Situated amidst forest, Sukridoba is a small village in the lesser-known part of Baghmundi Gram Panchayat, Purulia district, West Bengal. Sixteen tribal households, that’s all. The name is derived from two words, ‘Sukri’ and ‘Doba’ meaning pig and stagnant body of water, respectively. Almost none of these 16 households ever knew how the world looks like beyond their village. Sukridoba is actually that remote.
A single woman, a mother of three children, Sarala Mura, had a very small piece of land. Like most of the other Sukridoba families, Sarala also grew crops to make a living. However, due to lack of irrigation facilities her farm occupation remained monsoon dependent, with some vegetables grown during the winter, depending on the residual soil moisture. Sukridoba is 13 kms away from the block town, and so, for arranging farm inputs and marketing her crops, Sarala remained dependent on market intermediaries. And these people never left a scope to cheat her in terms of taking higher prices for farm inputs and taking her crops at lesser prices than the prevailing market rates. To meet some of her family needs, Sarala would be found collecting and selling woods in the local markets at a throw away price to buy some rice which she would cook and serve her family members with a little bit of salt and some boiled wild leafy vegetables.
The wheel started turning for Sarala, along with some of the Sukridoba farmers with the advent of PROWFIT Project supported by the Walmart Foundation. The initiative helped Sarala, along with 11 other women farmers get collectivized into a farmer Producer Group (PG) and get associated with Jangal Mahal Mahila Farmer Producer Company (FPC) in 2022. With continuous engagement and motivation, the women farmers of the village slowly started stepping out of their homes to improve their lives and livelihoods. During the last kharif (monsoon season) and post-kharif season they collectively bought paddy and tomato seeds, and other inputs from the FPC and also marketed 30 tonnes of their tomato produce together. There was no scope for these women to get cheated, the intermediaries were not called for inputs of marketing any more.
“Didi, age toh 10 decimal jagah teh kortam, oi 6-7 hazar taka hoto, ekla manush kothay ki korbo, beej-saar kinte dure jete hoy, tar por bilati ber hole bikbo ki kore? Olpo hole tao nije kheye nei, ba pasher gram a tuk tak bikri kore nei, bikri naa korar jonno onek loss hoto, jomin a pore-pore ei noshto hoye jeto, taar jono shahosh hoto na, kintu ei bochor dada didi ra ese onek sahajyo koreche, amra group er didi ra mile eke sathe beej kinechi aar ekei sathe bikechi, ei dada didira ese sahosh ta jagiche amar bithore, taar jono shahosh kore eto ta jomin a korte parlam, agami bochor aro bhalo kore korar asha ache. Ei shahajyo peye, ami 5 tonne moto bilati bajare bikechhi ar 90 hajar taka rojgar korechhi ” – says Sarala.
(I used to cultivate in 10 decimal area before and could earn around 6000-7000 rupees. I am the only bread earner in the family and it gets difficult for me to procure inputs and market the produce alone. I could not dare to cultivate in a larger land due to the fear of loss; many a times my produce used to get spoiled in the field itself as I could not market it, so I preferred to cultivate in a smaller piece of land mostly for my own consumption and then to sell the remaining in the nearby village. I was anxious. However, staff-members from PRADAN came and helped us (under the aegis of the PROWFIT project), and motivated us to form a Producer Group; to buy inputs and sell the produce together cutting costs in the process and saving us from any losses. They gave me the confidence to dream bigger and that’s why I took up the initiative in 0.5-acre land and this time I hope to do even better the next year. It’s because of this help I could sell 5 tonnes of tomatoes in the markets and earned Rs. 90,000).
With the help of the project team, Sarala has started fish farming. From the earnings she got from tomato marketing she released 5kgs of IMC (Indian Major Carps) fingerlings in her 0.12-acre pond from which she is expecting to make an additional income of Rs. 10,000 after every catch.
She is hopeful that her aspiration of providing better education to her children won’t be a distant dream anymore. With the constant support and assistance from the PROWFIT initiative and the PRADAN team, Sarala Mura along with her other PG members, is paving the way for a better future, for herself, and for her neighbours.
Edited by: Souparno Chatterjee, New Delhi