Taking the lead and how?

Sumitra, Satyavati, Lalita, Ranjitha, Anjitha, Lalita Jamalu, Damini, Shanti, Nilati and Ankita from Naringponga village in Bissamcuttak block explain how they have been trying to continue their collective effort of preparing Nutrition Garden every season. All of them have finished education at least up to 7th std and some till 10th std. Satyavati and Sumitra who lead the initiative of this nutrition garden have been working with other organizations like the Mitra Trust on health and nutrition of children below 5 years of age in their own village. Satyavati explains, that the main sources of income in their families is by selling their cotton, black gram and horse gram produce in that order. Other crop produce that they sell are rice and fox tail millet. Many adolescent girls in the village also go to training centre to learn stitching an some of them have also been sent to Chennai as labour for a period of 2-3 months. She also points out that they spend most of their income in buying fertilizers and pesticides and often are not able to keep track of how much profit they have made at the end of selling their harvest. Another major household expense is buying vegetables from market.  It was this reason that the idea of Nutrition garden appealed to them.

Sumitra remembers how on the block co-ordinator’s motivation they prepared the Nutrition garden during the summer season at night by arranging for a small bulb that would help them see in the dark. All eleventwelve adolescent girls came together to prepare the beds as everyone was home during the summer vacation. Satyavati explains how all of them together managed to get some land from Nilati’s parents on which they have been preparing around 30 nutrition beds for the past 3 seasons and all the produce of the garden is distributed according to the proportion of family members in their homes. Sumitra says that it has been a challenge to do community gardens like this because it blocks a substantial amount of land where their parents would like to grow Maize or Cotton and often if the plants don’t germinate fast or if they happen to not look after the garden for a while it is often ploughed away to sow other crops. To tackle this we ask the GPF to give more of Leafy vegetables that grow faster than other vegetables. Anjita explains, “We feel bad if somebody uses the plough on the nutrition garden that we prepared with so much effort. Keeping the garden from being ploughed away is what we try to do!”

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Apart from these challenges there are other road blocks that this group faces. Jamalu remembers how after the bed was prepared, many of them did not turn up to maintain the garden and the burden of maintaining the gardens fell on 3 people from the group. On asking why this was the case, the girls started listing the number of chores they are expected to do on a regular basis. Lalita explains how except for ploughing and taking the cattle for grazing women contribute to all the work in the village. It starts with sweeping and cleaning the house, cooking, filling water from the pump, taking care and feeding the infants, weeding the field, sowing seeds, transplanting and in case of cotton cultivation, spraying pesticides, and mixing fertilizers is also done by women. Men also contribute to agricultural work and in case of cotton fields to spray pesticides along side women. Satyavati jokes while comparing the work load of men and women that, “Bappa au Bhaimane rest nei nei ki kamo karuchhanti” (our fathers and brothers work by taking a lot of rest in multiple breaks) and the rest of the girls agree as they laugh on this but she quickly adds that it does not mean that the men folk do not work, as they themselves have a fair amount of heavy work load. Moreover, since it is monsoon season the girls can easily make their own nutrition gardens in their own backyard as opposed to the summer season where they had to find a plot of land with easy water resource.

Satyavati explains that this rainy reason they have prepared individual nutrition gardens behind their homes or near their fields instead of community garden unlike last summer. She said that taking care of a 30 beds when some of us are in their school hostels and some others are unable to contribute time for the garden, becomes very tiresome for 2-3 of us who end up doing a lot more labour apart from our household work. The labour women do during the monsoon is a considerably higher due to agricultural season and the excessive labour required in cotton fields that starts from June and ends around December and January.

It is interesting to note that there are 4 NGOs who work in Naringponga village and some of these adolescent girls also work as volunteers with other NGOs also. The girls also explain that it is mostly girls who collaborate with NGOs, ASHA workers and there are no such groups of boys or men in the village which help in improving health and nutrition of the women and children in the village. The Bissamcuttack Block Co-ordinator also agreed that the Gram Panchayat Facilitators collaborate with adolescent girls and women of the village as compared to young boys and men in the village and share a good rapport with women and girls. As Anjita jokes that her brothers would say yes to everything NGOs would ask them to do but would never turn up for meetings or actually do any of the work nor follow any instructions.

With the emergence of Adolescent groups coming forward as strong partners in the FAARM project to prepare nutrition gardens, the team sees this unexpected outcome as an opportunity and as a strategy to enable more nutrition gardens in the villages. But at this point we would also like to reflect and take stock of the dynamics that exist in the villages and how does adoption of community and individual gardens figure in their village gender dynamics, changing agricultural patterns and other seasonal and logistical  factors. Such an understanding of the community gardens made by adolescent girls and deeper engagement with this group would only help us work better and allow us to understand how do they take lead and make decisions that are appropriate for them.

(Refer to our previous article- Taking the lead! to understand better the coming up of adolescent girl groups as strong partners in the FAARM project)

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