When a Woman Leads Change

Indira Kadam’s story is a fine example of how empowering a woman can effect change in an entire village

Indira Kadam

Forty-two-year-old Indira Kadam is an anganwadi worker in Munoli village in Belagavi district of Karnataka in southern India. A single woman, she was earning a monthly salary of Rs 8,000, barely enough to make ends meet. Indira also owned half an acre of land, which came to her as part of inheritance, but she never tried farming. Building fortunes from a tiny parcel of land, she thought, would be a herculean task.

That was until Solidaridad Regional Expertise Centre (SREC) stepped in 2018 to help Indira and her village. It conducted training programmes and workshops to teach them about fertiliser scheduling, irrigation management, nutrient management among other things. Indira also attended sessions on cost-benefit analysis of sugarcane farming. She was particularly inspired by the stories of women farmers who were following good agricultural practices and making decent profits.

Under the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiatives in Karnataka, Indira learnt about sustainable practices for land preparation, pest management and crop harvesting. Armed with the new knowledge, Indira took the plunge and started cultivating sugarcane in 2020. Now, her farm is a glistening green. Her eyes twinkle when she talks about her farm. “We grow only sugarcane here,” she says.

In the first year, Indira was able to harvest 20 tonnes of sugarcane on her half-acre land and earned Rs 67,500 by selling the crop. Her input costs were Rs 14,000. End of the season, she made a neat profit of Rs 53,500.

Indira and millions of women like her are the backbone of farming in India – nearly 75 percent full-time workers on Indian farms are women – yet their work is hardly documented, leave alone acknowledged. Few women are land owners, most work on farms owned by men in the family. As per some estimates, less than eight percent women farmers in India own land. Further, the size of their land is usually small, as seen in Indira’s case, and access to resources and technical know-how is limited.

“Indian women have been contributing to agriculture and allied activities since ages. However, identifying their work, offering them a safe workplace and ensuring dignity of work have remained critical and challenging issues. Their limited understanding about financial matters, due to lack of access, makes them more vulnerable. Solidaridad has made specific interventions to help women farmers learn agri-business. We have organised several training programmes to build financial literacy among women,” says Alok Pandey, Senior Programme Manager (Sustainable Sugarcane) at Solidaridad.

As part of the programme, Solidaridad developed a documentary in Kannada to help women like Indira learn terminologies important to their work in their native language. To provide a conducive and comfortable environment for learning, training was imparted to women in groups. In these sessions, women farmers discussed their issues and found local and long-lasting solutions, on their own.

A Step towards Prosperity

Indira’s story, however, is not solely about her success in farming. She used her learning to uplift an entire community. Many in her village are small landholders who struggle to make enough to survive. Indira knew she had to help.

“Because I am an anganwadi worker, I am invested in the overall wellbeing of my community,” she says. Indira encouraged and helped many villagers become members of the Dharmasthala Sangha – a charitable trust that runs self-help groups in Karnataka and provides finance to rural communities through micro credit. “We have procured loans of up to Rs 5 lakh for many smallholders, at minimal interest rates. These loans have helped the community build their lives.” “Some are selling home-made products like papads and other eatables. Some are setting up looms to weave sarees. It is a domino effect, except we help people stand up,” she says with pride.

Financial literacy has allowed Indira to help the farming community in her village explore alternate modes of income generation. Some families are setting up flour mills to build businesses around local crops. “Jowar (sorghum) is commonly milled here and then sold in other markets. Many have entered this business,” she says.

Uplifting a Community

Women are the driving force behind Indian agriculture. Centuries of social conditioning, however, has meant their health concerns are brushed under the carpet – women too are reluctant to discuss them.

As an anganwadi (health) worker, Indira is a community influencer as well. “We work with women in the farms and educate them about personal hygiene. Menstrual hygiene is a pressing issue, many women do not have access to sanitary pads and use cloth during periods. Poor menstrual hygiene can lead to other health problems,” she says.

Anaemia, she says, is another health challenge. “We tell women about local produce which is rich in iron and can be easily added to their diet,” she says.

“Solidaridad supports women farmers and farm workers, particularly those involved with harvesting and crop transportation, by linking them with health institutions from where they can get sanitary pads etc.. We also provide health and safety kits (gloves, masks, goggles, cap, gumboots) to women farmers,” says Alok.

For Indira, the journey has just begun. Pleased with the returns from her half-acre land, Indira now wants to take additional land on lease to grow more sugarcane. She also wants to start dairy farming.

They say when you educate a woman, you educate a family. Indira has used her learning to uplift an entire village. She now hopes more women in her village will become financially independent. For Solidaridad, it will be a proud moment to become a partner in their journey.