Luckshmi Sivalingam is a program officer in Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest initiative, where she is managing a pilot program to expand income opportunities for the very poorest people in India.
After what seemed would be a third year of dry spells during the critical monsoon season, the rains have finally come in Gaya district of Bihar, India. Agriculture is one of the primary revenue sources for both farmers and wage earners like the 200 households that Grameen Foundation is reaching through the Integrated Livelihoods Model for the Poorest (ILM) pilot project being implemented in partnership with BASIX/The Livelihood School. The rains bring increased wage-earning opportunities, which translates into enhanced income and food security for most poor rural households.
To lessen the risks that come with erratic income-generating opportunities, Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest (SfP) team is trying to gradually enhance the skills of the primary breadwinners of the households participating in the initiative, and connect them to more stable livelihood activities. These activities include supplementary income-generating opportunities that are often seasonal and low-skill, as well as entrepreneurial or productive activities that have a higher income-generating potential and often require increased skill sets and start-up capital.
Through our project, we are promoting livelihoods by first enhancing existing supplementary income-generating activities or introducing new ones that can rapidly increase household income and enhance our clients’ self-confidence and trust in our project team and partners. Next, we will introduce new, entrepreneurial livelihoods that generate higher incomes and can sufficiently fill the gaps in income that the rural poor often experience throughout the year. Examples include rearing goats, poultry farming and selling vegetables. By using this approach, we move away from creating an immediate dependency on credit to meet daily consumption needs and avoid disrupting clients’ existing livelihoods.
Over the past month in Gaya, we’ve held “exposure visits” for our clients to enhance their understanding of both the supplemental income-generating and entrepreneurial livelihood activities. These visits enable clients to visit another location to observe and learn from the other community’s activities and experience. Most importantly, they are able to see the various processes and participants involved in the entire chain of activities we will link households to. This deepens their understanding of the benefits and challenges of each activity and better informs their decision to commit to the “right” livelihoods for themselves and their households.
Two weeks ago, our clients visited the neighboring village of Orr, where they met with women of the same socio-economic background who have successfully engaged in “kitchen gardening.” This method of small-scale vegetable production involves very little or no land, and mostly organic inputs. Home-grown vegetables significantly increase nutritional levels while also contributing to income, as families can sell excess produce. Our clients also received a demonstration on gunny-bag gardening, which is essentially a garden in a bag that grows along creepers against the walls and roof of the house.
Before the visit, our clients doubted whether they had the capacity to start new activities, but after seeing how successful their peers have been, they said, “Now that we have seen them do it, we know we can do it too! And, we are ready to start!” Seeing really is believing.