southern Telengana state, where the study was conducted, tended not to rely on IMD or other forecasts.

“For whatever reason, few of the farmers we talked with in Telengana were using a forecast about the timing of the local start of the monsoon to help guide their planting decisions,” says Amir Jina, senior fellow at the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago and author of the study.

While Indian farmers have traditionally depended on official forecasts issued by the IMD, first established in 1875, the Chicago team relied on forecast data generated by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

“The PIK model produces a probability distribution of potential onset dates, which can be summarized as a likely onset date range, making it easy for farmers to understand,” the study said.

“This particular study looks at a new approach to forecasting the onset of the Indian Summer Monsoon over southern India’s Telangana region that can predict the arrival of the monsoon across India four to six weeks in advance,” says Fiona Burlig, coauthor of the study and assistant professor at the Energy Policy Institute, University of Chicago.

PIK, under a climate capacity programme that covers East Africa, Peru, and India, focuses on staple crops in India, makes use of semi-empirical modeling frameworks, and combines them with satellite remote sensing earth observation data.

In the experimental study, PIK forecasts enabled farmers to make early decisions about key inputs such as the type of crops, labour supply, and fertilizer purchases, significantly improving profitability. “PIK forecasts were especially accurate over Telangana State, the site of our experiment,” says Burlig.

Burlig and her team studied how farmers across 250 villages in Telangana changed their planting strategies once they were convinced of the high accuracy of the monsoon forecasts. An early monsoon typically means a longer growing season, suited to cash crops like cotton, while later monsoons would help farmers decide to grow lower-value subsistence crops like paddy, the researchers said.

“This is measured proof for IMD how important the work of forecasting is for farmers in India and can help thinking about how to measure even more benefits of other types of forecasts from the IMD that the farmers use. All the progress IMD makes should be validated and encouraged by this basic fact,” Jina tells SciDev.Net.

“Farmers find that climate change is increasingly making predictions of the monsoon’s arrival and other weather patterns difficult,” says Burlig. “Our study, which was conducted in an area of low agricultural productivity, demonstrated how the new forecasts were able to deliver accurate monsoon predictions even in a changing climate.”

Because climate change increases weather variability, farmers are reluctant to take risks and typically tend to underinvest for the season ahead, Burlig said. A pre-season survey by the team in Telangana found wide variations in farmers’ estimations of when the monsoon would arrive.

The study experimentally evaluated monsoon onset forecasts in 250 villages, which were divided into a control group, a forecast group that received information well in advance of monsoon onset and a benchmark index insurance group.

Agricultural insurance lowers farmers’ risk exposure but does not improve their information, the study says. Overall, farmers who received insurance increased the land they cultivated and their investments in seeds, fertilizer, and other inputs by 12 percent compared to those who did not receive forecast information.

“The findings of the experimental study are well within what is expected,” said Arun Shanker, principal scientist at the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, Hyderabad. Studies like these, he said, are important because resilience to climate change will depend greatly on increasing agricultural productivity with available water resources.

However, Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, says the University of Chicago’s study is “severely outdated” as it is based on a pre-2016 prediction model. “Since then, IMD has moved to the dynamic, advanced, ‘Climate Forecast System’ that provides both regional and pan-India forecasts at a high resolution.”

“The Potsdam model and forecasts are not based on a full-fledged, dynamic system like the IMD climate forecast system and have limited application,” Koll, a lead author of the IPCC reports and former chair of the Indian Ocean Region Panel, tells SciDev.Net.

Soma Sen Roy, scientist at the IMD and India representative at the World Meteorological Organization, said the IMD issues forecasts at all time scales—nowcasting, medium range, extended range, seasonal, and long-range forecasting throughout the year.  “These forecasts are not specifically linked to the monsoons, for which special forecasts are issued.”

Said Jina, “Our research underscores that all the investments and improvements the IMD has made in recent years, and continues to make, are useful and important for farmers.”

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Snowless Winter and a Climate Crisis: Kashmir’s ‘Unprecedented’ Weather

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Climate Change Justice, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Headlines, Natural Resources, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Climate Change

Local Muslims held special prayer ceremonies in January for snowfall. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

Local Muslims held special prayer ceremonies in January for snowfall. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

SRINAGAR, India, Feb 20 2024 (IPS) – Abdul Gani Malik, a 75-year-old goldsmith living in Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, has witnessed eras of tranquility and turbulence in the Himalayan region. What he has not seen, however, is a snowless Kashmir during the winter.


Malik still works at his shop, located in one of the jam-packed markets of the old city area of Kashmir’s capital, intricately lacing colorful emeralds on dazzling gold necklaces. While conversing with IPS, he mentions that the winter in Kashmir has never been so terrible and terrifying as it has been this year.

He recalls how, during the 40-day harshest winter period from December 21 to January 30, snow would accumulate to about six or seven feet, freezing and making pathways treacherous even for city dwellers. In the mountainous region, according to Malik, the snow would last for several months, regulating temperatures during the summer and providing water and food.

“Now is a different tale. The mountains appear dry and dead. The rivers are carrying no water, and our woods are bereft of life. This is an absolute apocalypse,” Malik said.

The region of Kashmir is located in the north-western complex of the Himalayan ranges, with marked relief variation, snow-capped summits, antecedent drainage, complex geological structure, and rich temperate vegetation and fauna.

Kashmir’s winter is traditionally divided into three parts: Chilay Kalan (old man winter), Chilay Khuarud (young winter), and Chilay Bacha (kiddy winter). The coldest part, called Chilay Kalan, starts on December 21 and ends at the end of January. It is during this period that snowfall is expected.

“The temperatures during this period plummet to even minus 8 to 10 degrees Celsius, and when it snows, it accumulates in glaciers. The snowfall in the later period is of no use,” says Abdul Ghani Malik.

He was part of the congregational prayers held across Kashmir for snowfall. Local Muslims, who constitute more than 90 percent of the local population, decided in January to hold special prayers for snowfall in all major mosques. “We prayed, and we hope God listens to our plight.”

According to Abid Ali, a student of environmental sciences from Kashmir, Kashmir’s livelihood depends on snowfall, and if it doesn’t snow, things are going to take a terrible shape.

“The region’s electricity system, agriculture, and tourism are all dependent on snowfall. The dry winter will prove catastrophic for the local populace,” Abid said.

Kashmir, as per estimates, reported a 79 percent precipitation deficit through December of last year. Indian meteorologists claim that unusual weather is linked to global warming and El Niño, the sporadic climate phenomenon that can create warm, dry conditions in the Indian subcontinent and other parts of Asia.

A man walks through an area in Kashmir where low snowfall is causing concern as the region’s economy is highly dependent on it. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

A man walks through an area in Kashmir where low snowfall is causing concern as the region’s economy is highly dependent on it. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

Threat to Agriculture

In Kashmir, 60 percent of the state’s revenue comes from agriculture and horticulture, and about 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas.

However, over the years, the valley has experienced irregular patterns of precipitation. In the first five months of 2022, Kashmir saw a 38 percent rain shortage, according to data provided by the Meteorological Department (MeT) in Srinagar.

The data reveals that the Kashmir Valley has experienced a significant lack of pre-monsoon precipitation over the years. From March 1 to May 31, 2022, the region got 99.5 mm of rain, 70 percent lower than average.

Comparatively, between March and May of each of the following years—2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021—there was a deficit of 16, 28, 35, and 26 percent, respectively. The dry winter this year is already throwing life out of gear for the farmers.

Abdul Karim Ganaie, a farmer hailing from south Kashmir’s Pulwama, says the threats are menacingly looming large, and people cannot do anything other than watch helplessly as the crisis unfolds.

When IPS contacted Choudhary Mohammad Iqbal, the director of agriculture in Kashmir, he stated that the department was closely monitoring the situation and would be issuing a warning to the farmers in the coming months.

“We accept that the situation is going to prove worrisome for Kashmir’s farming community, but we have to adopt a strategy to ensure minimal losses. We are working on that front,” Choudhary said.

Tourism under Cloud

The famous tourist destinations in Kashmir are also witnessing a dip in tourist arrivals, putting the people associated with this business in dire straits. In January, the famous tourist resorts recorded the lowest arrival of foreign and domestic tourists, with only 30 percent occupancy in hotels.

It snows at last but too little, too late!

Finally, in the first week of February, when the harshest 40-day-long spell was already over, it snowed in most of the areas of Kashmir. However, according to experts, the snow would yield the fewest results as it is not possible to accumulate for an extended period.

What is important, says Mehraj Ahmad, a research scholar working on climate change in Kashmir, is that the snow must accumulate in the higher reaches for as long as possible until the arrival of summers.

“The snowfall of February or March carries the least significance when compared with the snowfall of January. Therefore, we really are keeping our fingers crossed and praying for the safeguard of our lives against the dark, dreadful effects of climate change,” Ahmad said.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Alleviating Urban Poverty Through Livelihood Generation

Aid, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Featured, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Poverty & SDGs

BRAC International recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bihar Government’s Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society to launch Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Shahari, the first government-led urban Graduation programme in Asia. Credit: BRAC

BRAC International recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bihar Government’s Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society to launch Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Shahari, the first government-led urban Graduation programme in Asia. Credit: BRAC

PUNE, INDIA, Aug 30 2023 (IPS) – In a bid to tackle the complexities of urban poverty, the Government of Bihar’s Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS) has launched Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana Shahari (SJY Urban). The program will include a time-bound series of multifaceted interventions addressing food security, social inclusion, and sustainable economic livelihoods to enable participating households to achieve a better standard of living.


As part of this program, BRLPS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BRAC International, which will serve as a thought partner to the Government of Bihar for the project development and also is building a consortium of partners to support the government in its implementation. Project Concern International (PCI), for example, is taking on management responsibilities and will also host thematic workshops across departments and with civil society experts to support inclusive learning and dialogue.

Mobile Creches will create a community cadre of childcare providers who will support maternal and child health. They have a 50-year-old history of providing childcare support, maternal and nutritional health, and WASH training to urban women in the slums of Delhi, Mumbai, and Pune. Quicksand will support the learning process to consolidate the design through ethnographic methods, prototyping, and other design elements. These learnings will help inform the project about the fabric of each respective urban community and provide a feedback loop once the rollout starts.

SJY Urban was inspired by the existing rural programme, Satat Jeevikoparjan Yojana (SJY), locally known as JEEVIKA, the largest government-led Graduation programme in the world, which has reached over 150,000 households as of early 2023 and is still expanding. SJY Urban is modelled on the rural programme’s six basic modules: 1) Building up the aspirations and confidence of households; 2) Financial Inclusion; 3) Improvement of Health, Nutrition, and Sanitation; 4) Social Development; 5) Livelihood generation; and 6) Government Convergence.

While taking inspiration from JEEVIKA, the Urban Programme will be adapted to respond to the unique challenges people in poverty face within the urban context.

“Urban poverty is complex and inadequately addressed,” said Shweta S Banerjee, Country Lead – India, BRAC International. “SJY Shahari is a unique project in the many challenges it has accepted, including supporting project participants during extreme heat waves. BRAC is excited and committed to serving as a thought partner to the Government of Bihar as we take the time to test, learn, relearn, and deploy the project design.”

Applying Learnings from the Rural Programme to the Urban

The 36-month SJY Urban Programme will be launched in five wards in Patna and five wards in Gaya for now and will be scaled up in a year’s time. Given the unique challenges in urban settings, where research and solutions are more limited in comparison to rural settings, the programme will incorporate learnings from the SJY programme.

“In keeping with the requirements in an urban setting, we intend to provide improved skill sets in carpentry, plumbing, welding, and the like that can help workers access better employment opportunities both within and outside Bihar. For instance, there are around 50,000 to 100,000 Bihar workers in the Tiruppur hosiery industry. We intend to provide them with the necessary skill certification through the National Skill Development Council,” Jeevika CEO Rahul Kumar told IPS.

Designed with a focus on women’s empowerment, SJY has made a pronounced difference for people living in extreme poverty in Bihar, particularly through inclusive livelihood development and access to financial security through self-help groups (SHGs). The urban programme will also utilise SHGs to improve financial opportunities along with sustainable livelihood options.

While the livelihood options are different, there is still a great opportunity for skill development for people living in urban poverty. JEEVIKA plans to pursue livelihoods for participants through conventional entrepreneurship, building up specific skills for trades, and partnerships with public utilities. The existing bank sakhi programme, a program that has trained rural women to assist customers in opening accounts and other administrative bank-related services, as part of JEEVIKA, saw 2,500 bank sakhis leverage Rs 10,000 crore in business for various banks.

According to Rahul Kumar, the bank sakhi programme could be introduced in across Bihar and offer additional financial products such as insurance and mutual funds.

There are also climate-responsive livelihoods that have been utilised in the rural programme that can work for an urban setting as well, such as waste management, recycling of waste, and the use of e-rickshaws. With climate change contributing to rapid urbanisation across Asia and driving millions more into poverty, affecting those furthest behind first, sustainable, resilient livelihood development will be a critical component of SJY Urban. The programme will work to further enhance resilience among participants by providing them with resources and training to develop food security and social inclusion.

Creating a Stronger Ecosystem Through Convergence

Similar to the rural programme, SJY Urban will bring together different existing government schemes and agencies to best serve those living in extreme poverty. The programme will also leverage the existing enterprises within the rural programme and promote them in the urban programme as well, such as market poultry and dairy products.

There are existing livelihood initiatives that rural participants are driving forward, such as running nurseries across the state, which have provided saplings to the Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Department for planting. These saplings can be used by urban plantations and gardens that are also under the department. Similarly, there are kiosk carts that sell Neera or palm nectar that are processed and made by JEEVIKA participants. There is an opportunity to expand this enterprise to the urban setting as well.

JEEVIKA will also engage other government agencies to support the design and implementation of the urban programme. Most recently, JEEVIKA and BRAC convened an inaugural workshop in preparation for launching the Urban Poor Graduation Project, in collaboration with the Departments of Urban Development and Housing, Labour Resources, Social Welfare, Women and Child Development Corporation. The workshop brought together government representatives and experts with diverse sectoral expertise to reflect on existing solutions for urban poverty and share key insights that could help inform the design and delivery of the Urban Poor Graduation Project. The workshop also brought together practitioners and leveraged knowledge from Graduation-based programmes outside Bihar and India.

The shared expertise and convergence in existing government schemes and partnerships will allow the programme to address unique challenges facing the urban environment and enhance coordination, which will ultimately improve overall impact.

Challenges and Learning Opportunities in an Urban Environment

This will be one of the first urban Graduation programmes at scale that combine skills development and livelihood support to alleviate urban poverty.

The unique constraints presented by the urban environment in Bihar, such as limited land availability, the migratory nature of the population in urban poor neighbourhoods, and heatwaves impacting the ability to work, present an opportunity to learn and adapt programming further to test what works.

“The kind of social cohesion prevalent in rural areas is lacking in urban centres. This makes social mobilisation, on which the programme rests, a difficult task,” Kumar said.

The first phase in designing the programme, along with the learnings from the first cohort of participants, will offer valuable insights on how to combat the challenges of those living in urban poverty face. Such learnings can then be shared across the Global South to support broader efforts to respond to rapid urbanisation and an increase in urban poverty.

SJY Urban is poised to move head-on, with its consultants scheduled to hammer out a clear strategy in the coming months. In a year’s time, Kumar says the programme aims to cover all 240 urban local bodies in the state.
IPS UN Bureau Report

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Empowering Women in Assam: Livestock Farming Brings Economic Relief Post-COVID

Aid, Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations

Food and Agriculture

Goat rearing is contributing to economic independence and improved livelihoods of women thanks to a post-COVID-19 empowerment project. CREDIT: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

Goat rearing is contributing to economic independence and improved livelihoods of women thanks to a post-COVID-19 empowerment project. CREDIT: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

MILONPUR, INDIA, Aug 8 2023 (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 dipped.

“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

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Quest for Safe Water in One of India’s Most Isolated Villages

Simita Devi, whose daughter spent days in hospital recently suffering from typhoid caused by contaminated water, collects clean water brought to the surface by a solar pump. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

Simita Devi, whose daughter spent days in hospital recently suffering from typhoid caused by contaminated water, collects clean water brought to the surface by a solar pump. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

By Umar Manzoor Shah
Champad, India, Jul 4 2023 (IPS)

Simita Devi spent over ten days in a government-run hospital a year ago anxiously watching her critically ill nine-year-old daughter, Gudiya, who was diagnosed with typhoid.

Gudiya was so sick she even went into a coma for a day. Medical staff attending to the child said she contracted the disease from drinking contaminated water.


After being discharged, Devi’s main worry was to get safe drinking water for her ailing daughter.

She was advised not to consume water from village wells or untested sources like river streams or springs.

Hailing from Champad, a tribal village in India’s Jharkhand state, Devi works as a daily wage labourer alongside her husband. With a limited income, Devi couldn’t afford packaged drinking water for her daughter.

She then decided to boil the water using firewood to make it safe to drink. But to get the firewood, she had to trek the treacherous terrains of the nearby forests – a long, difficult work and the fear of wild animals loomed.

It was not Devi alone impacted by contaminated water, it was making many people in her village ill, and there was nothing the inhabitants could do about it.

According to government records, 80% of India’s rural drinking water comes from underground sources. One-third of India’s 600 districts do not have safe drinking water because fluoride, iron, salinity, and arsenic concentrations exceed tolerance levels. India’s water quality is poor, ranking at 120 of 122 nations.

The solar panels on the water tower have meant clean waters for the villagers of Champad, a tribal village in India’s Jharkhand. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

The solar panels on the water tower have meant clean waters for the villagers of Champad, a tribal village in India’s Jharkhand. Credit: Umar Manzoor Shah/IPS

Experts believe that the source of these heavy metals is industrial waste being dumped untreated into water systems and nitrates which surface due to excessive and prolonged use of fertilizers. The government estimates that every year, over one lakh (100,000) people die of waterborne diseases in the country.

Champad, a village inhabited by a tribal community, has 105 households per the 2011 census. Until 2022, the community depended on only two tube wells as their source of drinking water. However, these tube wells often experienced malfunctions, leaving the villagers with no choice but to fetch water from a nearby river or pond. Consequently, there has been a rise in waterborne diseases, particularly affecting the health of women and children. The need to travel long distances for safe drinking water has increased women’s workload, increasing their workload.

Perturbed by the threat of waterborne diseases, the village locals congregated earlier this year to try to find a solution. They at first visited the local politicians for help. Then they headed towards government offices. “Nothing happened—absolutely nothing. We were virtually left high and dry. Except for God, no one is there to help us. At times, we were told to wait, and at times, we were told that government funding wasn’t available. But we were slowly dying. Our children are suffering in front of our own eyes,” Ram Singh, a local villager at Champad, told IPS.

Earlier this year, a team from a non-governmental agency working to uplift rural areas in India visited the village to assess the villagers’ hardships.

The agency then mooted the idea of a solar water tower in the village. The villagers were made aware of the process involved in the tower’s construction and that government approval for the facility was needed.

The village representatives were taken on board, and a proposal was submitted to the water department of the district.

“Government liked the idea, and it was readily approved. The entire village worked together to make the project a success story,” says a member of the humanitarian agency who wished to remain anonymous.

The towers were equipped with solar panels, enabling them to operate sustainably and with minimal environmental impact. The selection of sites for the towers was a collaborative effort involving the village communities. The first solar water tower was constructed in February 2023, while work on the other two towers is still ongoing. As a result, 45 families now directly benefit from the convenience of having clean drinking water channelled to their homes through pipelines. The water provided is of good quality and considered safe, in contrast to the open well water that was previously relied upon. This development has significantly alleviated the burden on women, who no longer have to travel long distances to fetch water from various sources.

The impact of this intervention was significant. The community’s health improved, and they were no longer at risk of waterborne illnesses. The women and children, who were often responsible for collecting water from distant sources, could now spend their time on other activities. The community’s overall quality of life improved, and they could focus on their livelihoods and education.

For Simita Devi, the facility is no less than a major solace in her life. She excitedly uses this water for drinking and thanks God for such an endeavour.

“Safe water means life for us. The solar tower has become a messiah for poor villagers like us. We will cherish the moments for life when we find its water coming to our homes,” Devi told IPS.

IPS UN Bureau Report

 


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