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The rise of India’s rural women entrepreneurs

Balakrishnan Madhavan Kutty's picture
Women at the custard apple collection centre
Women at the custard apple collection center. Photo credit: Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad (RGAVP), Govt. of Rajasthan

Pehle mein apne ghar ka paanch hazaar (rupaye) mein bhi kharcha nahi chala paati thi, abh mein pandrah hazaar rupaye mein ghar ka kharcha chalati hu.

“Earlier I was not able to contribute even Rs. 5,000 ($69) to run my house. Today, I contribute Rs. 15,000 ($208),” beams Lakshmi Amol Shinde from Wardha Lakshmi as she recalls the harsh financial conditions she and her family faced after her husband lost his job.

This unexpected event motivated her to join a self-help group (SHG) and take out a loan to start a small snack (papad) business.

Initially, she sold her food delicacies in her village. Later, she expanded her business and catered to shops in Nagpur, Maharashtra’s winter capital.

Her hard work paid off, and eleven women from her group joined Lakshmi’s flourishing business.

Thanks to business and marketing training, the women’s business has grown and is now processing the famous turmeric from Waigaon, another town in the district.

How South Asia can become a free trade area

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Women knit handicrafts for export at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal
Women knit handicrafts for export at Everest Fashion Fair Craft in Lalitpur, Nepal. Photo: Peter Kapuscinski / World Bank

The South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement has been in effect since 2006—with little success.

This is in sharp contrast to the ASEAN free trade area (AFTA), which started in 1992 with six six countries and later added more members, completing the ASEAN ten by 1999.

Between 1992 and 2017, intraregional imports as a share of global imports in ASEAN increased from 17 to 24 percent, and exports from 21 to 27 percent.

In South Asia, these shares were largely stagnant since SAFTA came into effect, at 3 percent for intraregional imports and 6-7 percent for intraregional exports.

In fact, intraregional trade in South Asia has been the lowest among world regions for quite some time, hovering around 5 percent of its overall trade with the world.

What’s keeping India in the dark?

Fan Zhang's picture
To boost and sustain its energy supply, India needs urgent investments and reforms to fix the inefficiencies that plague its entire electricity supply chain.
To boost and sustain its energy supply, India needs urgent investments and reforms to fix the inefficiencies that plague its entire electricity supply chain. Credit: World Bank

Statistics show that what is commonly perceived as an energy gap in India is actually an efficiency gap.

To boost and sustain its energy supply, India needs urgent investments and reforms to fix the inefficiencies that plague its entire electricity supply chain. 

But first, the good news. In 2018, every village in India got connected to the grid.  That same year, power shortages declined dramatically to 0.9 percent from 8.5 percent in 2012.  

As for clean power, India has become one of the world’s leading countries in renewable energy and aims to add 227 gigawatts of green electricity by 2022.

True, India today generates more power than ever. Yet, 178 million Indians still lived without access to grid-connected electricity in 2017.

On top of that, air pollution from coal-powered plants contributed to 82,900 deaths across India in 2015.

Given its rapidly growing economy, demand for power in India is expected to triple by 2040.

The country faces a monumental task to meet this demand while protecting its natural environment and the health of its people.

As I write in my new report, ‘In the Dark’, power distortions cost India much more than previously estimated: $86 billion in 2016—that is 4 percent of the country’s economy.

The rising cost of nutritious food in South Asia

Felipe F. Dizon's picture
 World Bank
A malnourished child will face poorer outcomes as an adult. In South Asia, where malnutrition persists in multiple forms, improving nutrition in the early stages of life is critical to a child's future development and health. Credit: World Bank

A malnourished child will face poorer outcomes as an adult.
 
That’s why improving nutrition, especially in the early stages of life, is critical.
 
The path toward better nutrition includes adequate maternal and child care, access to better sanitation facilities, health services, and naturally, nutritious foods.
 
But whether an individual consumes—or not—nutritious food is contingent upon a myriad of factors, ranging from the availability of certain foods, how convenient they can be turned into meals, or simply, if they meet consumers’ tastes.
 
But above all, the high cost of food remains the most critical barrier to proper nutrition and affects the poor more than the rich.
 
And in South Asia, where malnutrition persists in multiple forms, the cost of nutritious food is prohibitive.

India: Building trust in local governance institutions in Bihar’s villages

Farah Zahir's picture
Sushumlata, the head of the gram panchayat of Dawan village, Bhojpur District, Bihar, conducts a meeting at the newly furbished panchayat office.
Sushumlata, the head of the gram panchayat of Dawan village, Bhojpur District, Bihar, conducts a meeting at the newly furbished panchayat office.


In a remote village in Bihar’s Bhojpur district, Sushumlata sits behind a spanking new desk in a newly-refurbished government building.

From the time she came to the village as a new bride, this young woman has chosen to get involved in community affairs by joining the Self Help Group (SHG) movement.

Later, armed with a master’s degree in social work, she joined active politics and, in 2016, was elected the Mukhiya, or head of the Dawan village Gram Panchayat – the local governance institution – under the seat reserved for women.

Sushumlata is the face of the government in this remote corner of Bihar. When we visit her in the newly upgraded Gram Panchayat building – refurbished under the World Bank (IDA) funded Bihar Panchayat Strengthening Project – she tells us how the newly painted and equipped building has made a difference.

A young man is busy on a computer beside her, helping an elderly gentleman apply for a government pension.

South Asia: A bright spot in darkening economic skies?

Hartwig Schafer's picture
South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of the rising uncertainties that are looming large on the global economic horizon. The region will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region. The Siddhirganj Power Project in Bangladesh. Credit: Ismail Ferdous/World Bank

If, like me, you’re a firm believer in New Year’s resolutions, early January ushers in the prospect of renewed energy and exciting opportunities. And as tradition has it, it’s also a time to enter the prediction game.
 
Sadly, when it comes to the global economy, this year’s outlook is taking a somber turn.
 
In the aptly titled Darkening Skies, the World Bank’s new edition of its twice-a-year Global Economic Prospects report shows that risks are looming large on the economic horizon.
 
To sum up:  In emerging market and developing economies, the lingering effects of recent financial market stress on several large economies, a further deceleration in commodity exporters are likely to stall growth at a weaker-than-expected 4.2 percent this year.
 
On a positive note, South Asia is set to remain relatively insulated from some of these rising global uncertainties and will retain its top spot as the world’s fastest-growing region.
 
Bucking the global decelerating trend, growth in South Asia is expected to accelerate to 7.1 percent in 2019 from 6.9 percent in the year just ended, bolstered in part by stronger investments and robust consumption.  

Among the region’s largest economies, India is forecast to grow at 7.5 percent in fiscal year 2019-20 while Bangladesh is expected to moderate to 7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19. Sri Lanka is seen speeding up slightly to 4 percent in 2019.
 
Notably, and despite increasing conflicts and growing fragility, Afghanistan is expected to increase its growth to  2.7 percent rate this year.

In this otherwise positive outlook, Pakistan’s growth is projected to slow to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2018-19 as the country is tightening its financial conditions to help counter rising inflation and external vulnerabilities.

However, activity is projected to rebound and average 4.6 percent over the medium term.

South Asia's new superfood or just fishy business?

Pawan Patil's picture
Across South Asia, four known species of indigenous, fully mature, small food-fish – now dubbed ‘NutriFish’ have nutritional and health benefits for pregnant and lactating women and young children when consumed over the first one thousand days. Here, children from Kothi, Odisha in India show their curiosity and share their excitement with a new kind of harvest happening in their village. Credit: Arun Padiyar
Kale, Kefir, and Quinoa have now joined the ranks of better-known foods like Blueberries, Orange Sweet Potato, and Salmon on family dinner tables across the world.

Considered superior for their health and nutrition benefits, these so-called ‘Superfoods’, often considered “new” by the public are now ever-popularized by celebrity chefs and have become all the rage of foodies from San Francisco to Singapore.   

We live in a world of paradox, where old world and almost forgotten food like Quinoa (which dates back as a staple food over three thousand years to Andean civilization but largely disappeared with the arrival of the Spanish) is now back on the menu.  

Salmon, a staple part of Nordic diets from paleolithic times and woven into the culture of native populations across northwestern Canada and many other superfoods share comparable stories.

And, there are many other old world foods, indigenously known, disappearing but not fully forgotten, yet to be re-discovered.

Food is also now advancing to the front-line of the war on poverty

A health and human capital crisis is now sweeping the world, and a lack of diverse, accessible, affordable, and available nourishing foods is increasingly blamed.  

For example, obesity, from poor diet and poor exercise has tripled since 1975 to almost two billion people today.  

Undernutrition contributes to 45 percent of all deaths of children under five years old (3.5 million each year), much of it avoidable, but difficult to detect as it remains “hidden.”  

Policy makers and stewards of national economies are starting to wake up to the fact that poor nutrition has massive economic implications too, reducing GDP by 3-11 percent, depending on the country. 

While economies such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan may look strong, just as bellies look full, critical micronutrients and vitamins, essential for healthy physical and cognitive development over the first 1,000 days of life are largely missing from diets of many developing countries and are a proven drag to educational attainment and economic prosperity.  

And parents, from both rich and poor nations alike, seem to know something is not quite right. 

If healthier food choices that are accessible, affordable, and readily available are better known, would parents purchase such food from the market for their families?     

With a small grant from the World Bank-administered South Asia Food and Nutrition Initiative (SAFANSI) supported by the EU and the United Kingdom, a partnership with WorldFish was established to test this premise.  

A 60 second TV spot, a collaboration between scientists, economists, a private sector digital media company, broadcasters and the Government of Bangladesh, was created and broadcast across the nation on two occasions and watched by over 25 million people.  

A parallel radio program was also developed and aired reaching millions more, particularly the rural poor and marginalized communities.
 
NutriFish1000 TV

 

Reclaiming India's wastelands to fight climate change

Abel Lufafa's picture
 Abel Lufafa
Indian farmers showing off former wasteland that now produces crops. India's agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate threats. Reclaiming and bringing into production some of India’s wastelands could partially offset some of the projected crop production declines expected because of climate change. Credit: Abel Lufafa

About 15 minutes after we turn off the highway at Fatehpur, a roadside trading center located 120 km from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, a mild haze blankets the sky.

As we drive deeper into the increasingly bare and desolate landscape, the wind blows stronger, and the haze thickens into dust plumes.

I lower the car window and find the source of the dust:  patches of abandoned land, coated with very fine powder in various shades of white and grey.

We are in a village with salt-affected soils, part of the millions of hectares of India’s wastelands.

Characterized by dense, impermeable surface crusts and accumulation of certain elements at levels that are toxic to plants, these sodic wastelands no longer support crop growth – they have been abandoned by farmers.

Our journey continues for another 30 minutes, the wind still blows strong, but dust plumes have given way to clearer skies.

We have reached Mainpuri, where, with World Bank support, sodic wastelands have been reclaimed and brought back to life, rolling back the unsavory spectacle of ecological destruction that once was the hallmark of the village.

Now in its third phase, the Uttar Pradesh Sodic Lands Reclamation Project (UPSLRP) has supported the reclamation of over 400,000 ha of such sodic wastelands and 25,000 ha of ravinous wasteland.

Milk fortification in India: The journey so far

Edward W. Bresnyan's picture
 NDDB
In India alone, 185 million people don’t get enough nutrients. This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children. as more than 70 percent of India’s children under five are deficient in Vitamin D, and 57 percent of all children in the country lack adequate levels of Vitamin A. Credit: NDDB
Globally, more than two billion people are deficient in key micronutrients, which are essential to their good health.
 
In India alone, 185 million people don’t get enough nutrients.
 
This hidden hunger is especially pervasive among children. More than 70 percent of India’s children under five are deficient in Vitamin D, and 57 percent of all children in the country lack adequate levels of Vitamin A. 
 
These deficiencies have contributed to high levels of stunting, wasting and underweight children.
 UNICEF 
Global micronutrient deficiency (as a percentage of the population). Two billion people in the world lack key micronutrients such as Vitamin A or iron. South Asia has the most critical malnutrition levels. Source: UNICEF 


Micronutrient availability can make or break a balanced diet
 
If accessible and affordable, nutritional supplements taken in the form of capsules or tablets can mitigate the symptoms of hidden hunger. But they can become toxic if consumed in large amounts.  
 
Unlike supplements, food fortification is a simple, preventive and low-cost approach to curb micronutrient deficiencies.
 
But except for mandatory iodine fortification of salt, India lags in adopting food fortification as a scalable public health intervention.  
 
This is a missed opportunity as a glass of fortified milk (320g) can provide approximately 34 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A and 47 percent of Vitamin D.
 
In 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India released standards for the fortification of five staple food items: rice, wheat, salt, oil, and milk. Further to that, regulations are now in place to fortify milk variants such as low fat, skimmed, and whole milk with Vitamin A and D.   
 
But despite its significant health benefits, and while established for more than three decades by companies such as Mother Dairy, a subsidiary of the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), milk fortification is not yet common practice across the Indian milk industry.
 
To fill that gap, NDDB partnered in 2017 with the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), the World Bank, and The India Nutrition Initiative, Tata Trusts to explore the possibilities of large-scale milk fortification in India.
 
Over the last twelve months, this collaboration has enabled ten milk federations, dairy producer companies, and milk unions across the country to pilot milk fortification for their consumers. Fifteen others have initiated the process.

Game-changing technology empowers India’s women farmers

Paramveer Singh's picture
 World Bank
Since it started a decade ago, JEEVIKA, a World Bank program that supports Bihar’s rural communities, has mobilized more than nine million women into self-help and producers groups. Joining forces has helped lower costs and boost agricultural production. Credit: World Bank

It’s a dusty September morning, and Kiran Devi is finishing her chores at lightning speed.

 “Wouldn’t it be nice to keep 5,000 women waiting, especially when it’s a celebration,” she says with a touch of gushing pride and makes her way to the annual general meeting of the women-owned Aaranyak Agri producer company.

Located in Purnea district in Bihar—one of India’s poorest states—the company is made up of small local women small farmers and producers and lies in the most fertile corn regions in eastern India.

But until recently, small farmers did not fully reap the benefits of this productive land.

Local traders and intermediaries dominated the unregulated market. Archaic and unfair trading practices like manual weighing, unscientific quality testing, and irregular payments made it difficult for small farmers to get the best value for their produce.

 “The trader would come, put some grains under his teeth and pronounce the quality and pricing. For every quintal of maize [corn], 5-10 kilos additional grains were taken, sometimes through faulty scales and sometimes simply by brazenly asking for it,” says Lal Devi, one member of the company. “We had the choice between getting less or getting nothing.”
 

Kanchan Rani Devi bringing her corn to Sameli
Kanchan Rani Devi bringing her corn to Sameli. Credit: World Bank

Such practices stirred local women farmers into action, and they formed the Aaranyak Agri Producer Company Limited (AAPC) to access markets directly and improve their bargaining power.  

The company established a farmer-centric model and received funding and technical assistance through JEEViKA (livelihoods in Hindi), a World Bank program that supports the Government of Bihar and has achieved life-changing results for Bihar’s rural communities.

Since it started a decade ago, JEEVIKA has mobilized more than nine million women into self-help and producers groups. Joining forces helped lower costs and boost production. Together, the groups saved $120 million and leveraged more than $800 million in bank loans.

Further, digital technologies have been introduced as an innovative way to improve the production, marketing, and sale of small-farmers’ produce.

For example, women farmers receive regular periodic updates on their mobile phones to learn best practices to grow corn as well as weather information to inform farming decisions.

During harvest season, farmers receive daily pricing information from major nearby markets to help them stay abreast of the latest variations in prices.

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