Milling of Success

Nageshwaran Pushpawathi now earns Rs. 28,000 every month. Photograph: Oxfam

Nageshwaran Pushpawathi is a mother of three children, aged 11, 8, and 2. Her husband cultivates a 5-acre farm two seasons each year, but that income was not enough to meet all of the family’s expenses. Since they returned to their village, after having been displaced for one year, in 2008, Pushpawathi decided to help her mother to make rice flour, which she processed manually using mortar and pestle. She also collected milk for a private company. She drew an income of 3000LKR for a day when she managed to spare time after doing all her motherly duties and household chores. Their household income, which depended mainly on her husband’s paddy cultivation, was also susceptible to recurrent flooding and drought, depriving them of a stable income to meet the young family’s expenses. Pushpawathi had neither the knowledge nor means to overcome the many economic woes that their lives were mired in.

Becoming a Better Entrepreneur

Things, however, are now looking up for Pushpawathi and her family after she set up a rice and flour production mill at home with the two machines she was given by Projects Direct. Drawing on what she learned during training to develop her enterprise, Pushpawathi is able to make a crucial contribution to support and sustain the household income. From the rice and flour production enterprise she has successfully established, Pushpawathi now earns a stable monthly income of 28,000LKR.

“Before Project Direct gave me the two machines, I managed to process 4KG rice and 6 KG rice flour for a day,” she says. “Now I can process 45KG rice and 20KG flour. Since some people still prefer manually ground rice flour, so I also manage to grind manually 12KG rice flour. Without machinery support, it would not have been possible for me to earn the amount I earn today.”

Pushpawathi, like most other women in her community, did not have the knowledge, resources or confidence to live up to her full economic potential in a rural, agriculture-based economy. This is why Pushpawathi appreciates the opportunity she was provided by PD to improve her capacity as an entrepreneur in agriculture-based value-addition production. Support assistance PD gave her included learning opportunity in the ToT program and mentoring course, exposure visits to successful agriculture projects for further improvement of learnings and crucial machinery support assistance to establish herself as a small entrepreneur.

“ I learned lots of new things like organizational management and communications skills, how women can become entrepreneurs, marketing and how women’s income activities are given less priority in markets, agriculture value chain and so on,” Pushpawathi says. “I have gained the confidence to make decisions without waiting for an organization or government official to lead us. Although I have held many leadership roles in the WRDS and other CBOs, this was the first program, which made me a real leader with confidence to share knowledge and learnings with others.”

Apart from being a mentor to other women on one-on-one basis, encouraging them to revitalize or start small enterprises, Pushpawathi also leverages her leadership role in WRDS and other CBOs to multiply the impact of knowledge transferring process. Those platforms have enabled Pushpawathi and others who underwent training and mentoring to reach out to as many women as possible. Already, Pushpawathi has given leadership to organize several trainings for other women in WRDS and other CBOs.

“After our training, WRDS organized women into small groups to facilitate them to obtain small loans and other facilities from the government, non-government and private partners,” she says. “we initiated a small loan scheme with the 78,000LKR savings we have in our account. I also helped connect women with the BRIDGE market. It is an opportunity for all producers to earn better incomes by selling their products to BRIDGE market customers.  

Overcoming Obstacles 

Pushpawathi says violence and physical abuse used to be, until recently, one of the main issues faced by the women in their community. Gender sensitization, gender equality and other basic awareness they received during ToT training has enabled the eight ToT participants from their community to work with other women, and also men, who underwent Male Champions training to reduce the frequency of violence against women.

“We conducted awareness programs on assault, torture, and abuse,” Pushpawathi says. “We informed women how to seek help from Grama Sevaka (Village Administrative Officer) and local police, in addition to reaching out to ToT participants and other women leaders. Since male leaders that took part in male champions training also got to know how and why women face violence and abuse and how to reduce the occurrence of such incidents, all our efforts have led to a reduction in violence against women. It was a step-by-step learning and knowledge sharing process; change did not happen overnight.”

Reaping Benefits 

Enhanced economic circumstances have enabled Pushpawathi to spend money on her children’s basic needs, and also, save money for their future needs in three separate bank accounts. Up to now, she has made savings of 4500LKR in each child’s account by depositing 500LKR every month. She has insured herself and is in the process of acquiring life insurance for her three children. She has obtained a bank loan of 100,000LKR to pay the down-payment for a lease to buy a motorbike for her husband, which he uses for business activities. Already, Pushpawathi has paid half of that loan.

“Earlier, I had no idea about insurance, and I did not earn enough to save money in children’s accounts. I opened those accounts after I started my rice and flour mill. We were trained to think and make financially viable decisions to improve our economic situation. I would not have had the means or confidence to go for a big loan if not for all the assistance and training I got from Project Direct.”

Pushpawathi has a steady stream of customers patronizing her rice mill. But, plans are already underway to expand her business by starting a shop in a convenient location where she has already laid the foundation for her shop. She is hoping to complete construction of the shop and open it for business sometime next year. The confidence that she got from knowledge infusion has proven to be as crucial as machinery support in building her capacity to achieve economic prosperity.