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Bihar Farmer Profiles

The following farmer profiles may be copied & pasted into your congregation’s publications and newsletters. We will add new profiles here as they are available.

Puspa Besra

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Puspa Besra is just 23 years old, but already she knows she wants to make a difference in her community. The young mother recently decided to run for a seat on the local government, and through the course of her campaign, personally visited all 500 families in the ten villages she hoped to represent.

“I had seen others stand for elections and I thought, ‘why not me?’” she said. “If they can fight, I can fight! I just wanted to see how many votes I could get.”

She narrowly lost, but said she learned a lot and plans to run again in the future. If elected, she said, she would try to address some of the challenges that she and other residents of rural villages face. “One village I visited had no water supply,” she said. “If elected I would surely try to do something about that.”

The challenges of rural life in India are many, and Puspa knows them well. She rises at 4:30 a.m. every day to begin her day’s labor — household work, cooking, and whatever agricultural work the season demands, like the threshing she was doing during a recent visit from Lutheran World Relief staff. After the stalks have been harvested, she extracts the grains by manually beating bundles of stalks against a stone table called a pataan. This year, she said, they harvested 1600 kilos of rice, which will take about two to three weeks to thresh. With access to a threshing machine, that time would be cut in half.

Puspa does most of the agricultural work because her husband supplements the family’s income by migrating to the closest city, Ghazipur, for a factory job. If they could make more money from agriculture, she said, he wouldn’t have to migrate, and she hopes that will be the case someday. She sometimes has trouble keeping up with all the work that has to be done while he is away, and ends up hiring help for the fields just so she can manage.

In the meantime, she does the best she can with the farm, and cares for their 3-year-old son. “Sometimes I give him a biscuit [cookie] for breakfast,” she says, “but not often, because I don’t want to ruin his teeth!” Usually their diet consists of rice and vegetables, dal, and roti and chapatti, types of Indian bread.

Sangita Devi

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Sangita Devi, 36, usually starts her day with a breakfast of leftover rice — if there is any left after her four children have eaten. She and her husband both work in the informal economy as daily wage laborers, often working someone else’s land and receiving rice, not money, as payment. She earns a little money by making and selling puffed rice, a popular snack food, to her neighbors, for a meager profit of 15 rupees (about 25 cents) per kilo.

She has a small home garden where she grows eggplant and okra and a few cowpeas, which they save for special occasions. Usually, she said, their family’s diet consists of mainly rice and potatoes, with a few other seasonal vegetables from the garden when they have them. They go to the weekly market in Katoria, the nearest town, but usually just buy oil and spices because they often can’t afford to buy vegetables. The children get a meal at school, but even the school meals don’t include eggs or meat, so they get very little protein.

Her family struggles financially, she said. They are always in a cycle of indebtedness: they take a loan for one need, and as soon as they get it paid off, they have to take a loan for something else. Most recently, her husband and his brother had to take a loan of 50,000 rupees (over $700) from a money lender at 60 percent interest to pay for his grandfather’s funeral, which will take years to pay off.

Sangita said she wanted to be part of Partnership Bihar because she believes it will help with their financial problems. They don’t want to have to depend on erratic wage labor for income, she said. With additional income, after paying off debts, they would dig a well to provide a safe and reliable source of drinking water, then would make repairs to their house.

Shobha Devi

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Flipping through the pages of her notebook, 32-year-old, Shobha Devi, shows how she keeps records for her village’s self-help group. As president of the group, she says, she keeps both the meeting minutes and the members’ account balances in addition to presiding over the group’s weekly meetings. She is the group’s second president, elected by her peers because she is one of the few women in the village who is literate.

The self-help group concept is a way for rural women to work together to access banking services. Members contribute a small monthly amount to the group — for Shobha’s group, that is 44 rupees, or about 60 cents — and, when they have a need, are able to take a small loan from the group at a low interest rate. Lutheran World Relief helped to established the self-help group in Shobha’s village about a year ago.

Shobha and her husband are parents to four children, ages 3 to 13. They live with extended family: her husband’s parents, his two brothers, and his brother’s wife. They grow one to two months’ worth of wheat, and two to three months’ worth of rice, four if the rains are very good. Their diet is mostly rice and potatoes, with lentils once or twice a week, and occasional other vegetables such as eggplant and tomatoes. Shobha’s husband spends five to seven months out of the year in Kolkata, a 4-hour train ride away, doing construction work, and she also supplements the family income by doing day labor in a brick factory during the off-season from agricultural work.

She is excited about the work that Partnership Bihar is starting in her community, and looking forward to learning ways to improve her family’s livelihood and food security.

“We don’t have much money to invest in our children’s education,” she said, “but with enhanced livelihoods from the project we will be able to invest in their education and many more things, like improving our health.”

Surajmani Murmu

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Surajmani Murmu and her husband Chandan Marandi remove their shoes and step into the soft mud between rows of barely-sprouted wheat. The couple, with support and training from Lutheran World Relief, is growing demonstration plots of wheat and lentils that will soon be used to teach their friends and neighbors the most effective ways to grow these nutrient-dense crops. The mud cakes their feet as they wind their way down the rows, carefully plucking weeds that have begun to show.

Like most women in her village, Surajmani rises before dawn to begin her day’s labor, cooking for her family, doing household work, and working hard in the fields. She grows a variety of vegetables, including pulses (beans), onion, spinach, potato, tomato, eggplant, pumpkin, and cucumber, so her family’s diet is more balanced than many, but only during the monsoon season when there is regular rain. The rest of the year they struggle to meet their needs, and often seek out daily wage labor to earn money to buy food. Like many other women in her village, Surajmani also earns a little extra money by making disposable plates from leaves she collects in the forest, which she sells at the market.

Surajmani and her husband live with his father and their five children. Their eldest son, 25, recently married, and he and his wife live with the family, as is traditional in rural India. The other children, growing teens ranging from 12 to 18, also help out when they are not in school. She would like to have extra money to invest in the children’s education, she says, and with additional income might also purchase more livestock and maybe even start a small business.

She is excited about participating in Partnership Bihar to improve her family’s situation. “We are looking forward to having year-round food security and additional income,” she says.

Champa Murmu

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At age 60 years old, Champa Murmu shows no signs of slowing down. She rises at 5:00 each morning to fetch water, do household chores, and cook breakfast and lunch for her family, before putting in a full day’s work in the fields. She and her family grow rice as well as a few vegetables, but they struggle to produce enough to meet their needs.

Champa and her husband, Nunua Kisku, live with their adult son and his wife; another son, who is also married, lives nearby. Since the family is unable to grow enough food for the full year, her son migrates to Kolkata, several hours away by train, to earn money so they can buy what they need at the market. They mostly eat rice and vegetables, with pulses (beans) included a couple of times a week at the most.

Asked if they ever eat meat, Champa laughs and shakes her head. Maybe once or twice a month, she says, they have enough money to buy a little chicken or fish or a few eggs at the market. They would like to include more meat in their diet, but, she says, they usually reserve it for special occasions like festivals or when guests are visiting. Sometimes someone in the village will slaughter a pig, and neighbors will buy shares of it for 150 rupees a kilo (about $2.30). While pork is not commonly eaten throughout India, Tribal communities such as Champa’s village, Govindpur, do eat it occasionally during celebrations.

Champa also earns a little extra money for her family by making and selling leaf plates – she collects leaves from the forest, stitches them together, and dries them in the sun to make disposable plates. She earns about 100 to 250 rupees a week (about $1.50-$3.75) depending how many plates she was able to complete. She usually sells the plates, then uses the proceeds to do her shopping.

Lutheran World Relief has already done some work in Champa’s village, starting a women’s Self Help Group for savings, and Champa serves as the group’s president. Before, she said, if someone needed a loan for medical care, household expenses, or any sort of financial need, they had to borrow from moneylenders who charge as much as 100 percent interest.

“We used to have a lot of challenges – disease, indebtedness, always at a high interest rate,” she said. “But now [with the SHG] we have a lower interest rate for loans. We lost a lot of income paying back loans but that has eased now that we don’t have to get loans from outside moneylenders.”

She is hopeful for the future and looking forward to the better agricultural techniques she’ll learn through Partnership Bihar so her family can grow more of the food they need.

Hemati Murmu

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A few years ago, Hemati Murmu and her husband were in such dire straits that they regularly skipped meals. Now, she said, he has a job as a security guard, which enables them to manage a little better, but he had to migrate to a city 18 hours away to find work, so she only sees him every few months. Hemati used to migrate for work as well, doing some sewing and some agricultural labor, but stays home now to care for their 3-year-old daughter.

Even with the income from her husband’s job, Hemati says, they can rarely afford to buy fresh vegetables at the market. They primarily eat rice and potatoes, and sometimes collect wild leafy greens from the forest to add to their plates. Hemati has a home garden where she grows a few seasonal vegetables, but, she says, the yields aren’t enough to meet her family’s needs. Occasionally, they have some dried fish and mussels, and she is able to grow about a month’s supply of pulses (beans), but otherwise they consume very little protein.

They have a small tract of paddy land – less than a quarter-acre – where they grow rice, and she says it yields enough for about seven or eight months. Like many of her neighbors, she earns a little bit of extra money making and selling disposable plates from leaves that she collects in the forest, but it’s not enough to allow them to purchase the nutritious food they need.