An IL&FS goatery initiative is empowering hundreds of women in Maharashtra’s drought-prone villages

Poor woman’s bank

The humble goat, they say, is the poor man’s bank. For generations, rural communities in India have reared goats, to add to their farming income or as insurance for a lean year. In some of Nashik’s dry talukas like Sinnar and Sangamner, destitute women — many widowed or landless — depend on their goats for survival. While goat-rearing brought limited success for some, like Sindhu Jadhav who funded her daughter’s wedding by selling her goats, it was a hard and thankless endeavour for most women — until IL&FS decided to intervene. 

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Widowed or landless women of meagre resources in rural Nashik have traditionally depended on goats for survival

While IL&FS Transportation was building the Khed-Sinnar Expressway in 2015, it found great potential to strengthen these women’s livelihoods by improving their goat-rearing practices. Led by the Nalanda Foundation, this project has, in just three years, fostered incredible success stories that continue to grow with a life of their own. 

Losses, secrets, and untapped potential

While goats are relatively light on resources, their demand in the market is high. Among livestock, they create the least pressure on environmental resources and are well adapted to dry scrub conditions like those in the drought-ridden villages of Nashik. Yet the local women who raised them would suffer losses, or at best pull in a paltry, erratic income — their average income before IL&FS began the project was ₹9,000 a year. 
If a disease didn’t kill the goats, a night-time leopard attack often did

The women reported that the grazing hours were long, and mortality rates high. They knew little about feed, and nothing about vaccinations or medical care. If a disease didn’t kill the goats, a night-time leopard attack might diminish the already small herd (each woman had only about three goats on average). Further, their lack of business sense meant that traders in the market would regularly cheat them. Add to that the caste prejudice around goat-rearing, which would force many women to keep their goats at a relative’s house to hide their occupation.

Setting the wheel rolling

Working with the local NGO Yuva Mitra, IL&FS’s Nalanda Foundation reached out to 125 women across 5 villages in the Sinnar block through a goatery project. The women were brought together into joint liability groups (JLGs) of 3 to 5 women.

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Each joint liability group was a mix of existing goat owners and women who did not yet have goats

IL&FS created an interest-free revolving fund, which provided seed capital for these women to buy more goats and build infrastructure like goat sheds to keep their herds safe. The goats were then insured, and a veterinary doctor was appointed to keep a thorough check on their health. Some of the local women were trained as para-vets. 

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IL&FS's revolving fund enabled the women to build sheds to keep their goats safe from wild animals

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Many workshops and exposure visits have been educating the women on all aspects of goat rearing, including growing and preservation of fodder

The women learnt how to grow green fodder, as well as process and store dry fodder. They made exposure visits to successful goat farms, and attended training programmes on scientific goatery management.

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With growing participation, as one vet was not enough for the villages, local women were trained as para-vets

They were also trained in the workings of the open market, so they could ensure that they received fair prices for their goats. In May 2016, with the help of NABARD, a producer company was registered for the organised sale of goats — the Savitribai Phule Goat Farming Producer Company, which became Maharashtra’s first women’s goatery-based company.

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Growing participation, climbing incomes

By June 2017, the project had reached out to 520 women, and more than doubled their average annual income. The women were now earning ₹18,266 a year on average, and 9% of the women had already achieved annual incomes of over ₹75,000. The average herd size had also doubled from 3 to 6 goats per woman. At the same time, the project had brought the goat mortality rate down from 15% to 4% — creating an additional economic value of ₹1.85 million. The project had generated ₹4.63 million in revenue for the women.

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Women participating in the programme are empowered, with not only goat-rearing knowhow, but also awareness of market practices

By mid-2018, goat numbers had risen from the original 466 (worth₹2.8 million) to 4471 goats worth ₹28.63 million. 730 women across 10 villages are now benefiting from the project.  

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Emerging leaders and a chain of empowerment

It was not easy to get the women involved in the project — even if a woman herself was convinced, she would face resistance from her family because of the perceived risk in this new investment, or deep-rooted gender and caste biases. A few women who have dedicated their lives to empowering their fellow women were convinced by the initiative’s promise and potential, and became community mobilisers. Thus began a chain of empowerment.

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In Dodi village, Mirabai Avhad mobilised women to form JLGs, and helped them open bank accounts. As she took the lead in forming the producer company she personally saw to it that the benefits were explained to all its members. With the help of the panchayat she acquired an office space for the company, where the women could also hold their monthly meetings. Others like Jayashree Kedar too have played instrumental roles in inspiring women to join the project.

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After joining the initiative Sunita Bhabad inspired and educated the tribal women in her employ to start systematic goat-rearing

Leading by example in Chas village, Sunita Bhabad bought 6 goats — now her herd has tripled — and attended all the goatery training programmes. To mobilise other women in the community, she paid frequent visits to their homes, sharing with them information and the benefits of goat-rearing. She even set up fodder demonstration plots in her field. Soon the tribal women employed in her fields saw the benefits firsthand and joined the project. The village women elected both Mirabai and Sunita as directors of the producer company.

Community-owned development

The IL&FS and Nalanda model of social development is one of sustainable active participation. Here, 50-60% of the veterinary care costs as well as the goats’ insurance premiums are contributed by the women themselves. The revolving fund and the producer company both also ensure that the community invests in and owns the project, thereby making it sustainable.

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For IL&FS, sustainability and community-ownership are at the centre of its social initiatives

The project has helped to systematize rural goat rearing, to bring it out of the shadows, make it more effective, empower more women, and in effect create stronger, more resilient communities.

Greener pastures ahead

The company recently supplied 40 goats worth ₹1,28,125 to Star Bazaar, and is looking forward to more such orders. Nalanda Foundation is actively working to scale up the project towards value creation through processing of goat milk, meat processing and the leather industry, and is building the appropriate market linkages. 

The project aims to create a full ecosystem around goat-rearing families, with broad market linkages

With the potential to boost livelihoods of 10,000 families, the objective is to create a full ecosystem around the goat-rearing families of these villages, which includes an expanding goat cluster surrounded by capacity-building for veterinary services, animal husbandry, dairy and wool technology, and allied activities like fodder development, organic manure production and breed development.

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Across 10 villages the project has already benefited 730 women, and counting