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Women in Nepal Break A Legacy of Poverty with Agroecology

What does it take to economically empower women and girls from the Dalit caste, historically one of the most marginalized and under-resourced groups in Nepal?

“Women’s savings and credit groups are the entry point,” says Chris Sacco, Director of Strategic Initiatives at Groundswell.

Men often leave the community to find economic opportunities outside of the home as migrant or day laborers. This phenomenon coupled with the 2015 earthquake contributes to increased economic hardship in an already impoverished region. Women need access to income, not only to survive but to live decent lives.

Savings and credit groups work like this: a group of women pay roughly 50 Nepalese rupees per month (0.77 USD) into a collective pot. If a women needs a loan, she pulls from the pot with the expectation that she will pay it back in a reasonable amount of time with interest. The next time a woman in the community needs a loan, the same process occurs. This effectively builds the net worth of the entire group.

Setting up the group and establishing internal rules, such as the monthly contribution amount, loan terms, and interest rate, are important not only to the success of the group, but also to building considerable capacity for collective action beyond mobilizing and managing funds. In a very short time, savings groups become the nexus of development in their communities and their connections allow for very efficient training on agroecology and livestock management, as well as learning and support between members. Creating strong local groups that can work together to achieve common goals is a fundamental step toward Groundswell’s purpose of empowering women to lead the development of their families and communities.

Women often invest their loans in productive farming activities. Smaller loans of between 100 and 500 USD are often taken out to purchase seeds and small livestock, while a few women have taken out loans of more than 2,000 USD to purchase a water buffalo.

“It’s really about improving food security and incomes and building assets,” Sacco says. “For instance, goats, chickens and water buffalo all provide meat, eggs, or milk. They are all good sources of protein, and in the places where people cannot grow enough of their own food, they can sell animal products to generate the cash they need to buy it. Also, livestock are the main store of value and make an immense contribution to resilience. For example, if a family exhausts its savings, it can sell a goat from its herd to come up with the cash it needs to cover a large medical expense, make an emergency house repair, etc. There is really no overstating how much the combination of savings groups and growth in assets contributes to resilience.”

Women assume responsibility for the entire community’s nutrition and health. When women assume the head of the household role, the majority of their money gets reinvested in their children, their household, and in this case, their credit group, which contributes to the overall health of the community.

Our partner organization in Nepal, BBP Pariwar, works with 44 women’s savings and credit groups to economically empower women. The group itself is working on transitioning women from promoters and mid-level field workers to higher leadership positions. They work to elevate the status of women farmers, while also empowering their female staff.

“It’s amazing. You can see such a difference after two or three years of these women working with us. Their living situations improve and their confidence goes up. They’re just happier,” Sacco says after a recent visit to Nepal.

The work of BBP Pariwar exemplifies the ways in which agroecology is so much more than a method of farming. It touches on deeply embedded cultural and historical legacies that disempower entire communities. Utilizing their own knowledge, their own tried-and-true farming practices, and building their own economic sovereignty, women who work with BBP Pariwar circumvent the life of poverty that was handed to them, and instead, create financial stability and healthy communities. It’s truly a ground-up solution.

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