Empowering women with efficient technologies

R Prabha

Rural women have found a new way for income generation by application of appropriate technologies in the field of renewable energy, food processing and sustainable agriculture. Applied technologies coupled with capacity building have enhanced their confidence levels and decision making abilities.

Women have to perform several roles, both in the family as well as in the society. In response to these roles and responsibilities, innovations that address the practical and productive needs of women as well as their strategic interests become crucial. Innovations accompanied by enabling mechanisms for their achievement is the route to social transformation, especially for women’s empowerment.

TIDE is a not for profit society committed to sustainable development through various processes including technology development, awareness creation, technical & enterprise training, initiating and nurturing income generation activities. It has been working with women in Karnataka and Kerala by initiating them into income generation, by the application of appropriate technologies in the fields of renewable energy, food processing and sustainable agriculture. TIDE has played an innovative role in initiating women in these technologies so that the rural communities, for whom they have been designed, can benefit. It works with grassroot NGOs in identifying women who require support.

The technologies selected are suited for women as the activities are traditionally performed by women and are not difficult to learn. Most of the activities that women were trained in were already being done by them using traditional methods. For example, drying foods in the sun is something that women have been doing for years. By introducing a biomass based dryer, TIDE has helped women to dry the food in a shorter time, producing better and cleaner quality, without addition of much cost. A few more examples of the technologies being used by women for income generation are smokeless household stoves, biomass based dryers, processing of cashew, greenhouse horticulture. Presently, 60 women are engaged in varied livelihood activities through TIDE projects and their collective income from the year 2003 to date is Rs 14 lakhs. The experience of promoting smokeless stoves is describes in this article.

Case 1 – Smokeless stoves

Women were initiated into smokeless stove building for rural households. The conventional stoves would emit a lot of smoke inside the house causing indoor air pollution and health problems. Since women best understand the needs and expectations of a cook-stove, and as communication between women is most effective, stove construction was believed to be an ideal income generating activity for women.

The Sarala stove as its name suggests is easy to build, easy to use and easy to maintain. It is a 2-pan stove, with a single fuel- feeding port and a chimney to carry the smoke out. The stove is built using a mould, which ensures that there are no deviations from the design that will affect the performance of the stove. Locally available materials are used for the construction, essentially mud and bricks. The design of the stove ensures that the smoke that is generated when biomass is burnt does not enter the kitchen, but is carried out of the house through the chimney. This reduces the indoor air pollution. The stove has been designed to ensure efficiency of burning and to prevent smoke from coming back into the kitchen. The use of a mould ensures that the dimensions of the stove are adhered to

Before introducing the smokeless stoves, TIDE conducted a study to understand what women want from a stove. Based on the findings, it developed a dissemination strategy for smokeless household stoves, where women become the agents of change. The reasons to make women as stove entrepreneurs were several –  the users of household stoves are women; they communicate their cooking needs much more openly and comfortably with other women; the need to build capacities locally who could address the problems in future.

TIDE began training women in household stove construction in 2003. The women have been trained in the construction of the Sarala stove. It was designed by scientists at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Indian Institute of Science.

More than 100 women have been trained in stove construction. 10 women were trained as trainers to train others in stove construction. Since women face a number of socio-cultural obstacles that prevent them from moving out of their homes, the number of drop-outs among women are high. As of now, 2 women are actively engaged in stove construction as a means of their livelihoods, while 8 other women build the stoves whenever someone asks them to.

The stove entrepreneurs understand the design of the stove and hence do not modify the basic design. They do make small alterations to suit the user needs, if it does not change the efficiency of the stove. The stove entrepreneurs have been trained to make provisions, depending on the users needs. For instance, if the user wants a pan of smaller size to suit the size of her vessels, the stove entrepreneur fixes reducers in the opening, so that the small vessel can fit. In one case, the user needed a stove in which she could cook for a large family. So, the stove entrepreneur, Lalithabai built 2 stoves adjacent to each other, but with a common chimney. i.e. both the stoves opened into the same chimney. Thus, the user got two stoves without too much additional expense.

The two active stove entrepreneurs travel to villages where they get orders. While they prefer the villages close to their homes, they do not hesitate to travel to far off villages too.

A case of Lalithabai

This is the story of Smt Lalithabai ,45 of H.Muddenahalli Tandya near Halkurke in Tiptur taluk of Tumkur district of Karnataka  Her primary occupation was agricultural labour. During the lean agricultural season, she worked in stone quarries around the village. In 2002, through BAIF in Tiptur, she was trained by TIDE in construction of smokeless stoves called Sarala stove. At Rs 200 per stove she knew that it would be affordable by even the very poor in small villages. She judged that she could earn a good income by building these stoves, while at the same time reducing the work and improving health of women like her.  Thus began her entrepreneurship.  She found that the income she earned was more than double of that she earned by agricultural labour or as a quarry worker.  This was important for her, as she wanted to educate her daughter to become a teacher. Lalithabai travelled across the state – from Tiptur taluk to villages in Dharwad district ( about 400 km away) to build stoves. Like all women, she had family responsibilties, but her ambition for her daughter was enough motivation for her to manage things in such a way that stove construction did not come in the way of these responsibilities.. In 2 years she earned Rs. 50000/-, which helped her daughter to complete TCH and become a government school teacher.

In recognition of her efforts, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Bharti Foundation conferred upon her the Woman Exemplar Award 2007 for Micro-entrepreneurs.

Lalithabai continues to build stoves and today has built nearly 3000 stoves. Her earnings amount to close to Rs. two lakhs. Her success comes not only from her skill as a stove builder, but also due to her ability to understand users needs. This established her reputation as a stove builder. She got rid of her inhibitions to market her skills as a stove builder, thus getting further orders. She participates in all stove construction-training programmes of TIDE to motivate other women to take up stove construction and become entrepreneurs so that they may become like her.

All the women sell their products directly. TIDE helps them initially by developing market linkages through various strategies like conducting promotion campaigns, awareness meetings, meeting potential buyers etc. Once market linkages are established, the women carry on their enterprise.

A case of Sreedevi Mukesh

Sreedevi Mukesh, 33, a resident of Anapuzha in Thrissur district of Kerala is another woman who stands tall today, thanks to her enterprising spirit and the biomass dryer that she uses to dry fish and prawn. She and her group were engaged in sun drying sea fish on the beach near her house. The group contributed financially towards installation of the biomass dryer and went through a period of product standardization and trial production. With initial assistance of TIDE, Mrs. Sreedevi and her group (she was the undisputed leader) began marketing the dried fish and prawns. She understands the uniqueness of her products and talks of quality assurance as her USP.  Kudumbashree recognized the dried fish and prawns made by Mrs. Sreedevi as quality products. With their support, Mrs. Sreedevi participates in exhibitions in Kerala and even at the Kerala Pavilion in the India International Trade Fair, New Delhi… The group has processed about 15 tons of fresh prawns and sold three tons of dried prawns in the last three years earning a profit of Rs 98320 for the group.

She has a high sense of social responsibility and mentors other women’s groups. Her work has inspired other groups to take up fish and prawn drying and today there are 5 groups operating in Kerala who are trained by her. She is sought for conflict resolution in the community especially among women’s groups. She is also committed to serving her community and participates in meetings and the panchayat.. Her vision for her enterprise and her never say die attitude helped her to overcome all the obstacles and make a success of her enterprise.

Training as well as initial marketing and promotion support helped to build the self-esteem of the women, and today there are women who have improved their economic status by pursuing this activity. All put together, the women stove entrepreneurs have built about 5000 stoves so far and have earned more than Rs. 3.5 lakhs and a clean environment.

Case 2- Biomass based dryers

Women in Kerala were trained in the use of biomass based dryers to produce dried prawn and fish, and assisted to establish enterprises in these dried products. In Karnataka, women are being initiated into enterprises for drying areca, coconuts, etc. Although drying food products is not new to women, drying them in a dryer ensures hygiene and hence better quality of the dried product. The women can also dry all round the year, including during the rainy season.  Products are sold mainly in the local markets. One group used the opportunity that came her way to participate in the Trade Fair at New Delhi and sold her dried prawn there

Challenges and learnings

 It has been our experience that if 5% of women who undergo training take up the activity as a vocation, it is creditable.  Knowing that women have to overcome several social and family situations, we train a large number of women, so that at least a few would take up the activity as a vocation. Women play several roles in the society. Including one more role of entrepreneur should not be an additional burden.

Women’s empowerment is very visible through greater participation in community activities, greater decision making and acceptance of the changing role of women in the households. The women have learnt a new skill that has helped them not only to earn a livelihood but also to add to their status in the society. The enhanced economic and social status has developed the confidence levels of the women and ultimately led to their empowerment.

R Prabha


No.19, 9th Cross, Malleswaram


Email: r.prabha@tide-india.org

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