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Women become fish farmers to stand on their own feet

Story

By Chandrika Patnaik

15 June 2022

A women's self-help group in Gramadebati village in Ganjam district leased the village pond to farm fish. They have made a profit in a couple of years, earned enough to pay the annual lease and provided for their families.

The women of Maa Saraswati SHG show us their catch.

Photograph by Prasanta Kumar Naik

“In 2020, along with two other SHGs, we went to the Khetamundali Panchayat office to take part in bidding for a three-year lease for a pond. When the Sarpanch declared that the base price for the pond was ₹22,500, the other two SHGs present decided to drop out and not take part in the bidding. They felt the price was too high. That left the Sarpanch with no other option but to lease the pond to us for three years with the base price”, said a beaming Satya Jani from Talasahi, a small hamlet of Gramadebati village in the Jagannathprasad block in Ganjam district.

Gramadebati village consists of 46 households. The village consists of three small hamlets – Gramadebati Talasahi has 19 families, Mundia Sahi has 20, and Dhobi Sahi has seven. The area usually has a shortage of water. Before 2007, women and girls walked over 200 meters to fetch water from a tube well while standing in a queue. To dodge prying eyes, residents walked up to 500 meters or more to defecate in the open.

From water to livelihoods 

Gram Vikas first entered Gramadebati in 2007. The same year residents agreed to construct individual toilets and bathing rooms. In 2011, the 46 households in the village received pipe water supply in their homes. With a sanitation system, women had time on their hands, formed groups, and met regularly.

Members of the Maa Saraswati SHG actively participated in the activities. They helped carry bricks and stones when the toilet and bathing rooms got constructed for the 12 households in the hamlet. Similarly, when the construction of the overhead water tank began, they helped dig, carry sand, and mix the cement. Sanju Jani, 29, an SHG member, says, “We dug and lay the pipes from the water tank to homes. We have regularly made the families here aware of solid waste disposal and keeping our village clean.”

For the past four years, the women of Maa Saraswati SHG in Talasahi have been hoping to improve their lives by using their spare time productively to earn an extra income. Satya Jani is the President of Maa Saraswati Self Help Group (SHG).

Soon after her husband, Dama Jani passed away due to illness a few years ago, Satya, 40, shifted with her son Sukura, 14, to her elder brother-in-law, Shyam Jani’s house. Satya works as a farm labourer on the three acres of farmland her brother-in-law owns. He grows horse gram, finger millet, maise, and seasonal vegetables.

Due to a water shortage during the dry months, farmers in the village do not cultivate their fields. As a result, women like Satya work as farmhands in nearby villages. Satya wants to earn well to support her son’s education. “I want to earn enough so my son can further his studies. I was thrilled when all the members of our group agreed to start fish cultivation together. To singlehandedly start and manage an enterprise is difficult. Starting an enterprise in a group together with other members and sharing responsibility has helped us form a strong bond among us.”

In 2020, the group planned to bid for the pond for pisciculture. Satya says her group was confident of getting good returns from the pond from the beginning. “After deciding with the group members to compete for the lease, we consulted our families, who encouraged us.”

Subhasini Mallik, 28, Secretary of the group, adds, “Though the base price was quite high, we were confident about our decision to go ahead with the bidding. The group had met a couple of times to discuss every aspect of the business before the bidding. We haven’t gone through any formal training on pisciculture, but most of us have some knowledge about it while watching people farm fish in our villages. With some good advice from the elders here, we went ahead.”

The families of these women supported them, and the elders in the village gave them advice on various aspects of fish farming. Subhasini Mallik’s husband, Ramesh Mallik, says, “My wife wanted to utilise her spare time productively and add to the family’s income. Our son is just two years old, and it was not easy for her to leave him alone at home and work as a farmhand in nearby villages. I work the entire day in my field. When their group bid for the pond, I told her to go ahead with the group’s decision. I decided to support my wife by taking responsibility for looking after our son for some time in the day whenever it was required.”

After procuring the lease, the members bought fingerlings of salmon and Katla from the nearby Gerada bazaar for ₹12,000.

Fishing for profits and well-being

In April 2021, the group harvested three quintals of fish. They sold the catch to residents from neighbouring villages like Khetamundali, Sisunda, Gerada, and Tirigoccha for ₹140/kg. They earned a total sum of ₹42,000 that year.

“Our investment included ₹12,000 for the fingerlings and ₹5000 for the net we rented from Kokalaba village to harvest the fish. The group paid off the first year’s lease amount of ₹7500, while we deposited the remaining ₹16,500 in the group’s savings accounts,” said Satya.

After taking the pond on a lease, the members feed the fish and clean the pond of weeds. When the fish grow up to half a kilogram in weight, the women take turns keeping vigil during the night. “As the fish grow, we must stay awake till early in the morning. When we started in the first year, one night, on a random check-in by some of the members of our group, they spotted a few men with a net inside the pond. On seeing the women, they ran away, leaving their net. That day we decided to take turns watching over the pond two months before we harvest the fish,” says Satya Jani.

Subhasini Mallik says, “In the second year, we caught a total of 2.45 quintals of fish and sold at ₹130 per kilogram earning ₹31,850. Our expenditure on fingerling was ₹11000, and the netting was ₹5000. Our profit in the second year was ₹16850. I took a small loan from the amount we earned that year for sudden expenses in my family.”

Rasmita Jani, 25, a group member, says, “We netted three times this year and have sold over four quintals of fish for ₹56,000 at the rate of ₹140 per kilogram. We purchased fingerlings for ₹9780 and ₹15000 for netting three times. We have also paid the annual lease amount of ₹7500. After meeting all the expenditures, we have earned an amount of ₹23,720 this year. We will try to bid for the pond yet again.”

The women say that the income has made them confident in meeting sudden expenses in their families. “We don’t have to depend on anyone for money. Anyway, getting a loan from the bank is not easy for us neither is paying off the interest charged for the loan by the bank.”

The SHG members involved in fish netting in the village pond.

Photograph by Prasanta Kumar Naik

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Basanti Devi, District Manager, Prasanta Kumar Naik, Thematic Coordinator in Planning Monitoring Documentation and Communication, and Kalpana Moharana, Thematic Coordinator in Village Institutions and Convergence, helped in data collection for the story. Priya Pillai edited the story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chandrika Patnaik leads content production within the Communications team in Gram Vikas.

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