Making a living in the Himalayas

Early December, Supriya and I spent four days in the downhills of the Himalayas to explore a new partnership. ATI – Appropriate Technology India – is a social and economic impact organization that works in 5 mountain districts of Uttarakhand, offering innovative alternatives to subsistence agriculture.

Started in 1994, it has developed a range of livelihood activities enabling steady returns to 13,558 stakeholders of whom 80% is female. ATI has established two community based organizations:
1. DevBhumi: to procure, process, package and market the products;
2. UMM: microfinance institution, with a annual turnover of 3 Crore. On average a loan is 25,000 INR; +90% is paid back.
The women earn income with dairy, honey, silk and spices.

Story of Narmada Devi
In the downhills we met Narmada, a female farmer of about 30 years old. She has 2 children, her son is 15 and her daughter is 13. She has 2 buffaloes with which she earns 4,000 INR per month. Tending the livestock and milking them takes about 4 hours a day. Especially collecting the fodder takes time; she spends 3 hours roaming mountains with a large basket to collect fodder.

Since 5 years she is also a beekeeper. She spends 30 to 40 minutes per week and produces 15 to 20 kg organic honey per year with which she earns about 8 to 9,000 INR. She sells about 75% of the honey to DevBhumi and the rest in the local market where she gets more than double the price.

Five years back she also started cultivating organic turmeric but has sold only since the last two years, earning about Rs. 4500 a year. She hopes to expand this vegetable patch and grow organic ginger and garlic also.

Before the beekeeping she used to spin silk thread for 3-4 hours per day for 900 INR per month, but nowadays she has no time for spinning anymore. She prefers dairy over all other activities as it brings in daily income. Her average income is 5 to 6,000 INR (70 – 85 euro) per month. She spends the money on education for her children and on household expenses. Her husband is a road constructor. Narmada is a real multi-tasker, earning money through various activities and maintaining the family household tasks at the same time.

Maria van der Heijden