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Inspiring Women Creates a Brand to Help Marginalized Farming Communities in Pan Himalayan Region

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

Dr Lakshmi Unnithan, Editor of ‘Agriculture World’ had a detailed talk with the Women Leaders of Umang like Sunitha Kashyap,Talat Moin,Geeta Devi,Bhavna and Manju Devi.Anita Paul, Co-Founder of the Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, also joined the conversation.

UMANG is the network of hill women from Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. Anita and and her husband Kalyan helped set up UMANG UMANG has three b0rands Himkhadya, Kumaoni and Handknits. Anita and her husband Kalyan was always anxious and terrified about the degradation of fragile ecosystems in the Himalaya and the negative impact that it had on sustainable mountain farming systems.

Traditional food insecurity, economic insecurity, out-migration and increasing numbers of women headed households are a regular feature in the Pan Himalayan region.

To help find a balance in the quality of lives among the marginalized farming communities they set up the Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation since 1992.Efforts over the past few years with Grass roots also led to the creation of a network of women who are involved with various viable business activities, which provide small yet significant incomes on a sustainable basis. After a decade of work the women team members of Grassroots hived out to establish a collective of several self help groups as a non profit called Mahila Umang Samiti in the year 2001.

The primary shareholders of Umang are members of Self Help Groups located in over 200 tiny hamlets spread across the Gagas and Kosi river basins. 10-20 women in a SHG meet regularly and through a simple system of micro finance, each member deposits anything in between 10-100 into a bank account. Accumulated funds are then available to members in need of micro credit, usually for healthcare, livestock improvement, housing and education. This arrangement provided members with financial independence.

 SHGs provide the institutional framework for many of the community development programs, such as ecological restoration, sanitation, renewable energy, agriculture and livelihoods improvement.  SHGs, build confidence and helps in gaining financial independence through engagement in sustainable income generating activities.

SHGs also play the critical role of providing emotional sustenance to each other when the odds are stacked against the. The journey was tough and it took them years to come to the strength that we see now. There was a trickling of people from 3-the present 3000 women with them. Though there was an initial fund that wasn’t enough at all. But the success of UMANG was worth it.      

Within a span of few years, Umang’s business started including pickles, preserves, grains and hand knits. Some of them women became team leaders who assisted village women to establish businesses. The team leaders include women like Suneeta Kashyap who has been there from the beginning of UMANG’s s establishment.

The general body of Mahila Umang Producers Company comprises of these SHGs as institutional shareholders and subsequently, members are selected as Board Members of the company. Board of 7 Members guide the organization. There are at present 1500 shareholders from 100 plus villages. The company has 16 crores of turn over says Talat Moin , the MIS co-ordinator  of which 7.8 CRORES which is 57% of the total is earned directly by our shareholders as earnings. 30,000 man days of work generated by adopting value chain approach for processing sorting etc and this workforce has earned a sum of Rs 41 lakhs. A local team of 16 professionals manage the show and have generated a income of 1.60 crores for themselves.

Geeta, Manju and Bhavna were of the opinion that  Umang has provided them opportunities to step out of their homes, travel, see and experience the world and become entrepreneurs also. Each one of them have self-help groups in all the villages, and they work along with other women farmers in groups. Since Women are making, selling and even auditing the groups, UMANG is a perfect example of a sustainable model says Anita before logging off.

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