The COVID-19 pandemic affected the entire globe and unfolded the most challenging health risks and economic burdens on communities, women, men and children, who were already on the margins. The immediate effect was the loss of daily wages and the inability to access basic needs of food and nutrition. Government relief alone was unable to meet the household requirements.
A key issue was the inability of vulnerable families to access the basic needs of food and nutrition. Women headed households, pregnant women, Dalits, minorities, backward castes and nomadic/denotified tribes as well as people with disabilities were clearly the most vulnerable.
Utthan’s continuous contact with the communities it serves brought out that many villages did not have easy access to vegetables or quality sustainable seed varieties. Being cash strapped, most families would not prioritise vegetable purchase. The worst sufferers would be women and children, as patriarchal practices in families lead to prioritisation of males. Many landless families do not even have the option to grow vegetables.
Kitchen garden kits were provided to 7805 families across over 220 villages of 11 blocks of Dahod, Mahisagar, Panchmahals, Bhavnagar, Bharuch districts of Gujarat. Six varieties of seeds were provided and the bio-fertilizer requirement was collectively produced by women’s groups/women master farmers to the extent possible.
The kit was apt for around 1000-1500 sq. ft. of designated land area or for land around people’s homes. Locally researched and ingenuous seed varieties of lady's finger, cluster beans, black-eyed pea, bottle gourd, bitter gourd, sponge gourd/ridged gourd were distributed. The distribution was done under safety guidelines developed by Utthan as per which use of masks, gloves and distancing by the team and village volunteers were ensured.
Panchayats and village leaders were roped in with good results. The complementary efforts to ensure good practices included the use of digital awareness through pamphlets, videos on the package of practices and bio-pesticide production by women trainers in ‘sustainable agriculture practices’.
From the field
Bhavnaben, Morchand village, Ghogha block, Bhavnagar district, Gujarat
“We are 25 families in Ranadhar hamlet (vadi vistar), which is 6 km. away from Morchand, the main village. We would commonly purchase vegetables from the Ranadhar crossroad shop, 4 km. away, which was closed due to the lockdown. Not all families grow vegetables in our hamlet and during the lockdown, we were unable to buy any,” says Bhavnaben Makwana.
“With Utthan’s support, I decided to take up kitchen gardening since I have some water available from the joint family well. We generally share vegetables with our neighbours and in this crisis only we can help each other. I share the vegetable produce with another 3-4 families in need. Although the panchayat organized to ensure we received our share of the announced ration relief, it did not last long,” says Bhavnaben.
“During the COVID crisis, my husband lost his daily wages due to the closure of the diamond polishing unit he used to work at. The unit has started functioning but it is a very crowded working space so we fear infection. Now the kharif crop needs to be attended to, so we both are engaged in that. We have about 0.8 acres of land, where we grow cotton, some bajri for consumption and some vegetables. Our cotton crop from the last rabi failed due to pink bollworm and we incurred losses. We have grown some groundnut this season. Especially after this crisis, I want to grow more bajri on my land and ensure my family’s food security,” says Bhavnaben.
Bhavnaben has been trained in sustainable agricultural practices in the past 1.5 years. She has enthusiastically trained several other women. Her willingness to share her learnings and motivate others is commendable. She demonstrated seed sowing and the application of scientific methods in vegetable cultivation to other relief recipients.
Manjuben, Vakota village, Dahod district, Gujarat
Manjuben Mohaniya, aged 39, a marginal landholder from Vakota village, Dahod district has an eight-member family including four young children and her in-laws. Predominantly dependent on agricultural labour work, their livelihood was severely affected. Post lockdown, there was no means of employment available to them. Being an active member of the Vanita Shakti Mahila Sangthan, she had been part of demonstrations and learnt sustainable and organic agriculture practices.
Her family owns 0.5 acres of land in Vakota village. The land is used for residential purpose as well as vegetable cultivation. Sangathan chose to provide her with kitchen garden support in her backyard. Utthan provided vegetable seeds of lady's finger, bitter gourd, cluster beans, sponge gourd/ridged gourd, bottle gourd and black-eyed pea. Manjuben cultivated vegetables in 1200 sq ft. in her backyard.
With a fully grown kitchen garden, “with monthly production of 125 kgs of different vegetables, I am happily sharing the vegetables with neighbours and families in need post lockdown” Manjuben chuckles. She also added that she is promoting kitchen garden plantation among her friends and relatives as she has witnessed the benefits of the kitchen garden with minimum efforts.
15% landless & 85% small, marginal women farmer families supported
16% support went to single women and 10% to families having members with disabilities
The consciousness building efforts for compassion needed during this crisis led to a commitment by 7805 families to support another 23000 families, especially those landless and/or unable to grow vegetables due to lack of land or water resources. This support nutrition security of 700 grams per day of vegetable supplies for 2.5 months between mid-July to September 2020 sufficed the needs of the average family size of six.
This led to cash savings of nearly Rs. 3500/family for one cycle of support of approximately Rs. 2.73 crores. In terms of material costs for the initiative, it was approximate 18 times the returns on investment made. As per our field data and monitoring, nearly 80% of families have repeated gardening in the following seasons, implying continued benefits.
Supported by Apcotex Industries Ltd., Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, Bharat Agro (Dahod), Global Green Grants Fund, Rapid Rural Community Response to COVID-19 (RCRC) and several individuals.