By S. Sivathasan –
“Those without means are scoffed at by everybody. The wealthy are honoured by all.” – Kural
Women of the North
When Auvvaiyar the famed Tamil poetess was asked about the cruelest thing on earth, she replied “The cruelest is poverty and yet more cruel is poverty in early years”. Women headed families in the North are a pitiable 90,000. They experience the cruelest condition and witness yet more cruel travails of their children. Hence this note about them. How to change their discomfiture? A helping hand can lift them as it has done elsewhere.
Why should women be empowered? To make them also a respected segment of society. Can thirty percent representation in the legislature do it? Never. Money put into their hands will. Such action confers dignity. It is a position that comes with financial independence. Wealth can make them equal. Greater wealth can elevate them still higher. Making them so should be the target of honest endeavor. There are institutions to help.
International Fund for Agricultural Development – IFAD
It is a specialized agency of the UN dedicated to eradicating poverty in developing countries. The goal was to empower poor, rural women and men to secure higher incomes and achieve food security. Increased production for greater availability and the purchasing power to enjoy that.
IFAD was established as an international financial institution in August 1977. Its first project loan was approved in April 1978. In a quarter century since then, it has financed 617 projects in 115 countries. Commitments by 2002 were $ 7.7 billion in loans and $ 31.9 billion in grants. These have assisted 47 million rural households benefitting 257 million people. By 2015 IFAD has 176 UN member states in its embrace of assistance.
IFAD and Tamil Nadu
The largest borrower from IFAD is India. She is also among its main contributors. The Fund has approved 25 agricultural and rural development projects for a total of $ 656 million in India. Together with counterpart funds, bank loans and beneficiary contribution, the value of the projects is $ 1.9 billion. What is noteworthy is that assistance to self-help ratio is 1:2. Dependency culture is not bred.
Of the states of India, Tamil Nadu has recorded outstanding performance. In November 1989, the DMK administration took the ‘Mahalir Thittam’ (Women’s Empowerment Programme-WEP) into the IFAD stream. The project with a duration of 10 years had a total cost of $ 30.6 million. IFAD provided $17 million and TN contributed the balance $ 13.6 million.
In 1996 the Agricultural Plan was integrated with the WEP. What started as a rural development programme in 17 districts spread to 28 districts in three years. After urban districts were included, the geographical spread had total coverage of TN.
In a recent report, former CM Karunanidhi gave some impressive details. By end 2010, there were 7,666,497 women who were members in 488,970 groups. Between 2006 and 2009, urban groups numbering 246,700 were added. From 1989 to 2010 they received as bank loans a total of Rs 95.210 billion. A still more striking performance was savings in a total of Rs. 26.580 billion. Rectitude in loan repayment and a growing culture of savings, show the success of social engineering as real.
A good 7 million and more, indigent once are now in the money. What transfigured them? Initial seed money at Rs 100,000 per group was given to women’s groups as grants. This was followed by grants of 150,000 per group as bank loans for the revolving fund. Money alone does not make for success. Many more as additional support are needed. Marketing infrastructure, loan facilities and saving schemes were among those created.
The state government made bold to provide them. Next in time was proactive approach of Banks to give loans for a revolving fund. Third was surveillance by officials of both government and banks. Final and most profound was the character of the people. A project that started small and might have been even with reservations has met with resounding success.
IFAD and Sri Lanka
In obtaining assistance Sri Lanka was ahead of Tamil Nadu by 11 years. In 1978 the very first year IFAD programmes commenced, Sri Lanka had secured funding for the Kirindi Oya Irrigation and Settlement Project. Since 1978, IFAD has financed a total of 16 projects with loan commitments of $ 239 and having a total value of $ 400 million. In the North an ongoing major project is Iranamadu Irrigation Development Project with a duration of 5 years; 2011 – 2016. Total cost is $ 29.3 and IFAD funding is $ 22.2 million. Direct beneficiaries are 7,000.
The most recent ’Country Strategic Opportunities Programme (COSOP) covering the period 2015 – 2020. IFAD states “Rural people in economically lagging and post-conflict areas of Eastern and Northern Provinces will be target groups.” There is further elaboration when IFAD takes a leaf from Budget Speech 2015 – “Focus on regional development, with particular emphasis on Northern and Eastern Provinces, to restore people’s livelihoods, reactivate services and facilities, rehabilitate infrastructure and develop human capabilities.” Quite a broad spectrum for Northern Provincial Council to engage with IFAD and to make its presentation.
NPC and Women in Development
The same genetic traits run through the women of Tamil Nadu and the Tamils of Sri Lanka. Seeking to triumph over circumstances however adverse and the grit to succeed are among them. It is in their character. TN compatriots had peace and government’s proactive programmes to give them a fillip. SL Tamil women have got the occasion for such an advantage in the present moment.
The mechanism to formulate relevant projects, mobilise resources, organize the participants and set about translating into reality is in the Province itself. Channeling finances from the Provincial Council and supplementing with bank loans are all within the ambit of the NPC and the capacity of the Chief Minister. IFAD assistance may be treated as only additional bonus and not as conditional to starting projects.
TN experience has a particular relevance. What started with a limited purview, expanded its scope rapidly to spread from agriculture to agro-industry, production to marketing, livestock rearing to milk production and small scale industries to value addition. With governmental support from the centre and state, expansion is seen in infrastructure development as well. The most recent is ‘Green Houses’ for residence with solar power generation for domestic use.
Right or wrong I am uncertain, reports are that savings will be there by December end. If that be true and correct, it is possible for registered (1) Women’s Rural Development Societies (WRDS) (2) Community Centres (CC) already registered with Department of Local Government; to be drawn into a huge Women’s Empowerment Programme in the Northern Province. Seed money of Rs 2 lakhs as a grant paid into the account of the above organisations before end December 2015. Money to become utilizable next year after proper project study and evaluation. Savings if available can make this possible.
CEB is a statutory organization which can receive funds before the end of the financial year for utilization in the following year for Solar Lights Programme. One condition; supplementary labor to be arranged for by Women’s organisations and payment for this management to benefit them.
Plight of Widows
Year after year statistics of widows and orphans is rattled off, our work is done and conscience salved. IFAD, ADB and other institutions can be convinced to assist while NPC should take the initiative and provide the leadership.