A story of economic development and social emancipation

Once upon a time, both Sindhu Jadhav and Meera Mengal wanted to hide their goats. Sindhu from her husband and Meera from the leopard that was prowling around. Today, they and their goats are the living symbols of the success of a project led by women and sustained by goats.
Towards the Nashik end of the 138-km long Khed-Sinnar highway built by IL&FS Transportation Networks Limited (ITNL) lie some of the driest regions in Maharashtra. The Sinnar and Sangamner talukas barely receive any rain, and thus it was difficult to sustain a living from just agriculture. So, many people living in the area, mainly women, indulged in goat farming.
As an occupation, goat-rearing is fraught with risks. Even if you managed to protect your flock from the wild animals, there was nothing you could do against disease and death. A dead goat was a dead loss. You had no control over the price the live ones might fetch.
Socially, goat farming was looked down upon, especially because women were involved. The men frowned when women dared to take the lead in earning for the family. You are doomed to fail, and we shall not support you, the women were warned. Some persisted, braving the taunts and the threats. Some requested their sisters and friends to keep their goats for them so that the husbands wouldn’t know.
All that changed in 2015.
Going great with goats In 2015, the Nalanda Foundation launched the Women’s Livelihood Development Project (now called Sahaj) in association with the local NGO, Yuva Mitra.
Says Sunil Pote, who heads Yuva Mitra, “We had three main objectives when we started the project. Set up a sustainable organisation so that the women could work together for their collective growth; train them in scientific goat rearing; and, give them finance and other support to boost their confidence and their capability to make the programme a success.”
The project started out in 5 villages and has proved to be a success.
New sheds provide a hygienic place to grow the goats, where they are also protected from wild animals. The farmers are careful about choosing the right breed of goats most likely to thrive in the region.
Veterinary services are now easily accessible. Pashu sakhis, women para-vets trained to provide most routine medical care, including vaccination, serve as the veterinarian’s eyes and ears in every village. The pashu sakhi initiative is supported by NABARD and the objective is to ensure that a para-vet examines every goat at least once in 15 days.
Not surprisingly, the goat mortality rate has plummeted from about 14% (when the herd size was about 550) to less than 5% (herd size: more than 3500).
With more and more goats insured, when an animal dies, it is no longer a death blow to the poor farmer.
The overall health of the goats has also improved as the farmers have now adopted new technologies for fodder production, processing and preservation.
Women to the fore
Right from the beginning, the plan was to make this a project run by women for women. The programme began by educating and motivating the women to form joint liability groups (JLGs) to avail of interest-free loans for purchasing goats, construction of goat sheds, etc.

For Chhaya Karanjkar from Datali village, such a small loan brought about a big change. “After my husband died, I continued doing labour work to ensure that my four children completed their studies. I had bought one goat about five years ago from my savings. My children needed the milk. After I joined the programme, I took a loan of ₹ 5,000 to buy one more goat. Now I have four goats. I paid off all loans and bought myself a gold chain. My daughters are married. Both my sons are employed. Now I don’t work for others. I just look after the goats.”
According to Manisha Pote, Project Director, “In the beginning it was not easy for us to convince the women that they have to come forward and take charge of the project. We were there to help. They faced serious opposition from their family and the society. But some of them took the bold step. Their example encouraged others to follow.”
With help from the project team and support from NABARD, the women have now formed the Savitribai Phule Goat Farmers Producer Company Ltd. that is regulating all affairs related to goat farming.  Women who once barely stepped out of the house are now chairing meetings, going to the market, training others and negotiating the best deals.
Sunanda Bhabad of Chas village is happy she has been able to enrol about 50 women in the company. Some of them used to work in her fields before. “Now, they understand the importance of having a proper shed, preparing and storing the right kind of fodder and even making good use of the compost, hygienically.”  

Laxmi Sonawane from Dodi village is
relieved that she will no longer be taken for a ride by unscrupulous traders. “The traders used to decide the price. We had no idea about the right price. We were often desperate and would sell at any price, however low. Now, we have learnt to weigh the live goat. Based on the weight we have a formula to calculate the minimum price we must get. All goats are sold through our company. The traders cannot cheat us now.”
The women have done so well that the men have now stopped bleating. They are enthusiastically playing a supporting role or engaging in agriculture with renewed vigour, charged by the improved availability of water for irrigation, thanks to the companion water harvesting projects in the area.
With the project yielding satisfactory results thanks to the hard work of the women, the Nalanda Foundation is now looking at marrying scientific goat farming with modern marketing of goat products. Market research shows there is a niche market for goat’s milk and derived products, hygienically-packed meat, export-quality goatskin and valuable compost. Soon, these products will be available on supermarket shelves and online, under the brand name Sahaj.
Nalanda Foundation is also looking to build the ecosystem for the project, such that a larger goat cluster can be created. The project will thus be expanded to a larger number of villages and women.
Already, the project’s success has inspired other foundations to replicate the model in the neighbouring villages. The beneficiaries have those projects have also joined the Savitribai Phule Goat Farmers Producer Company Ltd. The members now number 2000 and are growing.

They say a goat can eat virtually anything. Pair a determined woman with a goat and, as Sahaj has demonstrated, they shall climb every mountain chewing up eve

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