SBI Youth for India fellow brings Sustainable Livelihood to Kumaon Women Farmers

By auther pic. Shilpa Tiwari

April 21, 2021

SBI Youth for India fellow brings Sustainable Livelihood to Kumaon Women Farmers

SBI Youth for India Fellowship

The flagship initiative of SBI Foundation, the SBI Youth for India Fellowship Programme, was established in the year 2011. The reason why it is considered one of the best fellowships in India is because of the analysis that went behind creating this fellowship in rural space. Analysing a gap between the rural and urban growth trajectory that caused increased migration, unemployment and saturation in the cities, SBI Youth for India fellowship programme was initiated. Since this fellowship programme is based on the Gandhian principles of service and creating change, the fellows are encouraged to use a lot of innovation while finding a solution to the evident problem.


SBI Fellows enable sustainable livelihoods for women farmers in Kumaon



Considering the fact that the growth of the agricultural sector was dipping and rural India was still figuring out how to provide basic services to its citizens, 2015-16 batch Fellow, Amrita Bhattacharya, resolved to return from the US and live amongst the community of farming women of Kumaon region in Uttarakhand. The benefits of fellowship that she derived from working on this project included the application of innovation in the agricultural domain. Amrita, being a city girl from Kolkata who joined the fellowship after her stint in the US, was able to contribute to the rural-development scenario of India despite a drastic change in her environment. What really sets this fellowship apart from its counterparts is its ability to enlighten rural youth and convert this talent-pool from the urban areas to benefit India’s rural communities. 


The SBI Youth for India fellowship is one of the very fellowships in the country that provide an avenue, where not only are the concentrated skills of individuals harnessed and utilized, but the personal growth of today’s youth is also channelized towards the growth of rural parts of the country. Amrita’s project work led her to take all the necessary actions that ensured her complete investment when she engaged with rural communities and executed relevant interventions. Through the SBI YFI fellowship, Amrita worked towards creating awareness on sustainable, eco-friendly practices and empowering women to earn livelihoods through farm-based environment friendly options such as natural dye-yielding plants. “Rural India changes you,” says Amrita. This is why she praises the Fellowship programme whole-heartedly as it gives all its fellows the amazing opportunity to first live in the community and then work towards devising a sustainable solution to their glaring problems.


Lush green Indigo plant is being used as natural dye since times immemorial


When Amrita started working with the women farmers of the Bhutia community, she discovered that it was originally a community of weavers whose women folk, living and struggling in the remote villages amidst the mountains, faced a variety of problems as their men-folk had decided to work in the cities. This type of migration had only left old men, women and children back in the villages. This was the reason why they had to turn to farming too. The exposure given by SBI Youth for India Fellowship to fellows attending the Self-Help Group’s (SHG) meetings had made Amrita realize many such problems. 


The NGO Avani, a part of the SAMPADA network of Barefoot College (SWRC) was instrumental in mentoring Amrita, and was already making efforts to revive the industry of the natural dye, Indigo, in the village. This plant belonged to warmer climes, and Kumaon – being a cold region was not the fittest place to grow a plant like Indigo - something that had already stopped being cultivated in all parts of India which was already not grown in India any longer. This is why growing Indigo was a challenge for cooler climes. However, with the help of the technical know-how of a Professor from IIT Kanpur, the joint effort of the fellow and the local community bore fruit. Amrita noticed that this had an overwhelming response amongst the women who were trained to grow this plant in the villages of Kumaon. It was also discovered that there is no loss of dye content when Indigo is grown in this geographical region and climatic zone.


Interaction with the farmers was the back-bone to Amrita’s Indigo Project


The plant’s viability as a cash crop was clear in the region, especially so with the warming climate. Additionally, the women were taught the end-to-end cycle from cultivation to extraction and dyeing with the indigo dye. The sustainability of the project was ensured by the farmers’ enthusiasm to grow the plant in order to fulfil the partner NGO’s need for raw materials for its natural dyes. The villagers experimented with 3 kinds of Indigo seedlings that are needed to grow the plant – from Assam, South India and even Japan, and found out that all the three varieties are suitable to the land and its climate. This way,150 women farmers cultivated the Indigo crop.

The two-pronged approach of the fellowship program benefited the farmers in other-ways too. Amrita noticed that the rural communities needed to be educated about the environmental depletion factors - this was easily incorporated into the city-style education system. Amrita tackled this bit in a rather interesting way, that is, with the help of Samajhdar Chacha - a puppet that was used to spread important environmental messages by her. Wrapped in an Indigo shawl, this puppet was not just a source of entertainment for the villagers but also education.  


Amrita with ‘Samajhdaar Chacha’ -  a puppet that was used to spread important environmental messages


Additionally, Amrita’s efforts helped revive the age-old tradition of puppet shows in the rural parts of the Kumaon, where she was able to use the local language in order to educate and interact with the women farmers.   


Innovative practices in agricultural sector brings bountiful results


The Indigo Project led by Amrita was an example of education fellowship on innovative practices in the agricultural sector, which was replicable by farmers or individuals who forayed into the cultivation of this plant with the wonder dye. SBI Youth for India, a unique rural fellowship programme initiated, funded and managed by the State Bank of India, in partnership with reputed NGOs is helping many urbanites like Amrita choose the cause of social development and work on challenging developmental projects, to build a sustainable future for rural India.


Apply now directly through this link by 30th April 2021 - https://you4.in/NBAmrita


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Impact-Story is a series on development and CSR interventions leading to some impacts on the ground. If you have a project, innovation or intervention that has changed the lives of a few people or a community, please share a brief note at shilpi@csrbox.org. Our Team will get back to you after validating the information for a detailed coverage.

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Shilpa Tiwari is a New Delhi based Content Specialist with three decades of experience. She has worked extensively on a variety of researches and curricula across K12, Higher Education, Corporate and Social Development sectors. A Master’s degree in English Literature and a degree in French from Delhi University, alongwith International Business Programme from IIFT, most certainly provides Shilpa an added expertise to work as a Consultant on various research and consulting projects with Corporates, Educational Institutions, Publications, CSR Foundations and NGOs.


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