GARIMA – A Sustainable Development Model

by | Apr 5, 2024

Garima’s story begins in the year 2020 during Covid-19 induced lockdown. Location: Ganiyari, a small village in Bilaspur district of Chhattisgarh. Informal migrant workers who were left stranded and unemployed in the urban cites like Bilaspur, Raipur and other destination states were forced to return to their native village Ganiyari. This reverse migration brought the fear of livelihood back in the migrant families. The low income workers had concerns about managing their families’ expenses as they returned to their villages.

An image of multiple persons on road, in distress, right after the announcement of lockdown for the covid-19 pandemic.
Image displaying stranded migrant workers of Chhattisgarh amidst tensed situations

They also had some questions:

  1. Why do we have to migrate to urban spaces leaving behind our resourceful rural lands?
  2. Why are we not able to build a work environment in our village that can be sustainable in the future?
  3. How can we forget the social discrimination that we faced during migration and reverse migration? Should it not make us want to work together in setting up a model that enables regeneration of our own rural communities?
  4. How can we bring processing industries to villages so as to avoid another migration in search of employment lifestyle opportunities?

The Inspiration Behind GARIMA

Presently I’m working with Jan Swasthya Sahyog – a healthcare organisation– as SHG Livelihood Program Coordinator. I closely work with SHG groups and farmer communities to enhance their livelihoods through a sustainable development model. The pandemic induced crisis and the questions emerging out of it, gave rise to a sustainable developmental model: GARIMA (Grameen Aatmanirbhar Rojgaari Manch) – Towards Sustainable Swaraj. Realising that livelihood is an inseparable part of healthcare, our organisation conceptualised GARIMA to ensure proper health of local communities.

Here at the organisation, I have come to understand that healthcare is not just about treating diseases. It also includes working on its roots i.e., prevention and improving the quality of life. By investing in the quality of food intake and making it accessible to the grassroots, JSS has been able to take a positive step in that direction. However, how do we increase the quality of food intake? Especially living i na world where junk foods and chemically processed foods are the norm.

Even the packaging of food plays a vital role. A recent study found that traces of micro-plastics had reached the womb of a mother. This was both shocking and alarming. From a market study conducted by our organisation with respect to rurally produced products, we understood that only thirty percent of the produce is consumed rurally. The rest was marketed and consumed in semi urban, urban and city regions. Over a period of time, the villagers’ dietary patterns changed from field grown grains, fruits and vegetables to cheap store bought carbs. These have harmful chemicals and do not provide a balanced diet.

We understand that there is a need to spread awareness about organic farming and chemical free processing. At the same time, there is a need to encourage and endorse the producers of healthy food products.

Subsistence Farming

GARIMA focuses on endorsing organic farming by villagers. Their priority is subsistence. They consume the field grown products to meet their needs. Only the surplus after household consumption is used for trade. SHG groups carry out this small scale processing and packaging without interference of exploitative middle men. Quality products are promoted and marketed to ensure that the product benefits reach the rural areas. The profits are then utilised in the villages by empowering farmers, SHG groups, etc. The surplus is utilised for building village infrastructure. Thereby this decentralised model creates sustainable livelihoods for the villagers. It also stresses on organic product utilisation to supplement healthcare systems.

Khet se Pet Tak

To understand the vision of GARIMA better, we must reflect on Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of rural development. Gandhi’s vision was deeply rooted in the principles of self-sufficiency, sustainability, and empowerment. Its continued relevancy lies in the shared vision of communities taking ownership of their development, sustainability and management. His vision was of an independent rural India where villagers would actively participate in their governance and take charge of their economic well-being.

Through the concept of ‘Gram Swaraj’ (village self-rule), many during our independence aimed to create a socio-economic model that respected the dignity of labor and upheld traditional practices. The vision was not only about economic development but also focused on the regeneration of rural communities, and fostering a sense of unity and equality. They believed that it would pave the way for a holistic and sustainable rural development.

Organic Farming

Organic farming might be a fancy term today. However, it holds the answer for the increasing non communicable diseases and climate change concerns. Chemical fertilisers and chemical pesticides continue to be extensively used to feed the expanding population and increase the income. Although the crop production has increased, the risks to consumers’ health have gone hand-in-hand with it.

We are a generation witnessing the result of consuming chemically grown foods and heavily processed foods through increased cancer risk, reduced nutritional value, diabetes, digestion, gastro- and other health related issues. Similarly, the livestock that feeds on the chemically grown fodder is also affected. The solution points us to the direction of production and consumption of chemical free and minimally processed food products.

Therefore GARIMA began promoting organic farming in the villages of Chhattisgarh. Cooperative group farming, mixed/ intercropping was also implemented to tackle the problem of low productivity and increased cost of production. It also enhanced soil utilisation and water requirement thereby reducing crop failure and improved outcomes. The produce from this farming method are of superior quality. This model aims to stimulate the local economy by increasing the supply of local foods on the market.

Strengthening Local Markets For GARIMA

From a thriving group of rural producers, a lot of challenges emerged:

  • Lack  of access to market
  • Lack of technology
  • Lack of business skill
  • Lack of mentoring and handholding
  • Lack of support system like producer groups/companies

There is a need to upscale and develop the local institutions so they can manage these significant processes. SHGs have emerged to fill this gap as a crucial instrument for realising localisation of village based products and strengthening of local economy. Under this model, they procure raw products from the farmer groups. Then, they process, package and perform value addition to derive the final products.

Presently during the initial stage of this model, technical support/ mentoring is provided by Jan Swasthya Sahyog in the form of skill training, team building and facilitation. A chain of SHGs and farmer groups were unified through the formation of Sangam to enable informed decisions on procurement and processing. The branding of GARIMA along with the attempt to build a market chain is in the process. After building enough confidence and skills leverage among the farmers & SHG groups, the knowledge transfer and action oriented sales training would be provided to the producers to continue the operations with a sense of collective ownership.

The Role of SHGs

11 women of an SHG group stand and look towards the camera. The woman from the left has a child in her arms. There is a green millet processing machine in the centre
Image displaying millet processing unit managed by Karhikachhar SHG group members

SHGs have emerged as a catalyst for transformative change in rural areas as the SHG women are farmers as well. During Covid they also served as social safety net and proved their relevance to the government in formulating better initiatives with incorporation of SHGs. The governmental departments have begun to utilise SHGs to distribute the benefit of programs to rural communities. From being merely a channel of group savings and micro-finance, SHGs have evolved to perform significant functions of providing employment, skills formation, and facilitating public service delivery.

Although these SHGs hold enormous potential, many of the rural SHGs remain inactive leading to underdevelopment of their areas. Their fragmented scale and lack of organisation also imposes large transaction costs and price risks. To harness their potential and revitalise their work they undergo proper training. This places them at the forefront in this collaborative process.

The Producers of GARIMA

The working areas for GARIMA include a large number of people from marginalised tribal areas. Although they are not hesitant, they often do not have access to technological advancements and networking. There is an essential need to ensure that these primary producers not only get better access but also better return for their efforts. Significant efforts have been made in this regard with government agencies and other institutions.

This model has initiated the processing of the rural raw products into primary value added products like unpolished millet, rice, multi grains, millet flour, mustard oil, turmeric powder, honey, cleaner solutions etc. as well as secondary processed products like millet products, snacks, biscuits which are marketed directly to the customers. This will enhance the margin for Producer Groups (PGs) and also reduce the commodity risk.

This is expected to build trust among the community members in achieving the common good of the community. It may also increase the social capital of the producers which can improve networking, catalyse regional development and build cooperation. This could help the community as a whole thrive. It even provides opportunities for youngsters in rural areas to contribute, thereby reducing their time utilisation in other vices uncluding addictions.

Branding And Marketing

A highly competitive market will be easily captured by a properly branded and attractively packaged product. But in this model, we aimed to create eco-friendly packaging with minimal cost branding. We also wished to display standard quality of products, so that the producers don’t bear the burden of advertising expenses. The strategy was to leverage institutional platforms to promote convergence. This positive impact of collective action over a period of time has pulled many households out of vulnerability and poverty. It has also improved their health-nutrition behaviours.

A larger part of the image is occupied by persons standing and looking at the camera behind the stall of GARIMA, where food and other products are kept on the table.
Image displaying 1st GARIMA products stall setup as a part of event organised by Kisan Vigyaan Kendra

GARIMA products are designed to be accessible to rural areas. This is done to ensure that the marginalised benefit from the nutritional value of fresh produce. Bulk marketing is also promoted to reduce packaging/ transport expense for maximum customer and producer benefit and minimum running cost of operations. The Profits thus derived are again invested in the villages to build village infrastructure. This helps in contributing to rural development.

Way Forward for GARIMA

It is high time to promote a viable sustainable model which can holistically develop Indian agronomy, rural livelihoods and quality of life. It’s crucial for us to take collective action. Additionally, we also reassess our consumption practices with respect to sustainability and their impact on our environment and society.

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1 Comment

  1. Vikas

    Very nice.. Very Usefull for Self employment, necessary to boost the economy of small villages…


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