It was around the year 2009 that Pune-based organisation Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) began working with women of the drought-hit Marathwada. The aim was to empower the women in a way that they are able to manage the available natural resources and achieve food and income security through agriculture.
An initiative was introduced wherein the local women farmers were encouraged to adopt climate resilient agriculture model that involved use of bio-fertilizers and pesticides, preservation and exchange of local seeds, diversifying from single crop to 5-7 crops to reduce climate risk.
This not only enhanced household food consumption but also allowed women to sell surplus crop. The women were also introduced to efficient ways of water management through use of hydroponics, drip irrigation, sprinklers, farm ponds, recharging of borewells, tree plantation etc, all of which resulted in better groundwater levels and soil fertility.
The initiative by SSP has recently won the Equator Prize 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and partners which recognised 15 local and indigenous communities from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The winning organisations, which showcase innovative solutions for tackling poverty, environment, and climate challenges, will be honoured at a celebratory gala in New York on September 17. The winners were selected from 806 nominations across 120 countries by an independent Technical Advisory Committee of internationally renowned experts. The selection process emphasised community-based approaches that provide a blueprint for replication.
Speaking about the award-winning initiative, Prema Gopalan, executive director, SSP, said, “This model addresses the issues of food security, income security, natural resource management and women empowerment all at the same time.”
The initiative focuses on women and their families who are marginal and landless farmers and own four or less than four acres of land in drought-hit Marathwada region. Gopalan added that with the training, coupled with the right know-how, the marginal farmers who are worst-affected have better soil fertility, income security, and are able to make informed decisions about the types of crops, their cycles and water resources even in bad weather conditions. Since 2009, the initiative has reached out to as many as 72,000 women in Marathwada.
“Marathwada is not just about farmers’ suicide. It is also about people like us who have challenged drought and destiny,” Shaila Narore, one of the women farmers to benefit from the initiative, said. All the Equator Prize winners will receive US$10,000 each and the opportunity for a community representative to join a week-long summit in New York during the 72nd United Nations General Assembly. The Equator Prize Award Ceremony on September September 17 will feature celebrities, government and UN officials and members of civil society.
The Equator Prize has been supported by former heads of state Gro Harlem Brundtland and Oscar Arias, Nobel Prize winners Al Gore and Elinor Ostrom, thought leaders Jane Goodall and Jeffrey Sachs, indigenous rights leader Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, philanthropists Richard Branson and Ted Turner, and celebrities Edward Norton, Alec Baldwin, Gisele Bündchen, and many more.