This picture shows only some of the 291 farmers, who have decided to sell their products via Amar Khamar.
Wait! These are women! Weren't we talking of "farmers"! Well, it so happens that the conventional image of the Indian farmer as a
doughty male is just that, a convention. A huge amount of the farm work—including sowing, transplanting, and reaping—is done by
women. Often women alone are the farmers, with the males having migrated for work. This is certainly true for the large parts of
West Bengal, including the Sundarbans, where Amar Khamar has begun its work.
At Amar Khamar, we believe that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Therefore, we work only with farmers who actively
participate in their Self-Help-Groups (SHGs). SHGs are important, because they strengthen the social ties between the farmers and
enable them to become more self-sufficient.
Romance focuses on the individual; epic works with multitudes. In an epic, as in real life, there are multiple protagonists and
parallel streams of pitfalls and overcoming. In a sense, each SHG is a mini-epic, where the alchemy of working together gradually
transcends narrow self-concerns. Moreover, as often as not, the group becomes in a sense an individual, with an identity and
personality of its own and hence, perhaps, an appropriate subject for romance of another kind. Here, however, we can provide no
more than hurried glimpses of the groups we are working with.
Given the spatial limitations, we cannot, at once, display information regarding all the SHGs we are working with.
Hence, the contents of this page will continue to change as information on other SHGs is displayed.
Mahayamaya SHG (Established 2006)
Chandana Mondal (35):
The members of the Mahamaya SHG have understood how important each woman in the SHG is. Only
together can the ten women members hope to improve their lives. Chandana Mondal, the leader of Mahamaya
SHG, shared with us their secret for success: Each woman is doing the best she can so that the SHG can
become successful. When Chandana learned about Amar Khamar, she encouraged the other women to join.
She hopes that in due course they will be able to increase their supply of rice, increase their income,
and improve the lives of their children. After all, the lives and education of their children is of
utmost importance. And in case you wondered–the women's favourite variety of rice is Kamini.
Ma Ganga SHG (Established 2002)
Lakshmi Rami Mondal (42):
The women of Ma Ganga SHG are early adopters when it comes to organic or nature-oriented farming in
the Sundarbans. Since 2009, all ten women of Ma Ganga have been using organic liquid fertilizer for
cultivating vegetables. Lakshmi Rani Mondal was the first member of the SHG to get to know this
technique and enthusiastically convinced the other members of its importance and advantages—their
success proves them right. In addition, the women have cattle and are farming fish. There is more.
In 2016, they started planting trees on the roadside with the NREGA project. This amount of work is
only possible because the women are very well organized and share the work equally.
Sanghaat (Established 2003)
Sunita Mistri (32)
Since the beginning of Sanghaat in 2003, the women utilized the possibilities created by the SHG
to increase and improve their farming. Although initially they were poor, they could improve their
standard of living substantially over the last decade or so. One important factor in their economic
advancement was the change in their method of rice cultivation. In this new method, called
single-seedling-cultivation, only one seedling is planted in one position and the distance between
any two seedlings is increased to about 10 inches–1 foot. Although the number of seedlings sown is much
less, because only four seedlings can be planted in about one square foot of land, the yield is much
higher than with the traditional method. All the ten women of Sanghaat are a part of Amar Khamar,
because it offers them new possibilities to sell their rice at a fair price. The women like
Amar Khamar, because here they have a clear view of the whole route of the product–from their fields,
right up to the consumer.
Jay Durga SHG (2002)
Rita Baishnab (38)
When we asked Rita Baishnab, the leader of Jay Durga SHG, what makes a Self-Help-Group successful,
she immediately answered "একসঙ্গে" – together, which is the core value of Jay Durga. This value strengthened
Jay Durga SHG as well after cyclone Aila in 2009, when some of the women lost their homes. Together they
petitioned for and received governmental support to rebuild their homes and start cultivating different
varieties of rice and vegetables again. Now, they are even better off than before the Aila. All eleven
members of Jay Durga SHG are part of Amar Khamar and they cultivate solely indigenous rice varieties,
which is very important for them as the rice produced can be sown again in the following season to yield
bountiful crop and one does not have to buy seeds from the market (something impossible with hybrid seeds,
which lose steam in one or two generations of replanting). The women also fish, an activity in which they
take pride, as it is traditionally and predominantly a work done by men.
Sujata Mistri (41)
When the women of Pritilata started their SHG in 2002, some group members did not know how to
read and write. For Sujata Mistri, the leader of Pritilata, this had to change and she made sure that
all ten women became literate. This did not just empower the women individually, it was necessary for
establishing micro investment plans for each member. Now, each member of the group knows exactly how
much money they need, earn, spend, and save per month. They are very keen to keep track and motivate
each other in doing so. Since this method was so successful for the women and improved their life,
Sujata shared her knowledge and experience with the other leaders of SHGs in the neighbourhood. She
meets the other leaders regularly and if any of them learns about a new scheme / method / technique
or anything else that the other women might profit from as well, they share the information. The women
of Pritilata have cultivated rice for a long time and are glad about the new opportunities Amar Khamar
offers them in selling their surplus.