Walking the path by making it: Learning from a women’s collective in North Bihar
Updated: Mar 8
An AKRSP supported SHG in North Bihar overcame various odds to empower themselves socially and financially through beekeeping activities and investments in solar-powered pumps. From being seen as marginal actors, today they are role models for their villages.
Uniting to form a women’s collective
Ajitpur Urf Harpur situated in north Bihar of Muzaffarpur district is like any other typical Indian village with 70 per cent of the villagers dependent on agriculture, a majority of whom are women workers. Despite their expertise, knowledge and crucial role in contributing to family nutrition as well as livelihood, women rarely experience financial and social empowerment.
To engage with this issue, India has a long history of supporting women-led Self Help Groups to create financial institutions and related initiatives. The movement is based on the idea that such institutions can help women create savings for themselves, thus enabling them to become financially independent and gain social respect. Before the formation of such an SHG in Ajitpur, women were unable to save and invest, despite getting high yields. Babli Devi shared, -
“Before we knew about the SHG concept we used to think about our individual development. Even with hard work we cannot avoid the uncertain shocks. During those times there was no support system for the poor families. We often had to start from zero again and again. SHGs taught us we might be poor but we are many. If we help each other for collective development, then the path becomes easy”
Gaining social capital through building financial independence
In the middle of 2013 Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India) came and discussed the formation of a Self Help Group with the villagers. During the initial days villagers did not show any interest but after continuous meetings, a 12 women group came forward and they felt the need of an SHG in their day-to-day life. The process of seeding a SHG is long and difficult, while working with a community. Once the community understands that the SHG can help build up their social capital along with financial security, they slowly become appreciative of the approach.
They understood that when banks deny account openings for small amount savings, SHG is a very easily accessible financial institution where they can deposit their savings and enjoy much more flexibility in the nature of transactions. Finally, a 16 member women SHG Group was formed in Ajitpur Harpur village in 2013. After group formation this “Shiv Sayang Sahayata Samuha SHG started their monthly savings Rs.50/person. After three-months continuous savings they opened their group bank account and gradually they increased their savings. Presently they deposit Rs. 60-100/each, every week. Old transaction detail reveal that Shiv Sayang Sahayata Samuha SHG have become much better at inter-loaning and increasing their savings. No member skips their regular savings in this SHG. According to the need of the members, this SHG group is providing agricultural and business loans with 2% interest rate, which has helped increase the household incomes of members.
In 2021, 8 women took a loan from the SHG and started bee keeping business along with the support of AKRSP(I). The group contribution was approximately Rs. 16500 where member wise contribution was Rs.3300 and each women got 8 bee boxes from AKRSP(I). Each year, based on seasons the bee boxes are migrated to UP and Jharkhand to collect honey. This year they are doing 2 seasons (Litchi and Jamun). Before selling in the local market the processing is done by the women’s group. They extract an average of 260kg/season honey from 64 boxes. After the extraction of honey from comb it is packed in bottles according to different flavors.
Intervention of Solar Group Irrigation boosts up the old process
Towards the end of each year, the group shares the profit while the principal amount remains deposited in their Group Bank Account (Bank of Baroda). After two years of continuing savings and inter loaning, the group began searching for some new investment that could improve their earnings. At this point, they heard about Group Solar irrigation.
After a few rounds of discussion, 12 women agreed to install solar pumps. In 2015, a Solar Group Irrigation was formed, and it was named Shiv Ganga Samahik Sinchai Samiti with the help of AKRSPI intervention. The group contribution was Rs.1,59,244 and AKRSPI Contribution was Rs. 8,46,940.
Group Irrigation first started through delivery pipeline and the group income increased to Rs. 44216. Rest of Rs. 143190 was collected from individual contribution and from Shiv Sayang Sahayata Samuha SHG group loan. Next, they planned for underground pipeline and successfully installed it. The group had hired an operator for running the system, but there were allegations against him for financial misappropriation. They removed the operator and took up the responsibility themselves. Because of money manipulation Shiv Ganga Samahik Sinchai Samiti group couldn’t make any profit in the year of 2017 and 2018. However, in 2019 and 2020 the group made Rs.60000 and Rs.30000 respectively.
The solar irrigation has also changed their cropping pattern. Previously they could only grow cereal crops, but now they can grow high value crops like vegetables. In the starting of 2021 when problem arose in their solar pump, group members actively collected money from their group and fixed the solar pump. The pandemic and floods affected the use of the Solar pump, and earnings based on it in 2021, but the group is hopeful that things will pick up again. This women’s group has become well known for their initiatives and has become a role model for other villagers willing to take up any collective enterprise in the Ajitpur Urf Harpur. One woman from the group explained:
“All of us women have got motivated to work together, we will never be separate, and together we will work hard for the betterment of our village children”.
Aditi Khan and Anand Mohan are Development Organisers working in Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (India)