A group of women in Chinna Boddu Palam village, located on the shores of the canal connecting to the Bay of Bengal and just 20km from Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, is engaged in income generation through the preparation of a regional delicacy, salted and smoked shrimps/prawns. But the long and arduous methodology they used will now be dramatically improved thanks to help from the Rotary Club Kakinada, a 77-year-old club in RID 3020.
The village itself, with a population of around 2,000, is a fishing village and the local men make a livelihood through fishing on paddle or half HP motor- operated mini boats, says Club President Pavan Kumar Mangalampalli.
The Jithika totally eliminates the risk and health hazards the women face while staying in the traditional shrimp-cooking huts.
As he is associated with WWF India (World Wide Fund for Nature) and passionate about environment and ecosystems, around 2015, while doing some awareness camps for WWF, he came across a passionate village sarpanch Narisimha Raju, who was interested in ensuring that the several schemes and projects that the government launched were continued and really helped improve people’s lives. Interestingly, this village has a rich history of various Central and State government projects, as well as research methodologies of voluntary and scientific organisations. And yet all these had hardly helped the local people because of the total absence of one crucial feature — sustainability, the mantra that every TRF global grant harps upon.
So with hardly any focus being put on the sustainability of either the projects that were initiated or individual livelihood, the villagers hardly benefitted. “This included women, who are very active in getting additional income for the family and become its sole breadwinners during cyclones or high tides when men aren’t allowed into the sea for fishing,” says Mangalampalli.
The women add to the family’s income by preparing the salted and smoked shrimps for which there is a high demand and food agents readily procure this delicacy from them. But getting this premium product ready for the market is a cumbersome procedure which requires long hours of arduous work, which is detrimental to the health of the women engaged in this activity as it involves a lot of smoke ingestion.
The women’s income through use of Jithika will go up by at least one-fourth — from ₹6,000 to 8,000.
For instance, traditionally, the shrimps are prepared by women through a tiresome 8–10 hour long process. The prawns, which the women procure from the wholesale market, are placed in a small hut — each family engaged in this activity has a separate hut of its own — that is closed from all sides. In this hut, the shrimps are salted and placed on a bamboo belt or shelves and fire is lit under it, so that the shrimps get cooked with the heat rather than direct fire. The end product is salted and smoked shrimps, which have a ready market. But remaining in that hut for long hours and imbibing the smoke is a huge hazard for women, and results in respiratory diseases.
About 10 years ago, some kind soul in the DRDO (Defence and Research Development Organisation), carrying forward the norm of initiating yet another project in this area, developed a device called Jithika to help ease the burden of the shrimp makers. Jithika (see picture) is an iron box consisting of six shelves, arranged vertically, with an extra tray placed underneath, where the fire is lit.
When the raw shrimps, which have been salted and dried for days, are placed in the Jithika, they are cooked within a few hours. This equipment totally eliminates the risk and health hazards the women face while staying in the traditional shrimp-cooking huts, as well as the danger posed by an accidental fire.
Awonderful scheme, but with a catch; over a period of time the poorly-made Jithikas given to the women stopped working and couldn’t be repaired, and the women were back to the old hazardous huts. To understand the kind of hard work the women of this village put in, let’s return to Mangalampalli and RC Kakinada.
“To buy these shrimps in bulk, the women get up at 2am, take an autorickshaw, and travel a distance of around 10km to the wholesale shrimp market, buy the shrimps, return home and then start the long process of preparing them for the market,” he says. So when his year as club president was coming up, he decided to donate better-designed, bigger, sturdier and more durable Jithikas to the women of Chinna Boddu Palam village. He embraced this as one of his major projects. The first Jithika, costing around ₹37,000, designed by the club with help from a scientist from the marine fisheries department, and fabricated in Kakinada under the Rotarians’ supervision, was donated to the village women in the first week of July.
As 15 families in this village prepare these shrimps, a premium product, he wants to make 14 more such Jithikas and distribute them. The village has great potential and good infrastructure such as a government operated school, a library, community hall and above all “hardworking and motivated men and women and the dynamic leadership of ex-sarpanch Raju, who is always ready to work with us to improve the local people’s lives and livelihoods. We have adopted this village and want to make it a model village.”
Money for the Jithikas has been collected through donations from “our club members, clients and friends. We have designed a device that will last at least for four years and have told the villagers that the onus of maintaining them rests with them so that this scheme will be sustainable,” he says.
Now that this project is seeing good support and inquiries are coming in from people wanting to contribute funds, Mangalampalli, sees scope to expand it. He is happy to report that the women’s income through use of Jithika will go up by at least one fourth — from ₹6,000 to 8,000. “Apart from improving their health, it will also cut down the time they spend on processing the shrimps, and we are sure these enterprising and hardworking women will use that time for more productive work,” he smiles.