PUDUKKOTTAI: Recall Palagummi Sainath’s celebrated work on rural poverty in the early 1980s, ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’. That story started in Pudukkottai. Even three decades after that work, severe drought conditions continue to haunt several blocks of what was once a charming princely state of Pudukkottai.
Farmers’ cries for Cauvery water in Pudukkottai go unheard and during the last five years, except for one year when nature blessed her with ‘normal rainfall’, this agrarian district that produced great leaders like S. Sathyamurthy and Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, is still one of the worst drought-hit areas. Three blocks in particular, Annavasal, Arimalam and Kunnandarkovil blocks have taken the brunt.
Yet, the women self help groups (SHG) would not give up. And to their luck and relief, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) had a plan for them, through two of its major programmes for drought-hit Pudukkottai.
In fact, some SHGs in the district have even defaulted on bank loans due to lack of income generation, lack of financial discipline among their members and mishandling of funds by leaders/promoting agencies. Yet, there was a crisis here awaiting to be turned into opportunity.
The Nabard, getting more proactive, began conducting awareness camps with ‘SHGs’ bank linkage programmes’. The development bank even had a ‘panchasutra’ for them, comprising regular meetings, participation by all members, regular savings, prompt repayment of bank loans and proper maintenance of books. Alongside this, Nabard also trained the women SHGs’ in income-generating activities.
In taking forward this programme, Nabard roped in a well known NGO based in Pudukkottai, Rural Organisation for Social Education (ROSE) to conduct two key programmes: micro enterprise development programme (MEDP), livelihood and enterprise development programme (LEDP) in helping women SHGs' in the three blocks to make and market millet-based edibles and snacks. The idea was to ensure sustained income for them so that they could pay back their bank loans, confides S. Somasundaram, district development manager (DDM), Nabard.
The development bank in coordination with ROSE, worked on a template for the women SHGs’ that ensures ‘value addition’ to millet-based snack items and which also catches the attention of the younger generation as a healthy food fad. Regular sales meant the cash flow for SHGs’ is ensured.
Thus, the NGO with Nabard's financial assistance under MEDP and LEDP initiatives, initially identified 90 SHGs women in three batches of 30 each to make delicious ‘millet snacks’, viz. ‘varagu seedai’, ‘thenai/ varagu/ ragi laddu’, ‘karuppukavuni/ varagumurukku’, ‘karuppukavuni adirsam’, besides preparation of millet biscuits. It was an intensive training for seven days in snacks/biscuits preparation, followed by a two-day refresher training after six months in value addition, branding, packaging and marketing, he said.
Taking pride in this little experiment on Nabard’s 37th foundation day on Thursday (July 12), Mr. Somasundaram said after training, hand-hold support phase, credit linkage with banks, mentoring and creation of infrastructure for establishing an enterprise and marketing through ‘Pudukkottai Organic Farmers Producers Company’ were provided to the women SHG members. He is planning a seminar on ‘collectivisation and market linkages’ through ‘Farmers Producers Organisations’ at Mumbai.
Mr. A. Athappan, director, ROSE said through the Farmers Producer Company promoted by them, they have arranged for the supply of quality inputs to the groups and procured the finished products for sale in the market. The agency had arranged for a bank loan of `26.00 lakh under SHG- Bank Linkage Programme to all the members, he added.
He said that the finished products, which are healthy in nature, viz., traditional millet / rice snacks, flour, ready-mixes of 'Dosa, Paniyaram, Adai, Puttu, Laddu, Idiyappam, Adirasam’ besides snacks like ‘murukku, seedai, ribbon pagoda’ are marketed through the already established market at Uzhavar Sandai, Pudukkottai.
Further, ‘ROSE’ had linked these entrepreneurs with hundreds of its sales outlets in Tamil Nadu and parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai, Delhi and Kerala. IT company campuses like Mahindra City, Cognizant Technology Solutions, Chennai are also marketing locales for them.
In the last 12 months, these trained SHG women have sold snacks worth `7.00 lakh through the Pudukkottai Organic Farmers Producers Company, Athappan added.
What the Nabard-aided project through this NGO has done is to give sustained employment and more income to women who do not have any agricultural work in extreme drought-hit pockets of Pudukkottai, he said.
“Prior to this training to SHG women, we were earning Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000 per month through daily wages if we are lucky; but after this training and setting up a new enterprise for millet-based edibles and snacks, most of the trained women are getting Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 a month,” says Ms Sumathi, leader of ‘Ponmalar SHG’. Millets are no longer a plebian cereal!