Women in rural Himachal on path to prosperity


Shimla, Jul 18 (IANS): Women in rural Himachal Pradesh are experiencing transformations in their livelihood with the support of initiatives of Swan Women Federation (SWF) driven by the Japan-backed Swan River Integrated Watershed Management Project in Una district.

The Swan Women Federation is an umbrella organization for over 650 self-help groups (SHGs). These groups count around 10,000 women as members, making the federation the largest organised collective of rural women in the state.

The SHGs of the federation undertake a gamut of activities, all aimed at empowering women in areas like procurement and distribution of farm inputs and produce, demonstration of better technologies, addressing social issues including family health, sanitation and children's education, an official said on Thursday.

The journey began in 2013 when the state Forest Department started implementing the Swan River Integrated Watershed Management Project with the help of a 3,493 million Japanese Yen (about Rs 200 crore) loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The project aimed at restoring degraded forests, protecting agricultural land, and increasing the output of agricultural and forestry products through integrated watershed management.

Initiatives under the project included afforestation, construction of flood control facilities, soil protection and land reclamation, agricultural development, and promotion of income generating activities in Una.

Since the completion of the project in 2015, it was decided to federate the then 423 SHGs into a society to continue to meet the project's objectives.

In just about four years, the society has assets worth Rs 7.79 crore and 652 SHGs have savings and credit in it.

Group loans amounting to Rs 2 crore have been given out so far, which are promptly being repaid by the women.

"Members get easy loans within one or two days. With the help of this society, women can now deposit funds to earn high rates of interest and get loans at lower interest as compared to banks. Women now have greater access to finance and can take decisions on their own, for their family." said Sunita Sharma, Secretary, Swan Women (Multipurpose) Cooperative Society.

The federation facilitated women in cultivating turmeric, a crop which is not destroyed by wild animals. A bumper harvest prompted the federation to set up a unit called 'Swan Spices'.

Swan Spices has since added coriander powder, red chilli powder and Indian mixed spices to its product portfolio.

Swan Spices gained so much popularity that it registered a sale of Rs 6 million in just two years.

"The success of Swan Women Federation is now a case study for JICA and the state government," said R.K. Dogra, CEO, Swan Women Federation.

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