Project SEED helps women in South India

Project SEED is a joint initiative between Jeevika Trust in the UK and WORD - the Women’s Organisation for Rural Development - based in in Tamil Nadu, India. The aim of the project is to empower the most impoverished low-caste women and their families by teaching them about sustainable agriculture to enhance their quality of life. The three year project is funded by the innocent foundation. We met two women helped by Project SEED who told us their stories. 

Shanti’s story: conserving water, increasing yield

Shanti, 32, is mother to two young daughters and comes from a conservative community where women are rarely allowed to voice their opinion or make independent decisions. She is one of 140 women selected to take part in Project SEED. 

“My husband died of a heart attack two years ago and my only assets are the two acres of land that he left behind. I receive very little support from my in-laws and the extended family. I now live with my father in Thottipalyam village. Water is a precious resource in Thottipalyam and I could not irrigate the land as the rainfall in the last two years was poor. I often had to pay to access piped water available through Government schemes from the Kaveri River which flows across Tamil Nadu. The offer to install drip irrigation on one acre of my land was a blessing as it enables me to water my plants adequately with minimum wastage.” 

Shanti and her father, who helps her farm the land, were taught how to plant the seeds at appropriate intervals and to water the saplings for short durations every day. “The water is just adequate for the saplings and the yield of my pearl onions has increased.”

WORD has installed drip irrigation to small farmers like Shanti on the condition that a portion of the land is utilized to cultivate vegetables and that organic techniques are used to enrich the soil and enhance plant growth. Shanti has planted pearl onions, tapioca and black gram. The onions provide her with a weekly income which is utilized for day-to-day household expenses while the tapioca generates an annual income that will go towards her daughters’ education. Despite family and community objections, Shanti worked up the courage to attend an exposure visit to SVAD (Sittilingi Valley Agricultural Development) in Tamil Nadu, where farmers are engaged in organic farming. “I learned various techniques such as the preparation of an effective micro-organism solution. When sprayed on plants, this acts as a natural insecticide and enhances soil quality.”

Shanti now regularly prepares this solution and mixes it with the water used for drip irrigation, which has resulted in a significant increase in the crop yield. This has increased her income by 25%, which makes a huge difference to her small household.

Kamalam’s story: growing crops to buy a cow

52-year-old Kamalam lives with her husband Arunachalam in Tamil Nadu where they both work long hours on their 1.5 acre plot of land. To supplement their small income they also work on other farms as agricultural labourers. Their children - two daughters and a son - are now grown up and married and live some distance away.

Kamalam and her husband were selected to take part in Project SEED, attending a workshop in organic farming techniques and receiving seeds for cultivation.

“We primarily cultivate millets such as sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet, pulses and cowpeas,” says Kamalam, as she stands in a field surrounded by shoulder-height sorghum. “I attended a workshop run by WORD and learnt how to make herbal sprays. I mixed the liquid with water used to irrigate the land and it helped fertilise my crop. In January when the crop was harvested, for the first time ever the yield was high.”

As part of this project, Kamalam became a member of a Seed Wealth Centre which was set up to help the women and other farmers collect, exchange and store their organic seeds. Following the harvest, Kamalam was able to return twice the quantity of seeds she was originally given to the Seed Wealth Centre.

By selling sorghum in the wholesale market, Kamalam will be able to save enough money to buy a cow, and selling the cow’s milk in the local area will generate additional income. Kamalam and her husband will then be able to afford to visit their daughter - and see their grandchildren for the first time. Kamalam goes to the weekly market to look at the cows being sold in anticipation of bringing one home soon.