Poverty alleviation through collectivisation of the poor and enabling them to earn livelihoods and create assets has been one of the pursued areas in development policies in India. The National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), implemented in 2011 under the aegis of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), is a case in point.

Ashley and Carney (1999) of the UK’s DFID argue that poverty eradication should align with people’s livelihood strategies, environment, and adaptation capabilities. The framework is embedded in five livelihood assets: human, physical, social, financial, and natural capital.

So how does the livelihood framework work in the context of women collectives — the Self-Help Groups (SHGs) — formed under the aegis of Uttar Pradesh Rural Livelihood Mission (UPRLM), a State-level initiative of NRLM. Uttar Pradesh is being considered for three reasons.

First, the State has 75 districts, 826 blocks, 59,182 Gram Panchayats, and 1,03,731 villages, accounting for 16 per cent of India’s villages.

Second, the State has an agrarian base, a record farmer population (2.332 crore, per SECC 2011), and migrant workers of 0.83 crore, and agricultural activities contribute 26 per cent to the State GDP while 29.43 per cent of households live below the national poverty line.

Third, the promotion and development of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) through the UP-SRLM requires a mention. In FY 2022-23 (until August 22), there were about 50,000 SHGs, and the revolving fund (grant) and community investment fund (CIF) disbursed amounted to ₹12,133 lakh and ₹2,279 lakh, respectively. About 23,000 SHGs have experienced bank linkages and accessed institutional credit of ₹17,958 crore.

Barabanki example

Five principles of NRLM govern every SHG functioning. These include regular weekly meetings, regular weekly savings, weekly regular internal lending, regular weekly repayment, and regular weekly bookkeeping.

The intervention begins at the village level since it is the micro-unit of development. The community resource persons situate themselves for 15-20 days in a village for Participatory Identification of Poor (PIP) considering several parameters, namely household members, occupation, income, expenses, asset base, etc. The PIP process follows the stratification of households into poor, ultra-poor, or poorest categories for the formation of SHGs.

Once the SHGs are formed, they constitute a Village Level Organisation (VLO), and the VLOs include a Cluster Level Federation (CLF). Under the NRLM fund, each SHG receives ₹15,000 and ₹1,10,000 as a revolving fund and CIF after 3 and 6 months of formation in the form of grant and repayment fund at an interest rate of 1 per cent, respectively.

SHGs are entitled to a loan amount of ₹5-6 lakh, per the RBI guidelines, which can be utilised in any economic activities of SHGs.

We conducted an exploratory study at Batnera and Dasvantpur village of Suratganj block in Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh, where 38 women associated with an SHG initiated backyard poultry as an economic activity through the technical support of a civil society organisation (The Nudge Institute) at the auspices of UP-SRLM in 2021.

Women entrepreneurs belong to different SHGs and represent the communities of Scheduled Castes and minorities. Initially, the civil society provided 25 young chicks to these women members with a loan amount of ₹1,625-₹1,875. They rear birds, grow them to attain an ideal weight of 2 kg, sell them to the aggregator (local village traders), and keep some chicks for layering purposes that can meet the dietary requirements of households.

To ensure consistent village-level support, one of the women SHG members is chosen as ‘poultry sakhi’ unanimously.

One Poultry Sakhi and her relative invested ₹1,625 each and received 50 young chicks in November 2021 from a Mother Unit hatchery located in Barabanki. The 45 grown chickens having weights of 1kg, 1.5kg, and 1.75 kg were sold in the market. They realised ₹11,50,00 in five months. The mortality rate was 6 per cent.

For a scalable and sustainable intervention of UP-SRLM into rural hinterland, capability enhancement of women SHGs is vital for charting livelihood strategies and measuring the outcomes on food security, wellbeing and resilience, and sustainable use of natural resources.

Dey is Chairman of CFAM, and Dixit is Academic Associate, ABM area of IIM Lucknow. With inputs of the District Lead of The Nudge Institute. Views are personal.