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The contribution of women to rural economy has often not only been neglected but under-estimated as well. They are, even today, seen only as ‘care takers' and ‘home makers'. As a consequence they have less access to productive resources and opportunities – land, education, financial services, technology, and rural employment. In spite of this gender bias, the contribution of women to household income has been changing over the years in the rural areas.

Development efforts by governments, NGO's, Women's groups, CBO's and Civil society have helped create awareness among rural women about their true, but under-utilised potential. Rural women are being encouraged and supported to get out of their ‘conventional roles' and take on a more active role in agriculture and other related and allied activities.

The concept of Self Help Groups (SHG's) and the formation of these groups in rural areas has sufficiently impacted the rural economy. As a collective, the SHG's have helped women get out of the confines of their homes and participate in social, environmental, economic, health and in some cases also political and community issues. What primarily started as a unique method of financial intermediation has now also become a platform for women to become active in broader development programs. Their contribution to the overall growth and progress - both at level of the household and the community - can no longer be ignored or passed-by.

Laying new vermicompost bed


The Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) has been working with one such Women's group – TANWABE since 2006 in a village called Allivilagam in the Sirkazhi Taluk of Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu. This group consists of 15 members all belonging to the same village and are primarily involved in agricultural activities.

This group has been together since 2004 and the members have been involved in a few income generation activities – production and sales of Shikakai powder, nutritional health mix, appalam, papads and dehydrated vegetables. Financial support for these activities is provided through the Government of Tamil Nadu, Department of Agriculture's unique program involving women in businesses related to agriculture (Tamil Nadu Women in Agri-Business Extension – TANWABE ).

CIKS involvement in this village started primarily as an organic farming initiative under a program – Organic Vegetable Cultivation - supported by the Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi . During interactions with farmers of this village under the DST program, it was observed that the women from this SHG readily followed most of the suggestions and also willingly improvised and experimented with new practices. The dynamic interactions within the group members and the level of confidence, unity, commitment and motivation they exhibited prompted CIKS to take on a pro active role in the development of this group.

To explore other possible avenues for income generation, the group members were taken on exposure visits to places like Gandhigram Rural Institute and to a vermicompost production unit at Panikkampatty near Pollachi. After the visits and due deliberation and discussions among the members themselves and with CIKS, it was decided that a community vermicomposting production unit be started in the village. The rationale for choosing this activity is listed below:

  1. ready availability of raw material
  2. quantum of capital investment available
  3. ease of maintenance - about 2 hrs per person per day.
  4. allied activity to organic farming
  5. local demand for vermicompost
  6. technical support available locally (CIKS)

To support this initiative CIKS extended a loan of Rs.25,000 in October 2008, with the understanding that it would be repaid within a period of 10 months. In addition to this they also received a grant of Rs.15,000 from Norway and a loan amount of Rs.10,000 to the SHG. The group's contribution amounted to Rs.4,900

With a total capital of Rs.54, 900 the vermicomposting unit was set up at Mrs.Kanchana Muralidharan's place just behind the Meditation hall in Allivilagam. The entire amount of Rs.54,900 was spent on setting up the unit. The expense statement is presented in Table 1.


TANWABE Community Vermicompost Production Unit

This unit started functioning from November 12, 2008. The cow dung required to start the production process was brought in by the members of the group. Once the decision to start the unit was taken, all the members started keeping aside a certain quantity of cow dung from their homes for supply to the unit. The collection cost of cow dung was fixed at Rs. 0.10 /kg. It was also agreed that each member would bring 10kgs of cow dung per day and would also spend approximately 2 hours everyday to help with the maintenance of the unit – watering, making beds, collecting and drying the vermicompost, sieving, packing etc.

Vemicompost beds

There were initial setbacks like over-watering, drying up of beds, worms dying out etc. but once the members understood the little nuances of maintenance of the vermicompost beds, all issues concerning production per se were sorted out. How ever as is common, and expected, there were a couple of management issues that needed to be sorted out – continuous and regular supply of cow dung and division of work among the members.

The members after a series of discussions, came to a consensus and agreed to increase the collection cost of dung to Rs.0.25/kg. To ensure participation of all members in the maintenance of the unit, since July 2010, a fixed rate of Rs.225 is paid as salary to all members who put in about 2 hours of work for 15 days in a month. These two measures have helped to streamline the production system as well as have all the members contribute to the smooth running of the unit.

Detailed records are being maintained by the elected representatives of the group and they include the following.

  1. Attendance register
  2. Procurement register giving information on amount of cow dung brought in date-wise by each member
  3. Input /Output register – information on quantity of cow dung used per bed with date of bed making and quantity of vermicompost produced per bed, with date of harvest
  4. Stock register - Total quantity of vermicompost produced, sales figures and stock details
  5. Earnings of each member.

With increased experience in running the unit, there has been a gradual increase in the production of vermicompost. Initially, it took about 45 days to produce one tonne of vermicompost. Now, after production procedures have got streamlined, a tonne of vermicompost is being produced in 30 days. Therefore the demand for cow dung has increased. Members were already bringing in the maximum quantity of cow dung they could share. There was very little chance of meeting the extra demand for cow dung from their existing cattle.

After discussions amongst the group members and with CIKS, it was proposed that if each member could purchase one more head of cattle, the additional requirement of cow dung could be easily met from within the group itself. Accordingly, a loan of Rs.15,000 was extended to each member in December 2010, through a program of NABARD, for purchase of cattle. This loan amount is to be paid back in 8 instalments, with the first payment due in March 2011.

They are hopeful of clearing this loan amount from the sale of milk and the vermicompost produced. The economics of this has been worked out as follows:


Average milk production per cow – 5 Litres/day

Price of milk – Rs.13/Litre

Monthly income from sale of milk – 13X5X30 = Rs.1950.00

Average production of cow dung per day – 15 kg

Monthly average production of dung – 15X30 = 450 kg

Cost of cow dung – Rs. 0.25/kg

Income from sale of cow dung – Rs.0.25X450 = Rs.112.50

One kg of cow dung converts to approximately 500 g of vermicompost.

450 kg of dung would make 225 kg of vermicompost.

Sale price of vermicompost – Rs.4/kg

Income from sale of vermicompost – Rs. 225X4 = Rs. 900.00

Monthly salary for maintenance of unit – Rs. 225.00

Total monthly income from one additional head of cattle = 1950.00 + 112.50 + 900.00 + 225.00 = 3187.50


The total loan amount including interest that needs to be repaid by each member works out to Rs. 16,956.75; to be paid back in 8 instalments

Loan re-payment amount every month = Rs. 2119.60

Dry fodder - 2 kg/day @ Rs.4/ kg X 30 = Rs. 240.00

Concentrates – 1.25 kg/day @ Rs.20/ kg X 30 = Rs.750.00

Average medical expenses/month = Rs.150.00

Total expenses – 240.00 + 750.00 + 150.00 = Rs.1140.00

Total monthly expenses for one additional head of cattle = 2119.60 + 1140.00 = 3169.60


Table 2. MONTHLY INCOME – EXPENSE STATEMENT (For one head of cattle *)

* A one time expense (insurance component) of Rs.870.00 has not been included here.

So far, all members of this SHG have always been prompt in the repayment of all the loans availed by them and are confident about repaying this loan as well. Based on the above calculations, repayment of this loan amount within the stipulated time frame does seem possible.


A visit to this SHG was organized on February 25, 2011 to meet and interact with the members of TANWABE. The meeting was arranged at the Meditation Hall in Allivilagam. During this visit, the vermicompost production unit was inspected and all the records maintained were verified. Of the 12 members involved in the program, 10 of them attended the meeting and actively participated in the discussions.

Women beneficiaries involved in the maintenance of vermicompost unit

This women's group is a very cohesive and committed one, taking efforts to ensure that any disagreement or difference of opinion is sorted out within the group itself. The secret to the success of this group, I suppose, lies in the fact that the women see this enterprise not as a mere income generation activity but as an opportunity to share and bond with one another.

The record of all the activities are being maintained and periodically updated. How ever, the procedure of record keeping needs to be improved to ensure product flow and traceability. The production and sales details are shown in Figure 1.


The production of vermicompost is efficient as is seen from the conversion rate (from cow dung to vermicompost ) of almost 50%. This implies that these women have learnt the technique of fine tuning the production process. From the graph it is clear that sales figures have matched production values. There has been enough demand locally to absorb the present production levels, with local farmers, a local nursery and CIKS being the main buyers so far. There is an immediate need to explore and capture newer markets as production levels are bound to increase in the coming months. There are enquiries from three other nurseries from surrounding areas.

Another source of income from this vermicompost production unit is through the sale of earthworms. A kilogram of worms is sold at Rs. 300.00. So far they have sold about 50 kgs of worms. These women who have learnt the nuances of vermicompost production are now sharing their knowledge and imparting the skill to other groups in the surrounding villagers by conducting training programs. The possibility of making this a paid service for the group must be explored.

An interesting and very positive development in this group is that, these women who were earlier limited to managing their homes and families are now confident of speaking in public and voicing their opinions, are profitably managing rural agri-based enterprises and are involved in all the activities right from production to marketing, are also conducting training programs on vermicompost production and a skill based course (tailoring) for girls from the village.

It can be said with a fair degree of pride and confidence that this program has augmented family incomes, increased food and nutritional security of these households, developed entrepreneurial, management and training skills in village women. What started as an organic agriculture program has grown and developed into activity that has empowered rural women.