Empowering rural women: a path to sustainable agro-processing

In the remote village of Kattampur, located in Kalikot, Nepal, a significant transformation is taking place. Traditional diesel mills, previously the mainstay for grinding maise and wheat, are giving way to a more sustainable alternative: the pico-hydro scheme. This shift is changing lives, particularly for the hardworking women of the village.

Kattampur’s challenge: progress amidst struggles

Kattampur's economy is primarily based on agriculture and livestock. With many men seeking employment in India, women are often tasked with managing households and providing for their families. This includes everything from firewood collection to water fetching, livestock care, and agro-processing.

Despite the longstanding use of traditional water mill for grinding maise and wheat, these methods are not only costly but rely on diesel, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, the nearest diesel mill is far from the village, making the process even more time-consuming for villagers.

From diesel mills to pico-hydro: Kattampur's sustainable shift

SNV, which has been working in Nepal since 1980 and has positively impacted over four million people in the country's poorest pockets, has facilitated a transformative change in Kattampur. Together with Energising Development (EnDev), they introduced an 8 kW pico-hydro scheme. This sustainable initiative provides electricity and mechanised agro-processing facilities in areas where grid connections or micro-hydropower are not feasible.

The impact of the Pico-hydro scheme has been transformative. The mechanised agro-processing unit has improved efficiency and productivity. Lighting facilities have increased safety for women working in the evening and extended their working hours. Moreover, the programme has fostered entrepreneurship by offering enterprise development training and a small amount of start-up funding to local businesspeople.

Under the leadership of Pampha Devi Shahi, a local woman, the agro-processing mill has become the village’s heartbeat. The mill can now process about 150 kg of rice paddy per hour, a significant improvement over the diesel mill. Part of the mill's income is also goes towards the maintenance of the pico-hydro scheme, ensuring its continued operation.

Shahi, after receiving training and business mentorship from SNV, bought the mill, stating, ‘before, we women used the mortar and pestle and had to spend the full morning processing. It was painful work, and we would get blisters on our hands’.

The project supported more than 40 women entrepreneurs in various villages across Nepal.

Breaking barriers: the impact of mechanised agro-processing

The mechanised agro-processing method has shifted traditional gender roles in Kattampur. Men, returning from work in India, now collaborate with women, who have become experts in running the agro-processing unit. This cultural shift, coupled with time and cost savings brought about by the new method, has brought a sense of excitement to the villagers.

SNV’s project aims to provide electricity access to more than 8,000 people and 30 small and medium enterprises in Nepal’s most remote communities. Pico-hydro schemes provide electricity where neither connection to the national grid nor micro-hydropower is feasible.

Shahi reflects, ‘after establishing this mill, I do not have to depend on others. I have become self-reliant and have my own savings.’ Kattampur's story serves as an inspiration. It underscores the significance of empowering women and integrating gender equality into sustainable development efforts. By providing access to efficient and sustainable agro-processing facilities, Kattampur has witnessed both economic transformation and a profound social shift. The success of the pico-hydro scheme shines a light on the untapped potential of renewable energy in uplifting rural communities.

The example of Kattampur shows that even in remote areas, profound change is possible. By harnessing renewable energy, empowering women, and fostering partnerships, we can create lasting impact for communities.

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