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.
We searched long and hard to find the right partner for our first ever breakthrough development grant. When we met Action Against Hunger, we quickly realised that they were special. Why? Not just because their experts have been at the forefront of the fight against child hunger since the 1970s, but because they aren’t afraid to try new approaches and then shout about what they’ve discovered.
We're funding a ground-breaking research project which aims to prove that you can reach children with severe acute malnutrition more effectively and at the same or lower cost by working through community health workers rather than expecting parents and children to travel to distant health centres. If it works, then we can change the way Ministries of Health all over the world treat severe acute malnutrition. And that could have a massive impact on 17 million children suffering right now.
The Independent recently sent journalist Lizzie Dearden to visit one of the project research sites in Mali. Watch her video interview with Jean-Michel Grand, Action Against Hunger's CEO, and read about the mothers and children Lizzie met here.
Since we started funding projects to help children living in food poverty in the UK, we've heard some shocking stories about families who are unable to make ends meet where parents have to skip meals in order to feed their children. Take a look at the Daily Mirror's story this week about two of our partners who are trying to fill that gap.
The innocent foundation is delighted to work with Make Lunch, a network of Lunch Kitchens providing meals during school holidays for children from low income families, many of whom rely on free school meals during term time. Since 2011 they have opened in 50 locations and served nearly 20,000 meals.
We're also funding the Trussell Trust to set up holiday meal clubs for parents and children, helping to support families in food poverty during the holidays as part of their More Than Food programme, which sees foodbanks widening their support beyond food.
Our friends over at Kew have written a great update about the project we're supporting them on in the Bolivian Amazon. Alex Monro, one of Kew's Botanists, explains their plans to help three communities grow fruit tree nurseries to develop sustainable sources of food and income, reducing pressure on the remaining forest and developing a model which can be used across rural Latin America.
Read Alex's blog here.
My adventure in India is now coming to an end. My mind is filled with colourful souvenirs, from the beautiful smiling women I met in villages, the elegant saris they were wearing, the wonderful sunsets, the rickshaws, the cows crossing the streets, the numerous temples, the wonderful curries… And everything that gives India all its flavours.
I was especially happy to visit Berhampur island, where innocent supports a development project through Jeevika Trust. It enabled me to meet some very inspiring women, whose lives have been impacted by the funds donated by the innocent foundation; in other words, whose lives have been impacted by people drinking our smoothies and juices. Quite a thought. You can read more about the women I met here.
It was also fun sharing some HR love with JRP, our local charity partner. As I work in the people team at innocent, they asked me to deliver a training session on Human Resources to evaluate how it could benefit their organisation. It started with a very broad brief, as employees were interested to learn not only about HR, but also about an IT system concerned with financial reporting (not my area of expertise…) We defined what should be covered during the training more specifically and the JRP Country Coordinator then invited participants: JRP employees, other NGO members and even IT consultants JRP had been working with. The more, the merrier… I hope they all benefited from the training which, despite a power cut, went well.
I am grateful to Madhu and Manu, and their son Pratyush for welcoming me so warmly. They founded JRP 21 years ago and do fantastic work in Orissa, working hard to eradicate extreme rural poverty. They contribute to a better society.
I am also thankful to Judith at Jeevika Trust for putting the innocent foundation in touch with JRP and enabling us to support the great work they do.
Finally, my last thoughts go to all the women I have met in the Orissan villages. I will keep their wonderful smiles with me.