Sunday, 9 December 2012

From Suicides to Revival through Farming, Protection of Environment, and Management of Natural Resources

Wardha emerged as the hub of farmers' suicides around ten years back. The numbers of farmers' suicides has come down in comparison to the past, but still needs intervention. To counter this, we have been implementing several programmes. Several farmers have participated and are currently doing so in various activities based on our mandate described below. One such case study appears here. For details on steady increase in farmers' income, see the graph detailing net income of farmers before and after intervention by Chetana-Vikas. The mandate can be broadly divided into following 6 programmes:

1. Seed Sovereignty:
  • Identification
  • Selection, &
  • Propagation
of local varieties that are going extinct with the onslaught of modern hybrid seeds, and of Indian varieties from other eco-zones that could thrive in Wardha.

2. Field-based Soil and Water Conservation:
  • Structures such as bunds, check dams, rain pits and farm ponds with local material.
  • Appropriate land use planning to decide area under farming and perennial green cover.
  • Appropriate farming and forestry practices to decide identity of species comprising this green cover.
Rain Pit

3. Development of Nutritious and Hardy Fruit Trees:
  • Identification
  • Selection, &
  • Propagation
of local, regional, and national hardy varieties of nutritious fruit-bearing trees such as jujuba, Indian gooseberry, mango, custard apple, carissa, etc. This is important for nutrition and health of the farmer.

A mango variety bearing fruits twice a year. Photo taken in July. The fruit matured in September.

4. Self-Reliant Farming for a Self-Reliant Farmer:
  • Development of farming methods and technologies that require low external inputs but are highly regenerative of internal resources such as manure.
  • A consortium of about 40 companion crops where food and nutritional security is achieved through subsistence crops and financial security is achieved through cash crops.
  • Based on farm-land manure where even less is enough. Green manure through identification, selection and propagation of seemingly innocuous and weedy species such as grasses and several fabaceous species.
  • Doing away with pesticides (through pest resistant varieties and crop combinations) and weedicides (by using weeds as green manure).
  • Enhanced productivity, profitability, sustainability, stability, quality of life and freedom from anxiety and debts.
Low-external input multi-cropping technique developed at the Alternative Agriculture Resource Centre, Chetana-Vikas

5. Remunerative Prices to Agro-Produce based on Cost of Production:

We are part of several local, regional, national and international fora which fight for fair prices to the farmers.

6. Farmer-Centred, Consumer-Friendly Fair Trade:

We are active participants and advocates of Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of certification for organic produce.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Facing Challenges 24 x 7 - Inspiring Stories 5: Archana Mhaiskar

As a young bride ……
Filled with dreams and enthusiasm for future, a young Archana entered into married life with Vijay. What she did not know, was that, she was slyly being deceived into a partnership which would bring only misery and pain.  Her in-laws suppressed the fact that her husband was terminally ill.  It was after some months into marriage that she came to know about it.

Bristling with silent anger, she decided to face life in whatever constructive way as possible.  She helped her husband in illness, took him to hospital.  She had conceived already, gave birth to  a son, but decided not to have further issues.

When her husband died …..
“I had developed fondness for my husband and was still in shock at his demise. 
I was in for further shock when my in-laws asked me to hand over the child to them and leave.”

"I thought, enough of injustice from these people.” 

“I fought with my in-laws and got to stay on after partitioning the house.”  

“I could do this because I was armed with information given at camps held by Chetana-Vikas about my legal rights, property rights.”

 “I had no money, I was doing odd jobs as an agriculture labourer and was living hand to mouth.”

“My friends, women members of our Self Help Group,  used to help me with small loans which were used up for every day living only.  Seeing my integrity and honesty, they then recommended my name for getting a loan of higher amount.”

Archana's friends in SHG examining the material bought from the loan amount
“I have come to know that,  this was made possible because of your support”.

“I am happy to tell you that with this money I could set up a small shop at home.” 

Archana's shop
“My villagers like many different type of things. So I decided to stock up an variety of things like stationery, sarees (an Indian attire), various cloth materials, inexpensive artificial jewelry etc. I even sold the miniature Indian Flag on our independence day.”

Archana at her sewing machine

“I go to the fields at 10 am and come back at 6 pm.  There was still time on hand while waiting for customers. I decided to buy a sewing machine.”   

“Due to budget constraints, I bought a second hand machine within the same loan amount.  Now, on an average, I can stitch 2 cloth materials a day.  My son helps me in tending to customers when he is free.” 
Archana and her son tending to their customers
“Now with some steady and extra income, slowly my life has started picking up. I can now start hoping for a future and also a decent education to my child.”

“ I will continue to fight for myself, my son & my house.”

Archana  Mhaiskar is from village Pimpalgaon Lute.  In her life of 32 years, she is facing challenges 24 x 7.  Instead of moping over her sorrows, she is willing and eager to meet these challenges. 

Appropriate support whenever and wherever needed helps her to go ahead confidently.
We once again call out to continue helping women like Archana who are ready to meet such challenges, by providing opportunities.

The upcoming "Festival of Deepawali"  would be a good opportunity to spread the light.  Please tell your circle of friends and relatives about

Thank you !

Monday, 22 October 2012

Alternative Agriculture Resource Centre of Chetana - Vikas

Recent photographs of the centre and some of the activities:

Entrance of the experimental farm an and the Resource Centre, near Alodi village.

Entrance of the experimental farm. This was a barren stretch of wasteland. The farm is a successful demonstration of how a "wasted" land can be regenerated and revived.

Entrance of the experimental farm an and the Resource Centre, near Alodi village.

The open-air meeting place in tune with nature.

Experimental Zizyphus plot. 20 select varieties from all over the country have been brought to the farm and various experiments on growth, production, pest & disease resistance, taste and other attributes of the plant and the fruit are being tested.

Zizyphus jujuba (Marathi: Bor; Hindi: Ber; Family Rhamnaceae) experimental plot. It is a hardy, low-external input fruit-bearing tree yielding highly nutritious fruits. At Chetana-Vikas, research on growth, production, pest & disease resistance, taste and other attributes of the plant and the fruit are being pursued on 20 select varieties. 

Such educative boards describing the work are spaced all over the experimental farm for awareness and sensitisation.

Wasteland regenerated into silvipasture.

Experiments on wasteland regeneration with various seasonal herbaceous species.
Identification and propagation of promising perennial grasses found in this ecozone. Apart from their use as fodder, they serve as agents of effective soil and water conservation, and provide ample biomass for mulching and composting.

Eco-friendly lo-cost reception.

Identification of important tree species. Many of these species are uncommon and hard to find. The nomenclature is displayed on several representative trees for scientific and environmental awareness and sensitisation of the visitors. Displayed here is Banyan tree: Vad (Marathi name), Bargad (Hindi name), Banyan (English name), Ficus bengalensis (Scientific name), Moraceae (Family).

Training hall to conduct workshops, training sessions, meetings of the networks and fora in which Chetana-Vikas is a key member.

Training hall with AudioVisual room.

List of important trees. This is not an exhaustive list of the species found and planted on the farm.

A few thousand women and men comprising of farmers, students and teachers, local government office bearers, activists, network members, scientists, policy makers, planners, etc. study-visit the experimental farm and the Resource Centre every year.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Human-Wildlife Conflict and Solutions for Farmers

The day farmers sow the seeds with onset of monsoon in the month of June, the farming couple has to start spending not just their days but also their nights in the sown fields to protect the crops from the attack of wild animals. For all the city-dwellers who carry romanticised ideas of rain-strewn landscapes, nothing is more contrasting in the middle of wilderness. If the field is small, the couple can at least stay together in the night and keep watch. Often times, the field needs at least two machaan (make-shift watchtowers) and the wife needs to keep watch from one corner and the husband from the other. These small makeshift machaan erected by the couple would be all there is to take rest and if possible little naps during the night. No matter whether it rains in the monsoon or the subsequent cold winter nights, the couple, at least the husband, has to spend nights in the field like this till January. Just a day’s negligence or absence, why, even an hour’s negligence would mean loss of the whole crop. So, starting from June till January when the last crop is finally harvested, this is the fateful struggle and married life of the couple.

A typical machaan erected in the field, constructed by the farmer himself. It is used to keep watch or to rest during night. In this photo, people were using it as a shelter from torrential rains.
View of part of the field from the machaan

Similar to the earlier years of setting field demos of self-reliant, biodiverse, low-external input multi-cropping model of agriculture, several farmers (like Mr. Janardan Kinkar whose case study was blogged earlier) did sow 15-30 different food crops even this year. In spite of literally heart-wrenching efforts, they couldn’t save several crops from the attack of the wild animals. The intrusion and damage is caused mostly by nilgai/blue bulls and wild boars, and several birds such as parrots, etc.. The damage is to the extent of 25% and upwards, sometimes without any upper limit.

Farmers don’t deny the importance of wild animals. No doubt the nation needs the wildlife and forests, but how can it be at the cost of agriculture? The sector is headed by economically backward families who are cornered from multiple directions already (such as grossly unremunerative prices for agro-produce, having no consideration for cost of production) by the government. But that would make for another topic. The real approach to solution for any conflict would be by resolving the apparent internal conflict of interests, such as the employer and the labour, producer and the consumer, and in this particular case, agriculture and forestry. The wild animals should be kept by the concerned department i.e. the forests from entering into the fields. The forest department should undertake various ecological (increasing resource value and inhabitability of forests) and mechanical interventions (trenches, fences and other barricades around forests and/or fields) to keep the farmers as well as the wildlife safe.

At Chetana-Vikas, the team takes special efforts to understand the gravity of the problem, have a dialogue with farmers and search for various measures by which the wildlife can be kept at bay at the local level. We must add, none of these innovations are of any lasting solace as the problem is of a greater magnitude still. This has been an uphill task without adequate policy support and macro-level changes. Human-wildlife conflict is hence one of the burning questions we have been tackling in past couple of months.

The ingenuity with which the farmers have invented ways to keep the wildlife at distance is at display here through some photographs.

Innovation 1: Long string with one end attached to the bell in the middle of the field and the other end is with the farmer in his machaan (watchtower). The sound scares away the animals and the birds.

Innovation 2: A burning oil lamp covered with an earthen pot with holes creates the impression of the eyes of a predator or a human. This is another way to scare the herbivores.

Innovation 3: a) Manufacturing oil lamps wrapped in plastic to give a magnified and distorted impression of flames in the field.

Innovation 3: b) The final product.
Innovation 4: Multi-tier fence. Chetana-Vikas has provided the technology to this low cost fence to the farmer seen in this photo, Mr. Atmaram Gurnule (right). The pilot experiment has shown encouraging results which will be tested for some more time and if successful, will be extended to other farmers. The lowest tier serves as hindrance to the entry of small and medium sized animals which can't jump (such as wild boar). The mid-level tier serves as hindrance to the entry of medium sized animals or animals that can hop. The top tier serves as hindrance to the entry of animals who can jump to considerable heights.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

How Do We Work?

Any idea we pursue, we do in the following way, to ensure maximum efficiency and success:

Sunday, 12 August 2012

From "Barely Living" to "Being Alive" - Inspiring Stories 4: Kanta Dahake

Hello Friends,
10 August 2012 - Today rural women in India celebrate "Janmashtami" - a festival in India dedicated to Lord Krishna and cows.  Cow is widely domesticated in rural areas and is believed to bring health and prosperity to the people in general.

So, it is a good day to share something with you about KANTA DAHAKE and her cow.

Kanta at her home. Leader of SHG in the background
Living in a village of about 100 house holds, middle aged Kanta has studied up to 4th standard, owns land a bit above 1 hectare.

How is she different ?
Kanta is not only a widow since some years but has been deserted even by her grown up son and his wife.  Nobody has seen them since many years. 
Mostly, the couple did not want to shoulder her responsibility, reflecting the changing family values of the society.

What makes her different, again ?
So, her life dragged on, from one day to another....
Kanta is a member of the local Self-Help Group (SHG) and was till now taking small loans for agricultural purposes. After her husband’s death, she made a resolution and used the loan amount to buy a cow.  That improved her situation a bit. She again demanded a loan to buy another cow.
With the support given by you all, Chetana-Vikas, and the other women of the SHG of her village decided to sanction her loan appeal since she had worked hard to return the earlier amount on time. Moreover, they noted that Kanta suffers from arthritis, and so she needed a business, which she could operate from home.
She does not go to the fields because of her pain and so her field is mostly tended by the youngest son living with her.  Kanta is required to put in very hard, round the clock work to make things happen.

Kanta today
The two cows today are yielding milk which on an average fetches her family Rs.4,800 per month (about USD 87). 
The milk is consumed locally, sometimes is processed and sold on festival days which adds to  her income.
The cows have given birth to male calves.
The bulk of farm-yard manure, now available from these animals, has increased from 2 tractor-loads to ten and is valued at about at Rs.20,000/- which Kanta and her son prefer to apply to their fields.

The milk ensures a steady, daily income for family

Abundant farmyard manure has played a role in doubling the production from their field that is totally dependent on rains of four months.
The two bullock pairs have attracted nearby farmers and has a market offer of Rs.40,000/ for a pair.  But Kanta refused to sell the calves saying that “money comes and goes but the calves are my true wealth which will increase further”.
Kanta makes it a point to mention that “since you people are with me, I feel the presence of some heavenly powers with me which helped me sail through difficulties”.

Kanta & her son with their "wealth"

Kanta and her future
She plans the impending marriage of her son.
This would also leave her some time to expand her business.
She says further, “I will try to bring in more women like me into our fold, so that they can also make their lives better”. 
As Kanta has mentioned, we at Chetana-Vikas also feel that there are many more Kantas that we have to reach.

Your support ensures bringing back color to an otherwise life full of drudgery and subsistence.
Ensure your friends and relatives visit the page link –
You can also put up a widget on your Facebook page, Twitter to spread the information.

Bye for now.  We are off to a village were the women are celebrating the festival with lots of cows.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Felicitation of Ms. Suman Bang

Kamalabai Hospet was the founder of Matru Sewa Sangh, an NGO which worked for women and children, focussing on health, education and development programmes. Ms. Hospet was a pioneer of women's issues till her last breath.

The first Kamalabai Hospet award was recently awarded to Ms. Suman Bang, the head of Women's and Children's Empowerment wing of Chetana-Vikas. The function happened in Wardha on May 23rd, 2012. The function was completely managed by women, and was in a true sense a function for the women, by the women, of the women!
 Ms. Suman Bang lighting the lamp.

(From L to R) Standing - Ms. Pendharkar. Sitting - Kishori Valunjkar, Leelatai Chitale, Suman Bang.

The life of Ms. Hospet and Ms. Suman Bang has many parallels, and in words of the award committee, "it seemed only fitting that the first awardee should be Sumantai". Chief guest of the function, Leelatai Chitale who herself is an eminent social worker and grassroot activist described the process of choosing the first awardee, and said that the committee was unanimously positive when Ms. Bang's name came up. She also said, "our award gained much acceptance, recognition and relevance when Sumantai decided to accept it."

(From L to R) Leelatai Chitale felicitating Suman Bang.
The certificate reads in Marathi, and traverses the 86 years of life and more than 60 years of social work done by Ms. Bang. It describes her teaching and administration experience as the principal of 'Nai Taleem' school, which literally means a school involving 'new education', and was one of the first of its kind in independent India which emphasised on experimental education through simple, inexpensive but effective pedagogical methodologies based on Mahatma Gandhi's ideas on education. 

It also mentions her active presence in Vinoba Bhave's Bhudaan (bhu = land, daan = bequest/donation), Gramdaan (gram = village, daan = bequest/donation) and Gramsvarajya movements (gram = village, swarajya = self-governance). Bhudaan and Gramdaan were revolutionary movements, and it won't be an exaggeration to term them revolutionary in the history of mankind, bringing about decentralisation and redistribution of land ownership from the rich to the poor, facilitated by social workers such as Ms. Bang. Gramswarajya (or Panchayat Raj as is known now) was the seed sown 50 years back aiming at decentralisation of political and social power, making villages more self-reliant and self-governed. 

The certificate also mentions her imprisonment in 1975 for taking a stand against 'the emergency' which can easily be hailed as one of the worst phases in Indian democracy. Ms. Suman was a part of the movement started by Jay Prakash Narayan against the ruling administration of Congress, especially Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, whose 'rule by decree' resulted in a state of emergency in the nation and caused severe impingement on the civic, political and personal rights of the citizens.

The certificate also talks about her work with Chetana-Vikas as the head of Women's and Children's Empowerment wing for last 34 years, about which the readers of this blog are familiar.

The function concluded with Ms. Suman's thoughts on her life and her work.

Ms. Bang speaking about her work and her life.

We celebrate the work and life of Ms. Suman Bang, and are grateful to the award committee who thought of her.

Monday, 28 May 2012

On Road To Recovery - Inspiring Stories 3: Manda

Meet, 45 year old Manda.

A widow, barely able to sustain with earnings of Rs.30-50/day (up to 0.920 USD) is now able to earn
Rs.200-300/day (up to 5.520 USD).

Manda – a shy, demure daily wage earner  from village Talegaon, has studied up to 7th standard. Her world became totally a question mark when her husband died of renal failure, a few years ago.  Her three teenaged children, who were till then aspiring for better education, suddenly had to think whether they could  continue the education at all. But daunty Manda did not waste much time fretting and worrying.  She realized that her meager earnings were not enough, for her family. She started with some odd jobs, took up a small loan to set up a petty shop.  Due to inconsistent earnings and uncertainties, she could not keep it open and had to shut down intermittently.  Moreover, there was no money to buy enough material to stock up. She even took up a contract of preparing porridge as mid-day meal at  a government child care centre.

Her commitment and efforts to somehow improve her and children’s lives was noticed  by the women of her village. With the program of helping widows like her gaining momentum at Chetana-Vikas , her case was brought to the notice of the Committee and she was provided an amount of about 110 USD.  With this support, she bought stuff for her shop from a town 12 kms away, spruced up the small tin shop a bit and started stocking up on demands of villagers. She sells grocery items and stationary.  Very soon, the continuity showed results.  The shop is running smoothly and her life has become stable. With earnings increasing six fold, she is now on the road to recovery for a decent and better life. She plans to expand further.
Her kids could continue their education due to some support from her maternal home.

The Women Committee members are village women who are pioneers and are selected because of their capacities already shown. With consistent efforts, they have developed the knowledge, attitude and skills to help people like Manda. It is the precise and necessary information gained at trainings regarding available government schemes, legal aid, property rights and other related issues which allow these Committee members to take up or suggest concrete action for the needy women.

Daily business and the stocked shop

Committee members disbursing money

Devising the future action plan & strategies

Friday, 17 February 2012

On Our Way to Rebuild Lives - Inspiring Stories 2: Sangita Thakare

The first installment of Global Giving report is ready. Those of you who are not aware of what Global Giving is, take a peek at our project here ( Your support will be welcome, through monetary means and through circulating this among your contacts. Today's story is about Sangita and several other women like her to whom we could reach out through the financial support of individual donors helping us directly or through Global Giving.

Before we get on with Sangita's story, we are glad to share an interesting piece of information with you. Our official website will soon be revamped with extensive help from our well-wishers. All of them have serious careers of their own, but feel the need to support organisations like ours that fall outside the conventional domain of their current professions. We consider them a part of our extended team, hence do not say it often, but heartfelt gratitude to all of them.

Coming back to what we have been doing in past few weeks. You could read a concise report at

We are also reproducing the report here on the blog.

Dear Partners!
Hullo! It is good to connect with you again. Well, things got moving since your support came in the month of December, 2011 at GlobalGiving.

It is Sangita who wants to thank you. The widow who seldom comes out of her village and who barely utters a word in meetings. She has been able to complete the paperwork and bypass corrupted channels to avail of Rs.10,000 (USD204). In all, USD 3,250 have been channelized directly to beneficiaries from the Government Scheme for widows.

Sangita Thakare, a young widow at 35 with 2 children, is barely able to make two ends meet. She had no knowledge and inkling of what to do & how to improve her life. A daily wage laborer. Educating her children is the prime concern on her mind. Today, with the knowledge and help received, she is already speaking of setting up a small trade and reach out for better opportunities in future.

This was possible for her, because of the help rendered by the Committee, which gave information, legal aid and advice on methodology to win her case. 9 such Cluster Committees each catering to an average of 25 villages, solely has women members which include deserted women/widows.

YOUR SUPPORT helps them travel to meetings, hire lawyers, hold regular camps on legal aid, consistently spread information, awareness, take up cases, fight with officials when necessary, campaign with Self-Help-Groups.

These Committees could also take up issues related to children of widows. Atleast 17 children of widows were helped in variety of ways. They got textbooks and uniforms which improved their attendance at school, got accommodation in government hostels and 2 children could avail of treatment for sickle cell disease as part of already existing government schemes. The Committee now wants to help Sangita and many like her, get loans for micro entrepreneurship. 74 deserted women/widows have already come forward with appeals to the Committees for help in starting small businesses.

Your small help has helped make meaningful change. Please keep on directing your circle of friends to project 9386 at Global Giving. Visit :

You can also put up a widget on your Facebook page, Twitter to spread the information. Your suggestions and feedbacks are welcome.

We will remain in touch with all the developments. Together, we will bring back the smiles on their faces.
Thanks from all of us here at Chetana-Vikas, Wardha in Central India.

Committee members discussing a widow's case

Legal aid & awareness camp on rights of widows