This Article originally appeared in The Gujarat, in 2012.
A narrow path snakes its way down into a valley checkered with lush green fields where a single storehouse structure stands out. “Gram Lakshmi Sammohik Vermicompost Unit” reads a bright green board outside the structure. Inside are 40 rectangular beds in rows of 20 on each side separated by an aisle in between. Each bed is numbered and allotted to the women of the Jai Maldari Mahila Mandal of the picturesque Asai village in the Sabarkantha District.
10 Rabbari (a dairy-farming community) women, members of the Mahila Mandal demonstrate the procedure involved in the production of Vermicompost, an organic fertilizer, proven to have given far better results as compared to its chemical counterparts. All kinds of organic solid wastes are brought and dumped into the respective beds allotted to them, each with a capacity of around 2500 kgs. A bed is then fed with 20 kgs of worms which turn the waste into organic compost. Each vermicomposting cycle takes 45 days for completion. After which the product is packed in 25 kg bags sold at the rate of Rs.5/kg. The worms reared in the compost beds are also sold at Rs.125 per kg. Therefore, the Mahila Mandal earns around Rs.12, 500 from one bed every two months.
“We have already got orders for 15 lakh kilos of organic compost from contractors in Rajkot, Petlad etc. We have even tried the product in our castor crops and have witnessed a remarkable 40% increase in the produce, not to mention the better quality” says Leelaben Desai, a proud-owner of 4 buffaloes, a farm and a member of the SHG. Standing next to her, a smartly dressed Tushar Rathore, Assistant Project Manager, Marketing Rural Cottage Services, Mission Mangalam, explains “With funds through convergence of various schemes like, SGSY, NREGA, TSC these units were set up around two years ago. Under the first phase of Mission Mangalam, we talked the members of erstwhile SHGs into being a part of this project. Though initially reluctant, once these women saw organic fertilizer’s efficiency and the high returns, they agreed. Their farmer husbands also encouraged them. Consequently, we now have 42 such functional units in Sabarkantha alone.”
Talking on the marketing aspect, Mr. Joseph Fernandes, District Level livelihood manager, Mission Mangalam elaborates, “The main roles of Mission Mangalam are to stimulate community involvement and to create market linkages. For the Vermicompost units, an internal market was already present within the network of Sakhi Mandals working in the Agriculture sector. To further expand the markets, the Mission Mangalam team planned to publish an advertisement in a popular regional daily. The inflated prices of Urea and DAP in the last quarter were a great boon. A demand for 15 lakh kilos from this unit alone is what followed. Gujarati farmers have now realized that not only is this product more efficient, but also way cheaper. ”
Conversations over hot tea in the portico of Jassi Ben’s newly constructed pink yellow house (a result of the convergence of Indira Awas Yojana and Mission Mangalam) reveal that this constant source of livelihood has unleashed a new wave of self-confidence in these women. So much so, that they smartly handled a troublesome bank official creating problems for years over minor transactions related to their Sakhi Mandal account. “We told him we would have to take legal action. Soon enough the man mended his ways”, chuckles Jassi Ben with a sense of achievement.
Discussing what the future holds, the women dreamily say, “We want our market to expand and we plan to grow into an autonomous producer company shortly.”