Rajasthan, India – Rameshwari Devi wakes up at 4am each morning and walks the 3km to her nearest water source. Her village Derasar, lies in the Thar desert in northwest Rajasthan, a vast wilderness spread over
320,000sq km and covering 60 percent of the state.
Droughts are frequent and water is scarce for up to 11 months of the year. Soil quality is poor which makes producing enough to eat a monumental task. Communal grazing pastures are a lifeline providing cattle feed, fuel, wood and medicinal plants. To help support their families, the menfolk have been migrating to the cities, leaving the women to fend as best they can.
The women of Derasar are not easily cowed, however. They are both tough and resourceful. Led by Rameshwari, they have set up a self-help group under the auspices of ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
The organisation works directly with the women who are left behind in these communities, taking into account their needs and helping them to adopt integrated farming methods, while capitalising on their local knowledge.
It has provided fruit trees, offered advice on which crops to sow, helped improve water storage arrangements and helped the women petition the local authorities to lay a water pipeline to their village.
Ramesharwi is also working to improve the government-run village childcare centre.
Through such ICRISAT initiatives women are empowered to take charge of their lives and reduce the vulnerability of communities living in such harsh conditions.