People in the Indian Musahar community traditionally faced discrimination and extreme poverty, but with support from Trickle Up, Sulekha Devi has found a new lease on life.
People in the Musahar community, among the lowest castes in India, have few opportunities for employment, and though they most often work as agricultural laborers, very few own land. But Sulekha Devi and her husband faced—and ultimately surmounted—even greater challenges. They both have visual disabilities and limited mobility that prevent them from doing heavy labor like others in their village. She and her husband earned money through lighter agricultural labor and by collecting scraps, but before Sulekha was selected as a Trickle Up participant, she and her husband ate only one meal a day.
Food security is a serious concern for the Musahar community, and most children of the Musahar community suffer from malnutrition. According to some the very name Musahar, derived from two words that mean “rat-catcher,” was formed because they eat rats to survive. With the help of a Trickle Up grant, training and membership in a savings group, Sulekha and others in her community are building sustainable livelihoods that enable them to transcend the discrimination and extreme poverty the Musahar community has traditionally faced.
In June 2007, Sulekha was selected as a Trickle Up participant. She and her husband decided to run a business selling dried fruits. Their business choice was a practical one since dried fruits are lightweight, allowing Sulekha and her husband to move easily from one village to the next to make their sales. The couple now earns a profit of about 70 rupees, or $1.80, a day, on which they eat two meals each day, giving them the strength to work hard in their enterprise. Sulekha is even able to save—an impossible luxury less than a year ago. She has saved 300 Rupees ($7.70) in a self-help group, and she is also investing in the purchase of two goats, adding further stability to their income.
Trickle Up is serving an additional 320 Musahar people with Trickle Up support. Approximately half of the participants use the grant to set up an enterprise as a vendor, like Sulekha and her husband. The other half use the grants to lease land and cultivate crops with ownership over the full yield, rather than having to turn it over to a landlord. Though the land generally will not yield enough produce to sell in bulk, participants can consume what they grow and sell small quantities to buy other necessities.
We are also working with the Musahar community to implement an innovative method to improve the yield of rice crops, called the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI. Our partner agencies working locally are receiving training in SRI, which can increase crop yields per hectare by more than seven times their normal capacity. The new method involves scientifically proven practices of planting rice in damp—but not submerged—paddies with wider spacing so that each plant produces more grains, reducing environmental impact (less erosion and improved soil health) and helping to improve a family’s food security.
Our seed capital grants, training and savings group support are equipping members of the Musahar community with tools to overcome the challenges of living in a society with severe social and economic constraints to find, sometimes literally, a new lease on life.