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M&M project puts women in driver's seat

Discussion in 'General' started by kds1980, Jun 10, 2010.

  1. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    MUMBAI: A few months ago, R Shekhar, headman of Nachinampatti village in Harur taluka, about 220 km from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, was handed an uncommon recruiting assignment.

    Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) wanted to teach women how to drive tractors and it wanted his help in enlisting women from his village. After his initial bewilderment, the idea of seeing his saree-clad wife, Valli, sitting behind the wheel of a big, bulky machine itself seemed ridiculous, Shekhar saw opportunity.

    If Valli could drive a tractor, she could take charge of the few acres of agricultural land the couple owns, using the machine to plough and ready the soil before the monsoons, and later use it to harvest the produce and even transport it to the market, he would be free to manage his milk supply business, or look for work in Coimbatore.

    Shekhar realised that like him, the other villagers were also juggling their cultivation responsibilities with trying to find other jobs to make ends meet. So he started a campaign to try and convince them to allow their wives, sisters, daughters and even daughters-in-law to attend M&M’s tractor training programme (TTP).

    “At first, most people refused,” says Shekhar. “They were appalled that their womenfolk would be doing men’s jobs.” But as Shekhar worked the nearby villagers, with the carrot of supplementary income, they came around. In November, some 50-odd women signed up for the TTP in Harur, the first batch of which is currently awaiting their licences to freely run their tractors.

    The early results have convinced M&M that it can churn out 15,000 women tractor drivers by the end of the year. “The idea of enabling women to take over agri activities came to us when we saw a large number of villages where the men had migrated to urban centres for jobs,” says Sanjeev Goyale, senior vice-president (marketing) at M&M.

    M&M found a large number of villages where the men had migrated to urban centres for jobs. This is certainly true of rural north India, where many of the migrants also own land and have to return to the village for months at a stretch to cultivate them.

    A move that is inconvenient and also leads to loss of revenue for the household. In south India, this issue is compounded by the fact that labour is expensive and hard to come by.

    “If a farmer cannot find people to work his fields at exactly the right time, he could lose his entire crop,” says KH Ramaswamy, vice-president (special projects) at M&M, who has been touring the country, trying to initiate and popularise the TTP.

    “Large holdings are falling into disuse because of this. So why not just get the women to take over this chore?” Training workshops have already begun in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala and Tamil Nadu; M&M is now looking at Gujarat and Maharashtra as well.

    The programme itself is simple. Gather a bunch of women and organise three-four day classes at regular intervals to teach them how to operate a tractor, maintain and use it in the field, or even drive it on the road. Then help them get a licence.

    With more women keen on this, Mahindra is making ergonomic changes to its tractors to make them more women-friendly: power steering for better maneuverability, a light-touch clutch and gear shifts on the side rather than the middle (for better access by women in sarees) and easy hydraulics.

    The company is also working to introduce light but sturdy snap-into-place implements like ploughs, diggers and rotators that can easily be hitched to the tractor. Also on the anvil are tweaks like reducing the height between the seat and the hydraulic lever, and introducing smaller machines (between 15 and 18 horsepower to the regular 45 HP).

    In Kerala, M&M has also introduced a rice transplanter, a jet ski-like machine, to save women hours of backbreaking work, planting saplings by hand. Next on the list are harvesters, which will help them cut and collect the produce too. The training comes full circle with a crash course on soil testing, nursery development and such at a local ‘Samruddhi’, or self-help, centre.

    “Teaching women to drive tractors is enabling their independence,” says Goyale. “With the men migrating, women need to move from their traditional, non-mechanised roles of planting saplings and tending to cattle, to actually cultivating their fields. We hope this will, in time, make them decision-makers and influencers in their village.”

    In a quiet way, the empowerment is already happening, as a recent visit to Harur showed. Sitting atop a 45 HP Bhoomiputra tractor, Rathi says she feels as comfortable and confident “as a women pilot in a cockpit”.

    The 23-year-old resident of Mookanthipatti village got married just three months ago, but her in-laws have no qualms about sending her for tractor training. Now, after a few classes, Rathi’s become an expert on tractor maintenance and even advises her father-in-law Selvaraj, 55, on the upkeep of the family’s machine.

    “We’re learning things even our husbands don’t know,” says Kanimozhi, 30, of Thurunchipatti village, who travels 20 km for classes at her nearest M&M dealership. “Like when to take the tractor for servicing, what to check for when things go wrong, and even how to save on diesel by running the machine correctly.”

    Jayakanti, 30, a teacher from Gurubarahalli village, who doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle, used to depend on her husband to drop her everywhere. “Now I’ll just take the tractor out and drive to my school five km away,” she says.

    Vasanthi, 29, of Mookanthipatti, on the other hand, has already become a pro. Besides cultivation, she uses the tractor to ferry bags of rice, manure and implements to and from the local market. For Prema, 33, of Gurubarahalli village, learning to operate a tractor was a necessity. She lost her husband six months ago and, struggling to provide for her two young daughters with a teaching job, turned to the family’s two-acre plot instead.

    With tractor training and even a licence to operate it, Prema now makes considerably more than she used to, and also saves on labour costs by running the tractor herself. “My land gives me the best returns,” she says. “Now, thanks to my newly-learnt ability to operate a tractor, I can make full use of it.” In Kerala’s Trichur district, the TTP has enabled women not just to care for their own land, but also earn some income on the side from working on other’s fields.

    Latha, Minu, Raji and Rukmani of Tholur panchayat, near Trichur, have banded together with 12 others to offer their agricultural expertise and labour. They’ve pooled their resources to buy a couple of tractors which they rent out. “Earlier, we had to travel long distances to try and find work,” says Minu, 45. “Now having learnt to operate a tractor, and buying one ourselves, we find there is ample work in and around our area.”

    A direct result of this empowerment, the women all agree, is that they are taken much more seriously by their families. They now take decisions regarding their fields, the crops to grow and implements to buy, and how to pace and monitor the farming.

    The training has allowed them to be important contributors to the family income, sometimes the sole breadwinner, which brings its own advantages. Many of them are now contemplating buying tractors of their own (the prices start at Rs 1.8 lakh).

    “My in-laws have a new respect for me,” says Rathi. “They now constantly consult me about our land.” Adds Latha: “Now that we can operate tractors, we find work all year round, rather than just the few months around cultivation.” When the season is over, Latha and her group, many of whom are landless labourers, use the tractors on construction sites as well.

    T Samikannu, headman of Gopinathanpatti village in Harur, says he was a little skeptical when M&M officials asked him to spread the word about TTP. Though Samikannu, 50, who works with a local agritech promoting agency, saw this move as a fillip for local cultivators, he was not sure how they would react. “They’ve realized now that this will boost development in our area,” he says.

    “But the thing that got them was how, with the womenfolk turning to cultivation, they found their incomes doubling. And that translates into prosperity for the whole village.” It frees up the men to do other things, and gives a shot in the arm to the uplift of women, what more could we ask for, he says. “I wouldn’t call it a revolution, yet,” Samikannu adds. “But it’s certainly the beginning of one.”
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  3. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    Apr 4, 2005
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    This is what I call real women empowerment unlike others like counting the percentage of women CEOs or women reservation in parliement
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