Established by a doctor couple and like-minded people who believed in the principle that soul of India resided in its villages and a thriving village is key to the country’s economic growth BGP (Bhagirath Gramvikas Pratishthan) began humbly in a village called Zarap in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district in 2004.
Actively engaged towards holistic and sustainable rural development till date, over 70 villages in seven tehsils in Sindhudurg districts have been empowered by the organisation.
We work with people by uplifting their self-belief, introducing them to newer and advanced methods of farming, energy and fuel generation, horticulture, poultry, pig farming, dairy, goatery etc. Thanks to the livelihood generation activities we have been able to stop the migration of youth, though in small numbers, to the neighbouring cities. In fact, there have been several incidences of reverse migration—of those who have returned and are earning their livelihood. Along with economic development, we have achieved better ecological and environmental conditions in the sphere of our influence.
How We Work
Having identified a village our volunteers begin by assessing the available agricultural and natural resources involving door to door interviews with the intended beneficiaries. We suggest a roadmap as to how and what way they could enhance their living conditions. With the data collected we take the next step—engaging volunteers to organise various training programs for the farmer families. The topics covered are on different activities that are supportive of farming. Our fee-based training programs are our USP as the training module is scientific, relevant and applicable to the socio-geographical conditions and is guided by domain experts. The volunteers follow it up with feedback from the attendees to comprehend whether the programs have served them well. Finally, we introduce income generation activities thus empowering them economically.
Biogas--A Change Agent
Installation of Biogas plants which run on cattle manure and human waste has played a major role in our success. Earlier, most households used firewood for cooking which put immense pressure on the local environment. The smoke-filled kitchen led to health issues such as breathing issues, eye problems, etc. Womenfolk of the household suffered heavily due to this. Biogas plants came as a change agent. A biogas plant requires about 10 x 10 ft area, cattle waste and other organic waste to keep it running. The input materials burn completely resulting in zero waste. It is environment-friendly, is economical and a low-maintenance system. This is the reason that besides financially weak people even from the middle and upper-middle-class families are opting for biogas units. Multi-pronged and long-term benefits of biogas are already noticeable in villages. Housewives who used to spend a lot of time and energy collecting firewood and cooking their meals are now using their spare time in other productive tasks. The slurry generated through biogas is an excellent organic manure that is being used in enriching the farm soil. Since biogas plants basically run on cow dung this has encouraged villagers to take care of the well-being of their cattle. We encourage more and more villagers to buy and maintain a healthy herd of cattle.
We at BGP play the role of a catalyst in assisting prospective biogas owners avail bank loan and subsidy from the district cooperative bank providing premium material for construction and supply trained masons to build them. As a result, close to 8,000 biogas units have been installed in the villages of Sindhudurg. We aim to install 20,000 biogas systems by 2020. An efficient team of 60 individuals for the purpose of installation and attending to post-installation service is just a call away with their contact details including mobile numbers are shared with the prospective biogas owners. Our initiative of providing pressure cooker at subsidized rates to households and training womenfolk how to use it for best results has taken away the drudgery associated with cooking meals and brought a smile on the face of the housewife which we are proud of.
Facilitating Bank Loans for Micro Ventures
We have facilitated micro and mini loans which may include buying a herd of cattle, raising a poultry farm, commencing a piggery or setting up a biogas unit. During the loan approval phase, we study their background to assure their trustworthiness and ability to repay the loan with a decided rate of interest and on time. Over the years we have been able to create goodwill with the bank officials. So much so that loan application forwarded with our reference have all received bank approvals. Our volunteers do regular follow-ups with the beneficiaries too. If we come across any issues we address it immediately. So far we have reached over 5000 families, spread in 15 villages.
Introducing Organic Paddy Cultivation
With 50 per cent of the geographical area under forest and lack of industrial growth, the major source of livelihood in Sindhudurg is agriculture and horticulture. Due to the traditional ways of farming, degraded soil quality and depleted water sources’ farming has become unrewarding. The main crop here being paddy we have introduced System of Rice Intensification which involves cultivating rice with as much organic manure as possible, starting with young seedlings planted singly at wider spacing in a square pattern; and with intermittent irrigation that keeps the soil moist but not inundated, and frequent inter cultivation with weeder that actively aerates the soil. New crops like turmeric and elephant yam have been introduced with farmers being provided with high-yielding seed material.
Economic Empowerment of Womenfolk
Having realized that the village womenfolk despite having skills lack confidence in taking up new challenges we decided to harness their energies so that they too can contribute finically to the family kitty. Though there were SHG (self-help groups) in several villages they were inactive and members rarely attended its meetings. BGP took upon itself to bring them together and provided training of agro-allied activities such as poultry, dairy, piggery, farming etc. Additionally, we trained them in home-based businesses such as tailoring, preparing homemade delicacies etc. We also facilitated banks to those who came forward to avail them. As a result of our efforts about 85 SHG were revived and are now functioning smoothly. Several women have become independent entrepreneurs in the businesses of tailoring, packaged food products etc. All these have resulted in boosting their confidence and ushered gender equality in livelihood enhancement activities.
Introducing Weekly Market
BGP with the initiative of a local newspaper has introduced the village weekly market where farmers, housewives and micro-entrepreneurs gather to sell their products. It has received an excellent response and the market does business worth Rs 1,00,000 every week.
Women and Child Health
Believing in the dictum “A healthy family will formulate a healthy village” we believe health should be on the top priority list of any organization. Moreso the one which works in the villages, like BGP which has two physicians as its founding members. We conduct regular de-worming of villagers where drugs are prescribed under medical supervision. As rural women are prone to anaemia we conduct regular haemoglobin test and health surveys. Following our awareness drive, we found that most women here were anaemic but not aware of the same. We undertook “Anemia Hatao Scheme” or Eradicate Anemia Scheme and have diagnosed and treated over 300 women of anaemia.
Malnutrition among children is another major concern here. Having identified the malnourished kids we have provided them supplemental drugs to them and their mothers. As a result, more than 100 children from 12 villages do not suffer from malnutrition.
Our “anaemia hatao” campaigns at the school-level help students understand the concept of a balanced diet. As a test case, we have provided hens to 50 school students and hope they consume eggs regularly. We are monitoring this project currently and hope to expand it if found beneficial.
Reclaiming School Education
The root cause of major problems affecting the populace here is due to inadequate education. With successive years we have found that schools in villages encountered fall in the number of students. The reasons are several including the school environment being dull, the lack of proper education material, the mismatch of the curriculum with the real world etc. We at BGP have addressed these issues through an education program beginning with livening up the classrooms with a fresh coat of paint and painting the walls with quotes of great men and women, encouraging teachers to take lessons outdoors and assisting to plant trees, flowering plants, vegetables in the school ground. We have brought in experts to train the teachers in their respective disciplines. BGP has encouraged schools to install biogas units to cook meals for the State’s Healthy Meal initiative. As of now, 10 schools have installed biogas and the meal served in the school prepared using biogas. Several schools encountered drinking water issues. Bhagirath has come forward to provide them with water tanks and installed 27 water tanks. To nurture the talents of the students we have provided several schools with sports equipment, musical instruments etc. We regularly conduct sports meet, music events, drawing competitions etc. in the schools.
Educational Loan to Students
With the assistance of the district cooperative bank, we have facilitated education loan to students desiring to pursue higher education. As of now, we have provided loans to about 75 students. About 1000 students have received educational material through a joint venture with Seva Sahayog (Mumbai and Pune). With another joint venture with Savali Charitable Trust (Mumbai), we have opened a school for members of the Katkari community, an indigenous community which has been deprived of school education. For those students who travel a distance, we have availed them with concessional monthly passes eligible in the State Transport buses which have resulted in few cases of dropouts among them.
Bicycle For Girl Students
With respect to mobility, we have provided bicycles to girl students as many in spite of desiring to attend classes would not do so as it involved a long walk from home to school and back. Although providing bicycle did not just sort travel issues it also addressed the issues related to women empowerment. Thanks to the bicycles we have witnessed a tremendous increase in confidence of the school-going girls—a first step towards empowering the girl child.
Common Facility Centre
Bhagirath Gramvikas Pratishthan has opened a common facility centre at its office premises in Zarap, Kudal. The centre is equipped with a modern gymnasium, library, computer and internet centre, training hall, sports equipment centre and most importantly lodging facility for out of town visitors. Located in a sylvan surrounding the facility centre plays a vital role in training programs.
Introduction of Income Enhancement Activities
A farmer unlike the job holders who have a 9 to 5 schedule has lots of time spare time when not busy with farming activities but it his limited resources which hinders his enterprising skills. We at BGP believe that we a little bit of resource mobilization can go a long way to help him. There are immense opportunities which can be explored and used as a ladder to growth. Keeping this in mind our team has implemented various schemes which will not only empower rural India but also make it self-reliant.
∙ Poultry Farm
Normally, a poultry farm requires large space and a big set up. We have tried, tested and come up with a unique solution of setting up low investment poultry shed in the backyard of houses where the local breed of hens are reared and sold easily. We provide systematic training to interested individuals and help design the shed keeping in mind the hygiene of the surroundings. An individual unit can generate an approximate income of Rs 1, 00,000 per annum. Till date over 50 such units have been set up.
∙ Goat Rearing
Goat rearing is another beneficial business for a rural family household requiring no extra cost but assuring good returns. A unit of goat rearing can fetch approximately Rs 75,000 per annum. We have set up 50 such units in three villages.
∙ Dairy Farming
Rearing the best cattle breed which is adaptable to the climate assures ample supply of milk. We have set up a complete channel where milk is collected and transported to dairies. Co-operative dairy farming presently has a turnover of Rs 10 lakh per annum. Families with cattle heads have benefited from this and earn a decent livelihood.
We at BGP have helped identify the resources and explored opportunities which could help the rural youth to begin their ventures own business. These include setting up poultry product outlets, gifting cows to individuals, providing finance to set up neighbourhood grocery shops and fruit juice stalls etc.