YAVATMAL: Land of organic farming and women’s lib

DQW Bureau
New Update


Yavatmal was formerly known as Yeotmal town in Maharashtra state in central

India. Yavatmal, located 1,500 ft (460 m) above sea level, is a district

administrative cen-ter, a cattle-breeding town and a market for peanuts, cotton

and timber. Yavatmal city is located on the Nagpur-Darwha state highway and is

just seven km from the airport.

This town is also close to Amravati, which is situated right in the center of

the nor-thern border of Maharashtra. Amravati meaning ‘abode of immortals’,

may be traced with the association of Lord Krishna. It lies mainly in the Tapi

basin with only some of its parts on the eastern border lying in the valley of

Wardha. Besides cotton, jowar and tur (lentil), which are the leading crops in

the region; orange gardens are also important from the agricu-lture point of


Womens liberation at Yavatmal

District officials and UNICEF have collaborated on the Integrated Women’s

Empower-ment Program in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district. More than 800 women’s

self-help groups have been set up, helping villagers set up dairy and horti-culture

cooperatives and seve-ral other livelihood projects. With their newly found con-fidence,

women are now taking charge of village education and other public services.


Four years ago, the women of this village got together to

form a Self-Help Group (SHG). Today, they are self-sufficient, no longer at the

mercy of the local moneylender who used to lend the 300-odd villagers here funds

at a whopping 10-20 percent interest per month. Now, the people borrow money

from their own Bachat Gat. In fact, they even offer money to the moneylender.

Shirola is one of the hun-dreds of villages covered by

Sadhana Dube at the Yavatmal district office. Dube and her team, who work with

several local NGOs, have put to rest the standard criticism that govern-ment

officials work merely to tote up figures and meet targets on paper. This team

are genuinely interested in the up-liftment of the poor rural women and through

them the entire village.

Forging a partnership with UNICEF, the Yavatmal district

office decided to implement the official Integrated Women’s Empowerment

Program in two of Yavatmal’s 16 blocks. UNICEF, which has an educational pro-ject

ongoing in Yavatmal dis-trict, had expressed an interest in sensitising and

empowering women who could make a difference to various aspects of village life–education

being just one.


Sadhana Dube coordinates this project and has successfully

built up a chain of women volu-nteers to reach out to women in every village in

the Pand-harkavada and Daravhe blocks of Yavatmal.

Their efforts have paid off. About 820 SHGs, consisting of

18,000 women, have been formed in the two blocks. Their aggregate savings have

crossed Rs 32,00,000. Meanwhile, Dube has turned her attention to the third

block–Zari–where she is supported by a dedicated young couple Sangeeta

Chau-han and Sanjay Walke.

The change in villages like Ganeshwadi, in Daravhe block, is

immediately discernible. Ganeshwadi is a small hamlet inhabited by people

belonging to the Pardhi scheduled tribe. The 100-odd people here once survived

just by thieving. This is no longer the case, thanks to a women’s self-help

group that managed to save around Rs 50,000 over three-four years. It took a

loan of Rs 2.5 lakh from the State Bank of India to buy buffaloes, build a shed

for the animals and set up a coo-perative dairy business. This village, in

barren Vidarbha, now boasts a rose farming business. Indeed, dairy and

horticulture have completely transformed the village.


Besides improving the local economy, SHGs also address social

issues. In Daravhe, SHG members counseled an alcoho-lic husband and offered him

a loan of Rs 5,000 to set up a shoe shop provided he gave up drinking. Today,

the man runs a reasonably large shop in town.

Meanwhile, the women discuss issues and question traditions,

such as the stigma attached to widows. They got a young widow to defy tradi-tion

and break a coconut and inaugurate the building of a temple. SHG members try to

persuade the parents of girl children to allow their daugh-ters to study

further. They offer solutions if there is a problem. In Daravhe, the local SHG

prevented a deserted woman taking to prostitution.

In Chandrapur district, also in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha

region, the Nehru Yuva Kendra has wrought a similar transfor-mation through

women’s SHGs. Vimal Madavi from Marakal-metha village in Korpana block is

called ‘The Iron Lady’. She cannot read, but takes care of attendance

registers. This lady keeps an eye on the school when the teacher is not around.

Vimal and the other women intervene in other aspects of the school too, to see

that all the children attend, study well and are looked after.


Earlier these women would get cheated while buying seeds and

fertilizer on credit. The shopkeeper would charge Rs 300 for the seeds, instead

of Rs 200 and then charge 10 percent interest. After three-four mon-ths, when

the crop was harves-ted and sold, they would repay him Rs 420 for seeds that

cost only Rs 200. When they formed the SHG, they got a loan from the rural bank

at 12 percent per annum, ie one percent per month. This amount was distri-buted

among the members at three percent. Now, for the same seeds worth Rs 200,

members repay their own SHG only Rs 224. The villagers understand this math.

Instead of the shopkeeper taking 10 percent every month, they would rather have

their own SHG earn three percent as, with this, their corpus grows. And with

money from the corpus they are able to set up collective businesses.

In Maykalpur, the SHG bought utensils worth Rs 7,000 to be

used during marriage feasts. The utensils are hired out to nearby villages. Some

SHG members have started making pickles, agarbattis, etc.

Today, banks take SHGs more seriously and offer them

collective loans. The formation of these self-help groups has emboldened the

village women who now stand on the dais, give speeches, explain schemes and make

appeals. They have even presented the accounts to local officials.


Organic farming at Yavatmal

In the heart of India’s orange country, Vidarbha, an orange farmer who

adopted natural farming techniques is reaping a rich harvest. Meanwhile, larger

orchards are facing rep-eated crop failures. At a time when Vidarbha’s famous

ora-nge orchards are experiencing successive crop failures brou-ght on by

drought and the resultant lack of water, but this is changing as varied farming

methods have been adopted. ‘Do nothing and change nothing’–farmers here

have adopted a technique espoused by the Japanese natural farming guru, Masanobu


A little more than a decade ago, the orange orchards were in

full bloom across Vidarbha and Uttarwar was one of the few dejected men in the

area. The lack of water has frustrated a lot of farmers due to which they cut

down their trees. Now natural farming techniques have been adopted and the

results are also visible. Many of them were abandoning orange cultivation

altogether because of irrigation problems.

With rainwater as the only input, farmers are watching his

trees bloom all over again. Instead of removing the grass and weeds, they

undertook their mulching, creating eight-nine-inch-thick layers of mulc-hed

waste. That helped retain rainwater. Covering the soil with mulched vegetation

has ensured the survival of nece-ssary ground insects and bacte-ria that

normally die in the sun.

Also, in keeping with the Fukuoka philosophy, no chemicals

are ever sprayed on the crop. This has been made possible by the orchard’s

location–since Yavatmal is basically cotton country, the isolated orange farm

does not carry the same disease risks as it would in Nagpur or Amravati.