Bihar rural women entrepreneurs remove middlemen, change lives
In 2008, when Kosi floods wreaked unprecedented havoc, Kiran Devi had to leave her in-law’s house in Madhepura to stay at her father’s home at Dhokwa village, 40 km from Purnia town in Bihar.
Married to a labourer in 1990, Kiran Devi didn’t have any seed money to start over her flood-ravaged life but displayed entrepreneurial spirit to bring together nine other women to launch a cooperative firm a year later in 2009 that has changed the agricultural landscape in the area.
Today, the Aranayak Agri Producers Company Limited (AAPCL) has 5,753 members including 122 producers’ groups (PGs) made up of women farmers.
Even during the stringent lockdown following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, these women entrepreneurs procured 2004 metric tonnes (MTs) of maize from 533 women farmers spread in five blocks of Purnia and Katihar districts.
“We are running it with the cooperation and coordination among over 5,000 women shareholders in five blocks of Dhamdaha, Bhawanipur, Barahara Kothi and Banmankhi—all in Purnia and Kodha in Katihar,” says 45-year old Kiran Devi.
During these years, Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society run programme ‘Jeevika’ helped these women by becoming their facilitators by providing training and managing funds. The venture turned a corner in 2015 -16, when it procured 1014 MT (metric tonne) of maize worth about Rs 1.50 crore from 299 PGs. Since then, it has been an upward curve.
“During the pandemic, we held an online meeting with over 5,000 shareholders and decided to procure maize by following proper guidelines,” Kiran Devi said.
The AAPCL has put a check on middlemen in the areas. “Our company has saved women farmers from falling into the hands of middlemen,” says Sabita Devi. “We give profit to farmers without middlemen and mandis,” she adds.
“All these women are illiterate, but they are teaching the rural people the economics of well-being,” says Rajeev Ranjan, manager (communications) at Jeevika in Purnia.
Kiran Devi said her company has started procuring bananas and fox nuts/ lotus seeds (makhana) from this year. She thanked Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar for recognising their efforts.
“Besides Nitish Kumar, I have been felicitated by the Prime Minister and the Union finance minister,” she says, giving all credit to women farmers.
“There is proper auditing of our company. We also have a storage facility. We sell maize to glucose manufacturing companies and other companies directly and earn a good profit and dividends are distributed among the shareholders,” she adds proudly.
Kiran Devi was busy preparing her presentation for Nitish Kumar, who is scheduled to visit them on Thursday.
“I am both elated and nervous,” she says before dropping a hint of what lies behind her success, which has come without any formal education in farm or business management. “We are managers by default. If we can run a house without doing any course, we can run a company too,” she said with confidence in her eyes.