In the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, many rural villagers cultivate senna, a native herb traditionally used for its laxative properties and an important cash crop in the region. While Traditional Medicinals (TM) was focusing on introducing the first organic senna farming practices there, the foundation began to research the social needs of these communities. In this extreme part of the Thar Desert, food and water security pose the largest threats to local inhabitants, contributing to an ever-widening gender gap by subjugating women and girls to grueling manual labor and gross social inequity. The Revive Project launched in 2009 to support these farming families with one of the largest medicinal plant community development projects in the world. Together with Traditional Medicinals, Martin Bauer, Umalaxmi, and WomenServe, the purpose of the project is to reduce poverty through projects targeted towards women’s empowerment and organic agriculture development. Today, the Revive Project advocates for more than 12,000 people in six farming villages and contributes to greater community self-reliance and more equitable supplier relationships.
EXTREME WEATHER, EXTREME DROUGHT & EXTREME INEQUALITY
The Thar is considered one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet, subject to wide temperature extremes, from as much as 125°F in the summer to near-freezing temperatures in the winter. Due to extremely low rainfall, unpredictable monsoon flooding, and high salt and silt levels in the groundwater, farming conditions and general survival are extremely challenging for people, even if the climate is ideal for growing senna. These extremes extend to the social climate as well. Rajasthani women and girls are exposed to horrific gender inequality through social marginalization, forced child marriages, female infanticide, limited access to healthcare, purdah (veiled confinement), and widespread illiteracy.
Even worse, many women and girls in farming communities are treated no better than beasts of burden, forced to carry water pots weighing 25 pounds on their heads, sometimes as far as 10 miles per day in extreme desert temperatures. As a result, many suffer from malnourishment, anemia, and chronic aches and pains associated with manual labor. This is to say nothing of their stress, worrying for the welfare of their families.
EMPOWERED WOMEN = EMPOWERED COMMUNITIES
After witnessing these conditions, we began imagining a different future for women and their families. We realized that by providing women with empowerment opportunities, we could help secure the social and economic futures of these villages. The Revive Project began by setting up Village Development Communities (VDCs) in each of the six villages to assist in implementing projects, conducting trainings, and allocating community assets. Represented by all castes, genders, and socio-economic groups, the VDCs represent the communities’ voice and provide structure for decision-making. Using contributions from TM and our Revive Project partners, the six villages of Khidrat, Kan Singh Ki Sid, Sodadhada, Nayagaon, Khara and Dayakaur —over 12,000 people—have the potential to enjoy newly written destinies.
ENHANCED FOOD & WATER SECURITY
Given the dense population of the Thar at roughly 22.5 million inhabitants, food and water are at a premium. To take advantage of what little rain the Thar receives; the Revive Project has built 365 taankas (underground rainwater catchments) to equip individual households with water for families and livestock. Named for the female recipient of each household, they are a symbolic tribute to women’s traditional role in securing water for their families and have proved helpful in raising the status and dignity of women.
The Revive Project also built 145 large khadins (agricultural rainwater catchments) to help with senna and millet irrigation. In addition to protecting against soil erosion, khadins nourish crops and increase yields, improving the incomes and nutrition of desert farmers. The project also funded the renovation, desilting, and expansion of six community naadis (large rainwater catchment ponds). As one of the largest sources of water for desert dwellers, naadis are an essential lifeline for humans and livestock alike. Through the Revive Project’s contributions, villagers now have improved access to water and food security, health and hygiene, and a more equitable way to bring people of all castes together.
To boost food security, the Revive Project constructed and installed 170 family gardens, planted two village pastures and established five stud bull centers to improve herd genetics and invigorate milk production. To further efforts, the Revive Project team is collaborating with agricultural scientists to raise awareness and education around organic senna farming practices—vital to preserving the traditional cultivation of this precious plant and the economic stability of the region.
IMPROVED HEALTH & HYGIENE AWARENESS
The remote location of these senna communities makes accessing healthcare challenging for most families and especially women. To address this gap, the Revive Project funds mobile medical camps, the construction of public toilets, and health awareness classes to bring greater knowledge and education around health and hygiene for the villagers. The Revive Project’s comprehensive health program trains village women as village health workers (VHWs), helping them to care for village families while assuming an important role in their communities. By learning basic first-aid and midwifery, many VHWs have become respected leaders and contributed to improved maternal and infant health.
Revive Project partner contributions have also led to the construction of three large Community Resource Centers (CRCs), which serve as meeting places for trainings, medical camps, and economic development, as well as food, crop, and grain warehouses.
EDUCATION, SCHOOLS & BICYCLES
To date, the Revive Project has built five elementary and middle schools to educate roughly 850 young people—nearly half of whom are girls. Considering that 85% of the Thar’s women are illiterate, having such a high student population of girls is an impetus for change for these remote communities. To accommodate the vast distances between families and secondary schools, the project has provided nearly 300 bicycles mostly to girls to help keep them in school longer and improve the status of the community’s impoverished youth.
THE SELF HELP GROUP MODEL
While educating the next generation is essential, the project has also funded ongoing financial and vocational training for women in 22 self-Help Groups (SHGs) that serve approximately 250 adult females. The women who choose to participate in SHGs hail from a variety of castes, ages, and socio-economic groups to represent a wide range of diversity. SHG members receive vocational trainings, from financial planning to traditional handicrafts, and have increased access to savings and micro-loans. These SHGs are part of a movement that is providing a platform for women’s voices and their participation in their communities.
CULTIVATING COMMUNITIES FOR SUSTAINABLE FUTURES
The Revive Project’s success rests upon the strength of our partners, the dedication of our team, and the willingness of these farming communities to work collaboratively with Revive Project partners to foster change. This unique development project demonstrates the great potential for leveraging social business. We look forward to seeing the results of our work blossom as the Revive Project’s initiatives evolve.