with Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group
Photo credit: Arshinder Kaur
This inspiring story of an Indian woman farmer is a testament to the change women bring to their families and communities when given access to training and resources. This interview was taken by Arshinder Kaur, WEA’s India Coordinator, during her visit to Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group in Uttar Pradesh.
Narmada Devi is a small farmer in the Northern state of Uttar Pradesh in India. Prior to being a part of a women’s self help group, Narmada Devi suffered her husband’s alcoholism. Her husband was also forced to migrate to distant cities to supplement their meager income, so the couple spent most of the year apart. Narmada Devi tended to their small farm, but had little control over the family’s financial resources, limiting her ability to save money for farming or as a reserve during drought. This left her living hand to mouth, with overwhelming dependency on her husband for money to sustain their family farm. This all changed in 2006, when Narmada Devi attended her first training from Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG), a local nonprofit that builds the capacities of small and marginalized women farmers through training, mentoring and organizing them to advocate for their rights and entitlements.
At her training, Narmada learned about sustainable agriculture practices, such as multi-layered and intercropping farming techniques, as well as adaptive technologies that support farmers to cope with climate change. Narmada was able to turn this knowledge into practice in her own life, and she now produces 25-26 crops, including potatoes, onions, garlic, mustard and radishes during three seasons of the year. Narmada earns a secondary income by breeding mushrooms in a small area, and cultivates bamboo to supplement her income, which she uses for hut construction, fencing and poultry protection. She has also diversified her income through the sale of indigenous eggs from her 8 free-range hens and 3 free-range roosters. Now, with a deeper understanding of sustainable farming practices and an increased access to natural resources, Narmada Devi and her husband no longer rely on urban labor migration to earn their livelihood and are less susceptible to commodity price shocks. Rather, they work together to develop their land and preserve their natural resources. Narmada now saves seeds, and opts for green farming techniques and composting to preserve her soil. Today, Narmada Devi is the leading member of her self-help group (SHG) and has trained 30 members of her own group, as well as their families, in sustainable farming practices. As a result of the GEAG training, Narmada has become a master trainer in her village, owns one acre of land, controls her own income, and saves over $1,300 per year.