Empowering Women Farmers in India, One Signature at a Time

October 15, 2019

Mint farmers in India produce 70% of the world’s supply of mint and rely on the crop to provide their households with a vital source of income. Declining soil health due to overfertilization, increasing cost of production, and a lack of quality planting material decreased productivity and reduced farmer incomes. Mars Wrigley Confectionery relies on the mint supply chain in India to provide certain types of mint oil for its gum and mint products and is committed to sustainably sourcing mint through improved livelihoods for smallholder producers and responsible water usage. 

Tanager, an ACDI/VOCA affiliated international NGO, has worked with Mars Wrigley Confectionery since 2014 on the Shubh Mint project. Tanager is empowering smallholder farmers in the mint supply chain of Uttar Pradesh, India, by helping them adopt sustainable farming practices while promoting gender equality. 

Gender-equality is an important goal for the project as women in these communities often face significant barriers to equality. One way that Shubh Mint works to improve women’s social and economic status within their communities is through participation in Self Help Groups (SHGs). There are currently 354 SHGs in the Shubh Mint Project. The SGH format is simple and impactful: women come together in small community groups to learn more about better farming techniques, women’s rights, nutrition, and sanitation.

The Power of a Signature

In many of the SHGs, Tanager also helps women achieve something many of us take for granted – the ability to sign one’s own name. This basic skill is an important first step to financial literacy and empowerment.

The Ganga Women Self Help Group in Ujarwara village, Fatehpur block, Uttar Pradesh is comprised of twelve women, eleven of whom initially could neither read nor write their own names. This deficiency in their education had dire consequences: women were dependent on others for every aspect of their financial life, a heavy burden was placed on the one woman who was literate, and there was a general lack of confidence amongst the members of the group stemming from this gap in their education.

The SHG coordinators first asked the women whether they would be interested in learning to read and write. The members of the SHG told coordinators that this was the first time anyone had asked them, and, at first, they weren’t sure whether they would be able to learn something this rigorous so late in life.

The class began with each woman being given a slip of paper with her name written on it. The women were asked to practice writing their names multiple times throughout the week at home. Some women members learned quickly and would come back with their names written neatly several times, while others found the task more difficult. They received extra training from the Tanager SHG supervisor and the other women in the SHG. The group dynamic helped encourage the women who were struggling, as they received support from their friends in the group who were having an easier time with the assignment.

Today, all 12 of the women in this SHG can read and write their name. It is said that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, and the women of Ganga SHG have taken their first step toward literacy.

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