Dhanuka Devi, a 35 year old hitherto poor woman from a decrepit village in Muzaffarpur district Bihar now proudly flashes her ATM debit card, symbolises a discerning and paradigm change in socio- economic landscape in our backyard. Her’s and others in her peer group’s freedom from the yoke of poverty and deprivation has been facilitated through a flagship intervention module launched by the Ministry of Rural Development(MoRD) called National Rural Livelihood Mission(NRLM).
Launched in June 2011, aided in part through investment support by the World Bank, the Mission aims at creating efficient and effective institutional platforms of the rural poor enabling them to increase household income through sustainable livelihood enhancements and improved access to financial services. NRLM has set out with an agenda to cover 7 Crore BPL households, across 600 districts, 6000 blocks, 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats and 6 lakh villages in the country through self-managed Self Help Groups (SHGs) and federated institutions and support them for livelihoods collectives in a period of 8-10 years. In addition, the poor would be facilitated to achieve increased access to their rights, entitlements and public services, diversified risk and better social indicators of empowerment. NRLM believes in harnessing the innate capabilities of the poor and complements them with capacities (information, knowledge, skills, tools, finance and collectivisation) to participate in the growing economy of the country.
‘JEEVIKA’ the Bihar Model
Spearheaded by the Union Government, the NRLM has assumed a new meaning and dimension in Bihar as the state government has innovatingly subsumed its poverty allieviation initiatives under this and has been able to create change on the ground. The Government of Bihar (GoB), through the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS – locally known as JEEViKA), an organisation registered under the Societies Registration Act (Act XXI of 1860) in Patna, is spearheading the World Bank aided Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (BRLP) and the 4th Component : Livelihoods Restoration and Enhancement of Bihar Kosi Flood Recovery Project (BKFRP). The objective of the project is social and economic empowerment of the rural poor and improving their livelihoods. This is being done by developing institutions of the poor like SHGs and their federations to enable them to access and negotiate better services, credit and assets from public and private sector agencies and institutions. The project is playing a catalytic role in promoting development of micro finance and agribusiness sectors.
In order to promote sustainable livelihoods of the poor & women, it assumes significant importance that continuous and supportive role is played by different stakeholders like mainstream financial institutions and other market players. The project has played its catalytic role in augmenting Public-Private partnership for different facets of livelihood promotion in the rural areas. The project has incorporated identification of existing innovations in various areas as its key element and has lent a helping hand in developing processes, systems and institutions for scaling up these innovations.
LIVING THE CHANGE
The governemnt’s approach has been to bring all the targeted poor household of a village under its fold to build vibrant and bankable women SHGs and their federations. Presently the Project is working in 42 blocks of six districts namely Gaya, Nalanda, Muzaffarpur, Madhubani, Khagaria and Purnia under BRLP, which intends to form around 65000 SHGs and thus impact more than 8.25 lakh households. Similarly 13 blocks in three Kosi flood affected districts Saharsa, Madhepura and Supaul are covered under BKFRP, which targets to federate 1.6 Lakh Households into 15000 SHGs.
Since scaling up of such a holistic poverty alleviation program to the entire state at one go may dilute the quality, it has been planned that the implementation would be taken up in a phased manner. It has been planned that all 534 blocks of the state would be entered by the year 2014. The priority of districts and blocks are largely guided by three indicators, number of BPL HHs, Number of SC / ST HHs and HDI Index. It has been estimated that 1.25 (+25) crore identified poor HHs would be covered under the framework.
However, the target has been that, an investment of a total of Rs. 9200.23 Crore would result in a poor household accessing cumulative credit of Rs One Lakh over the programme period using which the households(HH) would have retired all high cost debt, have invested in a basket of income generating activities (2 or 3 livelihoods) thereby leading to an incremental income of Rs. 10,000 pm (based on existing experiences), have substantially reduced expenditure on health and become food secured throughout the year and thus come out of poverty in five to eight years time frame.
Mobilisation of poor to form their ‘own institutions’ has been the core investment for the project. Strong institutions of the poor such as SHGs and their village level and higher level federations are necessary to provide space, voice and resources for the poor, and, for reducing their dependence on external agencies. They also act as instruments of knowledge and technology dissemination, and hubs of production, collectivisation and commerce. These institutional platforms most importantly ensure sustainability of the interventions taken up under the project. The project has therefore focused on setting up these institutions at various levels i.e. Self Help Groups (SHGs), Village Organisations (VOs) – federations of SHGs and Block Level Federations – federations of VOs.
Moreover, the project has invested heavily in creating a large pool of ‘social capital’ – institutions of the poor, their members and office bearers, community resource persons (CRPs) , community professionals (community mobilisers (CMs), book keepers (BK) to support poor communities. The basic premise of the social capital is that poor need an institutional platform to make markets and services work in the last mile. Each livelihoods project basically invests in creating these institutional platforms and build community capacities to manage them using the support of paid community professionals. This social capital created is also crucial for scaling up and ensuring sustainability.
This includes financial literacy and counseling of the poor combined with capitalisation of the institutions of the poor to enable them to strengthen their financial management capacity. On the supply side the effort is to closely work with the mainstream financial institutions at all levels to enable mobilisation of the bank credit for the poor.
The project has also been working with the commercial banks to help poor meet the credit needs of their families including asset creation; investments in higher education, health and jobs trainings; and improving shelters. The strategies used include signing of MoU’s with leading public sector banks and sensitising the local branch managers through exposure visits to places where bank linkage has been successfully scaled up. In addition community institutions set up help desks manned by locally trained educated women to function as Client Relationship Managers (Bank Mitras) to help poor clients in opening of savings accounts, facilitating banking transactions, updating of passbooks, supporting loan documentation, providing product information and financial counseling.
The project has piloted the concept of a village Women Outreach Worker (Wow) in combination with mobile vans. A WoW is appointed for 2 -3 villages and trained especially in Reproductive Child Health by a technical partner – Janani. These WoWs facilitate the access of SHG members to professional health services at the block and district level. They also provide basic services such as testing the blood pressure, diabetic levels, and pregnancy to the households at their doorstep at reasonable rates. In addition they also mobilise SHG households for health check-ups offered through the mobile vans once a fortnight. The mobile vans have a doctor and offer testing facilities for HIV rapid test, Kala Azar, TB and Diabetes.
As yet another intervention, the project has piloted a Food Security program, a community managed credit and food distribution mechanism. As part of this the VO assesses the food gap at the household level for each of its members, aggregates the food requirement, procures it in bulk from nearby markets and distributes it to the households as in kind credit. The households repay the amount in easy installment over the next 3 to 6 months and such cycles are repeated as per the need. In some places, the VOs have taken over the management of the Public Distribution System thereby ensuring that the households get monthly supply of the food entitlements which until then was happening once only in 4 to 5 months.
The community based institutions especially the village origination systematically work towards enabling access to entitlements like PDS [Public Distribution System], pensions, government sponsored insurance programs (life and health ). As part of this the VO’s identify households that are entitled to benefit from specific government programs but are currently not able to obtain them and take up their case with the relevant line departments.
A large proportion (around 70%) of poor families in Bihar is small and marginal farmers. For these families; with average landholding of less than 50 decimals – usually with no irrigation; the options in agriculture are limited to production of Paddy, Wheat or pulses for subsistence. Productivity is low with food security of 3 to 5 months from own lands. Basing on the above facts and figures, the Project has identified and successfully piloted the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Paddy and subsequently replicated the principles in wheat to enhance food security through higher productivity. In addition the project has been working on integrating the poor into agri value chain by collective procurement of inputs through the village organisation and by organising them into producer companies that take up seed production, processing and distribution to ensure good quality seeds. A cross cutting feature of all the agriculture interventions is the community managed extension system that ensures extension inputs to small and marginal farmers at their doorstep.
Creating one job per poor household, in formal sectors, brings the whole family out of poverty in a short period of time as it brings in stable and higher levels of income. Therefore the project has established partnerships with private and public sector agencies like AeA, G4S, Vardhman Yarns and CIDC to identify, train and place unemployed youth from SHG households in formal sector jobs.