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Women's Empowerment, Biodiversity Conservation & Securing Rural Livelihood Options In The Himalayas

Description: 

Jagriti is a community-based organization operating in the hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, India. It works towards women’s empowerment through livelihood development and the promotion of energy-efficient and drudgery-reducing devices. Since 2002, Jagriti has been disseminating a package of energy-efficient devices (including liquefied petroleum gas stoves, pressure cookers and traditional water heaters) in Himachal Pradesh’s Kullu District. This energy programme is implemented through over 100 women’s savings and credit groups at the village and hamlet level.

By making energy services available to women, the programme has served as a platform for women’s empowerment and social transformation. The programme has sustained itself long after the initial implementation period (2001-2003). This is due to the sense of achievement the project generated and the positive impact of the interventions on the environment, community health, women’s status at the household and community level, and income generation opportunities. The programme has reached more than ,000 households to date, and the demand for the devices is growing. Meanwhile, the state government’s new liquefied petroleum gas distribution programme for households in and around protected areas is replicating the programme’s dissemination and financing model.

The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), SN POWER (Norway) and the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) supported the programme. In addition, from 2004 onwards, individual contributions have supported the distribution of hamam (water heating devices) in Lag Valley. Beneficiaries bear the bulk of the cost of the devices.

The results showcased in this best practice are from GEF’s Small Grants Programme, which ran from 2004 to 2009, supporting alternate livelihoods options for women and the distribution of hamams.

Problem, challenge or context: 

This case study promotes environmental conservation and gender empowerment, as mandated by the Convention on Biological Diversity and implemented through NBSAPs.

Specific elements of components: 

The Gasda Valley is located in the Western Himalayan Mountains and characterized by high altitude and scattered settlement patterns. Deep-rooted social sanctions against scheduled castes have restricted such people’s settlement to the periphery of villages, usually in areas of poorer, less fertile soil, where they have smaller land holdings. Harsh climatic conditions and the inaccessibility of basic services impose greater drudgery and livelihood pressures on poor households to meet their needs. These burdens fall more on women because of the nature of their responsibilities; focused on tasks such as collecting fuelwood and fodder, grass cutting, grazing cattle and fetching water. 

According to a survey conducted by Jagriti, in a year, an average household roughly uses 15-17 quintals of fuelwood, mainly in winter. Besides cooking, fuelwood is used for heating rooms and water for bathing and washing. The average hot water requirement per day per household in winter months is 50-60 liters. 

An analysis by Jagriti in Gadsa Valley, of the hours spent on various activities, showed that women spent a total of 6-7 hours daily on cooking, washing utensils and gathering fuelwood. 

Women typically saw their role as only voters and often could not muster courage to attend the Gram Sabha (community meetings). According to some of the women, Gram Sabha was mainly attended by men.

The main sources of income in the Gadsa Valley are harvesting resources for personal consumption, selling fuelwood, fodder and medicinal plants, and sheep and goat rearing. Poor households are heavy dependent on forest resources for their livelihoods, which is contributing to the rapid depletion of available resources, such as fuelwood. Since women are predominantly engaged in these activities, the increased time to obtain resources has further added to their work burden. 

To address these challenges, the project pursued the objectives of: 

• Expanding the usage of energy-efficient and drudgery-reducing devices to reduce dependence on fuelwood (with related environmental and health benefits); and 
• Using women’s ‘freed’ time to improve their livelihoods through activities that increase income, in addition to encouraging female participation in public forums and the devotion of time to leisure. 

The action taken:
Social mobilization and institution building: 
Women’s Saving Care Groups (WSCG) were formed after a detailed survey was undertaken to identify location-specific indicators of poor households. Record keeping and group management were instituted to support effective group functioning. Group members saved money on a monthly basis and deposited it into their respective accounts. Jagriti organized women’s training programmes, workshops, and forums for confidence building and effective public participation.

Drudgery reducing and time saving technologies: 
Hamam water heating devices distributed to members on cost sharing basis. This greatly reduced the time and drudgery experienced by women, and gave them great opportunities. 

Enterprise Management: 
The project introduced a system to ensure quality control when harvesting apricots and peachs. Indicators were developed for each level of the supply chain. In the villages, the project promoted and marketed the value of buying the local fruits and forest produce collected by the WSCG. The range of products marketed by Jagriti includes: Amaranthus flour, apple chips, apricot oil and scrub, beeswax cream, buckwheat flour, corn flour, rosehip herbal tea, roasted barely and soya bean and popped amaranth.

Raising medicinal plants and promoting energy plantation: 
By setting up nurseries and raising awareness about the sustainable use of natural resources, the project also undertook efforts to conserve threatened medicinal plants, including Aconitum heterophyllum, Picrorhiza kurroa, Valeriana wallichii, Podophyllum, and Dioscorea deltoidae. This activity was supported by the Forest Department, State of Himachal Pradesh, India. 

Vermicomposting: 
Vermicompost was popularized to promote organic farming in the area. Initial support was provided by Jagriti in three locations - Lag Valley, Gadsa Valley and Jagatsukh.

Key lessons learned: 
  • Women play an effective role in decision-making processes, planning, implementation and monitoring, when the conditions are improved to support their involvement.
  • Women workers are seen as ‘great inspiration’ for other women, and more so when they are managing and dealing with financial matters and resources.
  • Cost-sharing is an important factor in an initiative’s success. Community members were asked to contribute money or labour during the project’s implementation. The willingness of a community to provide labour or other resources during implementation is closely associated with their feeling of project involvement.
  • Active community participation in project planning and implementation improves project design. Benefits include the use of local knowledge, increased project acceptability, a more equitable distribution of benefits, local resource mobilization; and increased project sustainability.
  • Precise targeting of poor households is needed to avoid misuse of project funds. To avoid appropriation of programme benefits by relatively affluent households, Jagriti develops a reasonably accurate list of poor households in the area by applying a set of poverty-assessment indicators. Local communities are informed about these indicators, allowing them to monitor beneficiary selection and improve programme transparency.
  • Cost sharing promotes mutual support. Women contribute towards payments from their own savings and/or by borrowing from friends and relatives. Jagriti encourages WSCG members to help each other and loan within and between groups.
  • Flexible and locally appropriate financing mechanism can enable adoption of new technologies. The high cost of energy-efficient devices is a barrier to their adoption by the poor. However, Jagriti’s experience shows that the poor are willing and able to share the costs if appropriate financing mechanisms are in place. The programme routes its products through WSCGs. These institutions are understood and trusted by rural women. It also links payments in reasonable installments to monthly savings. Facilities such as intra-group loans and group collateral make it possible for even the poorest women to overcome the cost barrier. Members are also encouraged to use joint saving accounts and take out loans to meet their share of the cost.
  • Linking energy interventions with other women’s empowerment programmes can increase effectiveness and cost-efficiency. The energy programme is a sub-set of wider empowerment issues addressed by Jagriti. Linking this intervention with other programmes has made it more effective and cost-efficient. Since structures and systems for enlisting women’s participation already existed as part of Jagriti’s work, additional capacity building and associated costs were relatively low.
  • Adoption rates for pressure cookers and hamams have steadily increased over the years.
Impacts and outcomes: 
  • Fifty-one WSCGs were formed and registered with local banks. More than ,000 women joined these groups. The total savings accumulated to over INR 500,000 (roughly 7,352USD). Intragroup loan transactions totaled INR 94,800 (roughly 1394 USD ).
  • Seventeen WSCGs engaged in production of vermicompost in 60 pits. Production totals included ,879 quintals, of which 293. quintals were used by WSCG members in their fields. The remaining amount was sold to commercial farmers and orchards.
  • Four hundred and ninety five hamams were distributed to members on a cost sharing basis. The women contributed cash equaling INR 43,170 (roughly 635 USD). This resulted in more efficient use of agricultural and household waste for water heating and less trips to forests in summer for fuelwood. This led to women having more time available for other household chores, leisure and less exposure to indoor pollution.
  • A comparative study of fuelwood consumption in a traditional chullah (fuelwood stove) versus a hamam suggests that to heat 20 liters of water in a traditional chullah takes roughly 10-12 kg of hard wood and 35-40 minutes. In a hamam, it takes 2 kg of household litter, crop residue or small twigs to heat 20 liters of water in 15-20 minutes. By using a hamam for approximately 130 days in year, a household saves 1.5 tons of fuelwood.
  • Jagriti established a marketing outlet in Kullu Manali named ‘Mountain Bounties’. It sells products from the women federations and markets a range of products valuing INR 20,000 (roughly294USD) per month. This enterprise provides income and empowerment for local women. The NGO also links its products with the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department through retail outlets in Simla and Manali.
  • Women now actively participate in the Gram Sabha meetings. The presence of women in large numbers at village level government meetings greatly influences their ability to lobby and build collective pressure to agree on decisions that better reflect their interests. WSCG members’ joint representation at the panchayat level makes an immense difference in how decisions are made in the Gram Sabhas. Thus, as a first step ‘even the presence’ of women in good numbers can produce a favorable impact. WSCG members have stood for election and were elected as panches and pradhans.
  • By reducing indoor air pollution from biomass burning, the use of energy-efficient devices has improved the health of women and girls. Reported benefits include decreased coughing, reduced eye pain and watering, and reduced respiratory problems. In addition, children in households with energy-efficient devices are receiving more hot meals and bathe more regularly.
  • Men are now more willing to encourage women’s participation in activities outside of the home. Over the years, more women have taken up activities outside their homes, particularly where there is an opportunity for increased income. Men have undergone attitudinal changes and are now more willing to let women engage in activities outside the home, including Jagriti training.
  • Greater mobility: The WSCGs also result in increased mobility outside the villages. Activities such as trips to the bank and other interactions with outsiders have bolstered self-confidence among local women. With some money in their hands, trips to the nearby town for work or visits to the market are pulling women beyond the traditional cultural boundaries of their homes.
  • Greater educational opportunities are now available to rural women, most of whom are now eager for their daughters to complete school, for which they face less resistance from in-laws.
  • Men and children now participate in household chores. Since a hamam is easily portable and can be used outside the house, men and older children can take over the task of carrying water and heating it in the hamam.
  • The use of energy-efficient devices is resulting in the reduced use of fuelwood, which is having a visible impact on the health of the surrounding forests. Green oak, the preferred fuelwood in the Lag Valley, is a slow-growing tree that is difficult to regenerate. Reducing its use as fuelwood has greatly benefited this species. In addition, the hamam can burn dry windfall pine needles and cones. The collection of this debris reduces the risk of forest fires, particularly around habitations.
Contact details: 
JAGRITI, Village: Badha Post Office: Mohal District: Kullu-175126 Himachal Pradesh, Tel/Fax: 91 1902 224309, E mail: info@jagritikullu.org, mamtachandar@yahoo.com, Website: www.jagritikullu.org
NBSAP step: 
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Language: 
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