Our partners in India support women's self-help groups to build their capacity to earn a living and support communities involved in environmental education and the reforestation process in Tamil Nadu. India is now an emerging economy, but in this land of contrasts many are still living in extreme poverty.

Tamil Nadu

Pitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre (PBRC), Pitchandikulam Forest,
Tamil Nadu
Project funded by QSA and DFAT, project expenditure $88,376
Project title ‘Integrated village rural development in Tamil Nadu.’

Project Results

During this year an emphasis has been made on developing and expanding economic enterprises through the 25 women’s groups in the project location. 70 women are involved in enterprises based on the growing of indigenous herbs and vegetables.  This has been particularly evident in the expansion of Amirtha Herbal enterprise which has been recommended for the 2017 award by the Indian Government’s National Innovation Foundation, and the fact that Pitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre was the only organisation in Tamil Nadu invited to participate in the 2016 Women of India Festival in Delhi. Parvathy who attended, was able to showcase the Amirtha Herbal products, herbal food and organic millets prepared by Meera Herbal Foods and spirulina made by Surya Spirulina, and out of the 260 stalls there, PBRC came fourth and was given an award which certainly helped give more widespread publicity of the enterprise and its products but also to boost the confidence and enthusiasm of the women. A review of the packaging of the herbal and nutritional products has been undertaken, to ensure that the labels are understood by people with varying literacy skills. The provision of uniform saris has greatly assisted in group cohesion for the women involved in Amirtha Herbal products and Meera Herbal Foods, along with training sessions and monthly meetings to encourage cooperation in their work. These herbal products have also been used in community health camps and cattle camps where 242 patients received treatment from Ayuvedic doctors, and at a separate camp, 422 animals were given herbal treatments.

Preparing the herbal treatments for the camps. Photo credit Pitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre

Preparing the herbal treatments for the camps. Photo credit Pitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre

The environmental awareness raising workshops given by PBRC to communities and school students continues to be an important part of their work. During this year 15,000 trees were planted, and a solar-powered bore-well constructed along with three ponds for more effective rain water harvesting. Nadukuppam Forest continues as a demonstration site, showcasing watershed management, organic agriculture methods, indigenous cattle conservation and green energy production to community and farmer groups. Environmental awareness through the local schools continues via teacher in-service courses, support for the school eco-clubs held after hours, visits made by 120 school groups to the project locations, and 16 school groups who studied simple organic agriculture techniques which they then replicated in their own school food gardens. 3,500 tree seedlings grown in PBRC’s plant nursery were distributed to schools to provide much needed shade cover to the playgrounds. For the community and students planting trees, deriving benefit now from the trees, such as fruit or shade, will encourage their long term growth.

Expansion to the project has occurred by $15,955 sent from QSA’s own funds and specific donations to assist in creating greater water security for Nadukuppam Forest by repairing a windmill pump and deepening a well shaft due to the falling water table. The value of demonstration sites has been noted in encouraging new agriculture ideas to be adopted, and the formation of groups of farmers has given them valuable peer support.

Project challenges

Heavy cyclonic rain during the year caused extensive flooding, damage to homes, crops and livelihoods. The intensity of the flooding was exacerbated by construction which had been placed over a seasonal water course which had been overlooked during the dry season. PBRC has been able to work with project communities to encourage them to monitor building construction to reduce the risk of flooding in the future.

There is a challenge to motivate women to persist with their agricultural and herbal based micro enterprise activities when there is increased local competition for market share as more people become involved.  This is being assisted by additional training in how to complement their products with cooking demonstrations and sharing of recipes. Training in literacy and numeracy skills also help the women boost their confidence, which helps to counteract family opposition to their work.

Trinity Rural Development Service Centre, Tamil Nadu October 2015 – January 2016, funded by QSA only, project expenditure $1312
Project title ‘Training in nursery garden growing and income generation for poor rural women’.

Project results

This project, begun in July 2014, has now concluded. It involved the establishment of a plant nursery as an income generating scheme for 40 rural Dalit women, who had previously all been employed as labourers, working in agriculture or construction or brick making which is physically demanding for little financial return. This project aimed to give them different employment opportunities by training them in plant nursery skills with assistance from the Floriculture Research Station of the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University. This project’s plant nursery has been managed by all of the women, and at the end of the project the women were then able to use their new skills in creating their own small business to supply plants. The women also were given some training in literacy and numeracy to enable record keeping and to fill the gap created by their previous limited opportunities for education mostly because they are members of a marginalised community.

2 women trainees in the plant nursery, and below workshop promotion poster.

2 women trainees in the plant nursery, and (insert) workshop promotion poster.
Photo credit – Trinity Rural Development Service centre.

The story of one of the women was reported by the project manager – ‘This project has changed her life fully now she the ability to run a small nursery garden on her own with a small investment, and is able to earn on her own as well as continue to look after her children. She now earns enough to pay for family expenses and she has stopped her agricultural labouring work so she no longer has such bad back pain.’

Project Challenges

Unlike neighbouring regions, this project location has the advantage of a currently having a water supply which has enabled the plants to survive the dry season. The market for the plants is not constant so budgeting training has been provided to help the women address this fluctuation in income.

This video is about Ecovillage Design Education (EDE), a five week experiental course on the fundamentals of sustainability design. The course curriculum was developed by the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education in recognition of the immense potential for growth in human consciousness and behaviour.
Recognised by UNESCO, the EDE was specifically designed to enable people and communities coming together to reclaim responsibility for their living situations – at local and regional levels. A university framework, adaptable to the local environment, the EDE offers an education that assesses the current state of the planet and local area followed by place-based solutions relevant to the local community.
QSA’s project partner Pitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre in Tamil Nadu has a long and proven record of environmental expertise and sustainable community development experience and so was well placed to host this workshop. We hope you enjoy watching this video clip.

Vasandham Society – Promotion of environmentally friendly and traditional agriculture in Tamil Nadu. Funded by QSA only October 2015 – June 2016, project expenditure $7,482; QSA and DFAT from July 2016, project expenditure $5,600
Project title ‘Promotion of environmental friendly agriculture in Tamil Nadu’.

Project results

This project is part of several years’ support for Vasandham Society as it establishes an environmental recourse centre on thirteen acres of land it purchased in 2009 in the Varusanadu Valley to the west of the state of Tamil Nadu. The valley is formed by the Vaigai River which flows most years from October to May, and is surrounded by hills with deep gullies, rock outcrops and forest. The area is remote and rural, and has been de-forested over the last few generations and is severely affected by soil erosion.

Building on earlier work, QSA has supported the work to achieve water security at the centre, enabling a range of demonstration plots to be established to show alternative agriculture methods and range of crops. In addition the centre grows several cash crop trees such as citrus, cashew nuts and kapok to assist with covering running expenses. Training courses are presented to community groups, and the many groups established by Vasandham Society of women and farmers.

A significant part of their work addressing water security for the community is in the protection of the open water reservoirs, called kanmais. The work entails surveillance to prevent encroachment by farmers planting crops in the rich and moist soils in the periphery of the kanmais which would thereby restrict access by other farmers to gather water and take their cattle there to drink. A total of nine kanmais are being maintained. Other environmental work will address the use of plastics by raising awareness of the hazards of indiscriminate dumping of items, and encouraging more villages to ban the use of plastic bags.

As part of the project extension with funding from DFAT and QSA, the agricultural focus will be to increase the numbers of farmers’ groups locally, and encouragement by demonstration of the importance of traditional farming, and in particular the growing of traditional millets and grains which are well suited to the local environment and climate.

Farmers from Vasandham Society learning how to mix organic pesticides and fertilisers.

Farmers from Vasandham Society learning how to mix organic pesticides and fertilisers. Photo credit Vasandham Society.

Over the past few years Vasandham Society has been successfully working with local officials in preventing child marriages. Although these are illegal, in this remote area families do try to marry their daughters very young, which means that education for these teenage girls ends prematurely. Staff run workshops to raise awareness of this issue, and through their network of 120 women’s groups in a number of villages, they are able to intervene and support the teenager and her family through this difficult time. In the last three months of this project year, 18 teenage school drop-outs were persuaded to rejoin their classes, and nine cases of domestic violence were counselled with only one of them needing police and court intervention.

Project challenges

Agriculturally based project activities are very weather dependent, and reduced rainfall in this region has taken its toll on agriculture in this region. With a dropping water table and reduction in the flow of the Vaigai River, the significance of the kanmai is obvious and must be made available for everyone. There is also a smaller challenge with agriculture in the marketing opportunities of produce. This is being addressed to some extent by the use of mobile phone applications to enable farmers to be aware of the current market prices for their crops, and, by encouraging a diversity of crops to be grown, the farmers are less likely to be adversely affected by price slumps.

Photo credit Vasandham Society