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The Hills are Alive: Credit, Livelihood and Micro-enterprises Empower Women’s Groups in North-East India

Mohini Datt's picture
India’s North-East Region (NER) – comprising ‘the seven sister’ states plus the small state of Sikkim - is a uniquely rich and complex tapestry of social, cultural, natural resource and biological diversity. This remote region, of poor connectivity but with an eager and literate workforce[1], is increasingly being transformed into a key frontier under India’s ‘Act East’ policy and its NER Vision 2020 . The World Bank supported North-East Rural Livelihoods Project (NERLP) is working with nearly 23,000 women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. It is steadily adding value to the region’s labor pool – scoping out economic opportunities for the poorest of the poor, training the young workforce in the skills they are hungry for, seeding SHGs, providing them credit, and enabling them to set up new enterprises and improve their socioeconomic status.   

An Eggless Bakery in Sikkim

Tucked away behind the monastery at the popular Buddha Park, on one of South Sikkim’s many serene hilltops, stands the eggless Tatagatha Bakery. The bakery is run by a Self-Help Group of local village women with funding through a microcredit program supported by the NERLP. A bakery is an unusual, innovative idea for microcredit, but the Buddha Park attracts many pilgrims, and the bakery is always in demand.  Going eggless and dairy free has meant it can better cater to its core clientele of monks, pilgrims and visitors; it has also reduced the need to transport perishable supplies up the steep hilltop.

The project team mobilized a veteran baker from the rail head town of Siliguri to train the local women initially.  The project ran into teething problems early on: a single SHG was rallied, but not all members were equally committed, which saw high dropouts after training. The team changed tack, and elicited individual interest regardless of membership.  Twenty women have now been trained. Uptake by SHGs has undoubtedly been gradual, but it is early days yet – the bakery only opened in May 2016.  These women see the bakery’s potential and are willing to bet on its success, accepting lower wages for now.  
Tatagatha bakery was recognized by the South District Zilla Panchayat as an excellent sustainable but profitable venture, run with good business acumen.

Three misconceptions about women in agribusiness that hold companies back

Nathalie Hoffmann's picture

Debunking common misconceptions about women in agribusiness can unlock business opportunities for the private sector

At the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, global leaders from across the world came together to deliberate on some of the most pressing issues of our time, such as agriculture and food security and greater social inclusion. With the global population projected to rise more than 9 billion by 2050 and the demand for food expected to jump sharply, the need for addressing the challenges of food security assumes greater urgency than before. There is also a growing need to adopt stronger measures to reduce the gender gap—women shouldn’t have to wait 170 years to bridge the divide.

Ahead of the Davos meeting, IFC released a report on agribusiness, Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains, highlighting how companies can increase productivity and efficiency in the agriculture sector by closing economic and social gaps between women and men throughout the value chain, from farm to retail and beyond. The solution to address two of the most pressing challenges—food security and gender parity—isn’t difficult to find, as my research for the report suggests.

Women comprise over 40 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide and play a major role in agriculture; yet they face a variety of constraints, such as limited access to agricultural inputs, technologies, finance, and networks. As the report shows, an increasing number of companies now recognize that investing in women can help increase companies’ bottom lines—while helping improve the lives of people in rural areas.

Yet, despite the clear business rationale, one wonders why more companies aren’t replicating the efforts of successful companies. The answer probably lies in the prevailing misconceptions about women in agribusiness—despite promising business case testimonials for gender-smart investments from multinational companies such as Mondelēz International and Primark.

Agribusiness companies need support in identifying where and how they can close gender gaps in their value chain. A good start would be to debunk those common misconceptions about women in the sector:

#4 from 2016: What is your challenge? Creating Jobs and Livelihoods for the bottom 40%

Parmesh Shah's picture
A farmer harvests mung beans in Cambodia's northern province. Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on February 12, 2016.  

Extreme poverty in the world has decreased considerably over the past three decades. In 1981, more than half of citizens in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate has dropped dramatically to 21% in 2010. Moreover, despite a 59% increase in the developing world’s population, there were significantly fewer people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010 (1.2 billion) than there were three decades ago (1.9 billion). However, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty—an extremely high figure, so the task ahead of us remains herculean.

Among the poor, 78% live in rural areas, and 500 million of these are small farmers. Of these, 170 million are women farmers. Globally, 2.5 billion are dependent on small farms as a source of livelihood and employment.  Agriculture contributes one third of GDP in Africa and more than 65% of the workforce depends on this sector. There has been significant progress in increasing agricultural production and expansion of livelihood and economic opportunities in rural areas. There are about 40 million enterprises, from very small to medium-sized, involved in agribusiness. 

Inspection Panel Launches “Emerging Lessons Series”

Gonzalo Castro de la Mata's picture

This blog post is co-authored by Gonzalo Castro de la Mata, Chairman of the Inspection Panel, and Dilek Barlas, Executive Secretary of the Inspection Panel.

The World Bank Inspection Panel this week released the first in a series of reports that draw on the main lessons from its caseload over 22 years. The lessons identified in the “Emerging Lessons Series” are intended to help build the Bank’s institutional knowledge base, enhance accountability, foster better results in project outcomes and, ultimately, contribute to more effective development.

The Panel was created in 1993 by the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank as an independent mechanism to receive complaints submitted by people suffering harm allegedly caused by World Bank projects. Since then, the Panel has received 105 requests for inspection, of which it has registered 85 and investigated 32. Two additional investigations are underway.

The “Emerging Lessons Series” will include reports on the most recurrent issues in the Panel’s caseload: involuntary resettlement, environmental assessment, projects involving indigenous peoples, and requirements for consultation, participation and disclosure of information.
 
It seemed logical to start with involuntary resettlement as the topic of the first report because it has been an issue in 21 of the Panel’s 32 cases. The report identifies seven lessons from those cases:

How to help communities protect their lands

Rachael Knight's picture
Kenya Land Alliance facilitates a meeting
with the community of Chara, in Tana
River county

The scale of the global land grab is staggering. While international actors have made excellent progress establishing complaint boards, issuing principles for responsible investment, and securing commitments from multi­national corporations, these protections do not chart a clear course of action that communities can follow to protect their lands and natural resources before an investor arrives seeking land. 

The problem is that once an investor arrives to “consult with” a community, it may be too late.  After a deal has been made in capital city conference rooms or in clandestine meetings between chiefs and company representatives, communities are forced on the defensive. At this point, all they can do is try to mitigate the negative impacts of investors' plans rather than assertively proclaiming their legal rights, demanding that the investor abide by FPIC principles, and then choosing whether to reject the investment or accept it on terms that ensure that the community benefits and prospers.

Meanwhile, many of the “investors” grabbing land are national or local elites unaccountable to international  institutions  –  the cousin of the President or the nephew  of the Minister – who operate with complete impunity, protected by powerful connections to government, the judiciary and the police. Such individuals do not answer to shareholders or complaint boards, and are not the least bit concerned with principles of corporate social responsibility. If a community’s land claims  are unrecognized or undocumented – and if the community’s leadership is weak or corrupt – the easier it is for these elites to manipulate their power to claim what land they want.

To have a fighting chance against elites’ bad­faith actions, communities must proactively take steps to know and enforce their rights, prevent their leaders from transacting land without community approval, and seek legal recognition of their land claims.  And they must do so before elites and investors arrive. 

Blog post of the month: What is your challenge? Creating Jobs and Livelihoods for the bottom 40%

Parmesh Shah's picture

Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. In February 2016, the featured blog post is "What is your challenge? Creating Jobs and Livelihoods for the bottom 40%" by Parmesh Shah.

A farmer harvests mung beans in Cambodia's northern province. Extreme poverty in the world has decreased considerably over the past three decades. In 1981, more than half of citizens in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate has dropped dramatically to 21% in 2010. Moreover, despite a 59% increase in the developing world’s population, there were significantly fewer people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010 (1.2 billion) than there were three decades ago (1.9 billion). However, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty—an extremely high figure, so the task ahead of us remains herculean.
 
Among the poor, 78% live in rural areas, and 500 million of these are small farmers. Of these, 170 million are women farmers. Globally, 2.5 billion are dependent on small farms as a source of livelihood and employment.  Agriculture contributes one third of GDP in Africa and more than 65% of the workforce depends on this sector. There has been significant progress in increasing agricultural production and expansion of livelihood and economic opportunities in rural areas. There are about 40 million enterprises, from very small to medium-sized, involved in agribusiness. 
 
Nevertheless, they are too small in size and quality to make the kind of dent in jobs and employment that is needed.  Agriculture accounts for 32% of total employment globally, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends Report 2014.  In 2013, 74.5 million youth – aged 15-24 - were unemployed, an increase of more than 700,000 over the previous year. That same year, the global youth unemployment rate reached 13.1%, which was almost three times as high as the adult unemployment rate. One contributing factor in these rates is the lack of interest in agriculture among youth cohorts.  Simply put, agriculture is not a preferred job and livelihood option for young people.
 

What is your challenge? Creating Jobs and Livelihoods for the bottom 40%

Parmesh Shah's picture
A farmer harvests mung beans in Cambodia's northern province. Extreme poverty in the world has decreased considerably over the past three decades. In 1981, more than half of citizens in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day. This rate has dropped dramatically to 21% in 2010. Moreover, despite a 59% increase in the developing world’s population, there were significantly fewer people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2010 (1.2 billion) than there were three decades ago (1.9 billion). However, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty—an extremely high figure, so the task ahead of us remains herculean.
 
Among the poor, 78% live in rural areas, and 500 million of these are small farmers. Of these, 170 million are women farmers. Globally, 2.5 billion are dependent on small farms as a source of livelihood and employment.  Agriculture contributes one third of GDP in Africa and more than 65% of the workforce depends on this sector. There has been significant progress in increasing agricultural production and expansion of livelihood and economic opportunities in rural areas. There are about 40 million enterprises, from very small to medium-sized, involved in agribusiness. 
 
Nevertheless, they are too small in size and quality to make the kind of dent in jobs and employment that is needed.  Agriculture accounts for 32% of total employment globally, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends Report 2014.  In 2013, 74.5 million youth – aged 15-24 - were unemployed, an increase of more than 700,000 over the previous year. That same year, the global youth unemployment rate reached 13.1%, which was almost three times as high as the adult unemployment rate. One contributing factor in these rates is the lack of interest in agriculture among youth cohorts.  Simply put, agriculture is not a preferred job and livelihood option for young people.
 

The Niger River Delta - a strategic asset in Africa’s Sahel region

Paula Caballero's picture

A aerial view of the inland Niger delta and surrounding farmlands © bleuguy / FlickR

The southern fringes of the Sahara desert host rugged lands where mankind has thrived for more than a millennium. In this vast panorama, the Inner Niger Delta stands out: In a region where limited rainfall is a fact of life, the Delta is a natural dam and irrigation scheme whose flood plain creates a grazing and cropping perimeter that at its peak can reach 30,000 km2 and sustains about 900,000 people.  

Nothing left to waste in the Philippines

Maya Villaluz's picture


The waste sector spans from collection, sorting, separation, recycling, handling of residuals and safe, final disposal. The elements of an efficient and effective waste management system are multifaceted and its operations are complex. While many perceive the entire process as a ‘dirty’ business, it requires a high level of professionalism and sophistication to run a well-organized waste management scheme. It is not a surprise that a strong informal sector has evolved to cater to the unmet waste disposal needs of communities, industries and other waste generators.

It is estimated that over a hundred thousand people in the Philippines work in the informal waste sector. Many of these belong to vulnerable, marginalized groups - waste pickers in open dumpsites and other dumping grounds and wandering trash collectors, haulers and buyers on-foot or using wooden carts and bicycles.

Recovering jobs and building security in Pakistan

Kiran Afzal's picture


 Local businesses can create jobs in Pakistan's conflict areas (Credit: Zerega, Flickr)
 

How can you effectively support areas shaken by years of regional instability? The Western border areas of Pakistan are one such region, where a 2009 insurgency and subsequent military operations in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) led to one of the worst crises in the country's history. More than 2 million people were forced to leave their homes and considerable damage was caused to physical and social infrastructure. The unprecedented floods of 2010 only made the situation worse.


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