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livelihoods

The Hills are Alive: Credit, Livelihood and Micro-enterprises Empower Women’s Groups in North-East India

Mohini Datt's picture
India’s North-East Region (NER) – comprising ‘the seven sister’ states plus the small state of Sikkim - is a uniquely rich and complex tapestry of social, cultural, natural resource and biological diversity. This remote region, of poor connectivity but with an eager and literate workforce[1], is increasingly being transformed into a key frontier under India’s ‘Act East’ policy and its NER Vision 2020 . The World Bank supported North-East Rural Livelihoods Project (NERLP) is working with nearly 23,000 women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. It is steadily adding value to the region’s labor pool – scoping out economic opportunities for the poorest of the poor, training the young workforce in the skills they are hungry for, seeding SHGs, providing them credit, and enabling them to set up new enterprises and improve their socioeconomic status.   

An Eggless Bakery in Sikkim

Tucked away behind the monastery at the popular Buddha Park, on one of South Sikkim’s many serene hilltops, stands the eggless Tatagatha Bakery. The bakery is run by a Self-Help Group of local village women with funding through a microcredit program supported by the NERLP. A bakery is an unusual, innovative idea for microcredit, but the Buddha Park attracts many pilgrims, and the bakery is always in demand.  Going eggless and dairy free has meant it can better cater to its core clientele of monks, pilgrims and visitors; it has also reduced the need to transport perishable supplies up the steep hilltop.

The project team mobilized a veteran baker from the rail head town of Siliguri to train the local women initially.  The project ran into teething problems early on: a single SHG was rallied, but not all members were equally committed, which saw high dropouts after training. The team changed tack, and elicited individual interest regardless of membership.  Twenty women have now been trained. Uptake by SHGs has undoubtedly been gradual, but it is early days yet – the bakery only opened in May 2016.  These women see the bakery’s potential and are willing to bet on its success, accepting lower wages for now.  
Tatagatha bakery was recognized by the South District Zilla Panchayat as an excellent sustainable but profitable venture, run with good business acumen.