Jagrini Kujur, a tribal woman from Sirkhatoli village near Ranchi, has not heard of the global financial meltdown. She is the president of Suvidha Mahila cooperative provisions store comprising over 1200 women members from Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in 24 nearby villages.
Jagrini along with Kiran Horo and Anju Dahnag, set up the coop with support from a microfinance and livelihood promotion organisation, BASIX under a Ministry of Rural Development special project. BASIX organized them first into SHGs and then helped establish small kirana shops in each of the 24 villages. The shops were run by individual SHG members, from their houses on a part-time basis. The shops used to buy together in the wholesale merchants in Ranchi.
Over two years, the SHG members collected a sum of Rs 2 lakh and topped it up with Rs 1.5 lakh revolving fund from BASIX. Then they set up a cooperative shop in January, 2005. Jagrini says her father-in-law, who used to abuse her earlier, has started treating her with respect. After all, she is the manager of the shop and carries home Rs 3000 per month, apart from being looked up to by 1200 women.
When asked how has the demand for goods from her shop changed compared to six months ago, Jagrini says “Same as ever. Our business is steady – people have to eat, you see.”
And in that simple answer, Jagrini has captured why the economy at the bottom of the pyramid is doing fine. Even when prices for food items have gone up over the last two years, people have to buy the minimum quantity they need, provided, of course they earn enough. For that they have to work. The opening of large number of public works under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, has offered the opportunity to earn good wages without having to migrate from the village. Others, who work in wage labour jobs, have started comparing their wages with NREGS wages and are getting more.
But not every body can get work under NREGS all the time. This is where microfinance comes in handy. Today, over 50 million poor households in India are getting microcredit. These small loans of Rs 2000 to 20,000 are used for self-employment by the tribal women who work with Jagrini and others like Anokhe Lal and Moti Singh.
Anokhe Lal, tribal small farmer, lives in Pahatsara village, 18 kilometres from Bijadandi, 60 kms on the district road which connects Jabalpur to Mandla. He had got a loan from BASIX two years ago to buy a 5 HP diesel pumpset and 300 meters of collapsible pipeline. With the water, he grows peas, cauliflower, brinjal and carrots. He is expecting a good harvest and says that the prices in the Jabalpur mandi, where he takes his produce, are good this year. He has already repaid three-quarters of his loan of Rs 20,000 and expects to clear it this winter.
In the Gauri Nagar basti of Indore, Moti Singh Pawar runs a bustling bicycle rental business. He now has 25 bicycles
. Three years ago, he had none. All he had was a fixed place under a tree where he kept a box of tools with which he repaired bicycles and fixed punctured tyres. From this activity he earned Rs 50-60 per day. He used to see the BASIX field worker regularly come for collecting repayments from the kirana shop near his perch. Moti Singh approached him for a loan of Rs 10,000 to buy 5 bicycles and some more tools. He was asked where will he keep the bicycles at night?
He assured the field worker that the house owner behind his perch was willing to leave the bicycles at night in his backyard. With the loan sanctioned, he bought the bicycles and his business boomed. “I recovered the cost of five bicycles in six months and then I bought ten more, with another loan of Rs 20,000. In a year’s time, I had to move from my original place under the tree but I was lucky to get a pucca shop on rent.” says Moti Singh.
Has Moti Singh heard of any financial trouble in the world? “Yes, the Hindi papers said the share market has crashed. I even read that some big banks
in America have been taken over by their government to save them from closing down.”
Asked what will happen to his business if the demand for bicycle rental comes down, he says – “No problem, I will sell some bicycles and repay the leftover part of my loan. Good times will come again. Remember, I started under a tree. I am not afraid of the hot sun or rain.” Good advise from the bottom of the pyramid, to cheer up those who have been let down by the financial markets!