CHANDIGARH: Last year’s drought situation had driven Madhu Vishwakarma to despair. A young widow and a mother of two, she managed by doing odd jobs. With agricultural work off and starvation facing her, she admits to having ‘felt suicidal’. That’s when some government workers came calling at her home. “Could you collect cow dung?” they enquired. “Of course I could, but will I be paid?” she asked. The answer was ‘Yes’.
“That July in 2019 was when my life marked a turnaround,” she says. Not just Madhu, many other women were asked to join a newly opened women’s collective in the village. “We were asked if we had any ideas on how cow dung could be turned useful.” The ‘Gauthan’ Yojana launched by the Chhattisgarh government aimed to overcome many a problem with just one basic solution: the stray cattle were herded, the cow dung collected and used for innovative purposes.
The dung was to be used by women trained in pottery making for commercial use and also for use as manure, thus enriching the soil and raising its productivity. By involving women with the ecofriendly initiative, the scheme also aimed at financially empowering them and developing sustainable practices to make for thriving village economies.
Leaving starvation behind
The Yojana was a hit from the very start. Madhusuddenly found that she could earn a minimum of Rs 7,000 from sales and her children could escape starvation and even study at a government crèche. “Cow-dung from cattle is turning waste into gold. The initiative has emerged as a striking source of livelihood for poor women in villages and is aimed at revitalising the rural economy”, said Maninder Kaur Dwivedi, principal secretary, Agriculture and Gramodyog, who is also the state incharge of Gauthan programme. As many as 1,627, self-help groups with 4,155 women members are now directly benefitted by the Gauthan programme and the bulk products that churn out are going places, even drawing corporate attention. Their total production since last September is worth over Rs 53 lakh, an officer informed.
Rural economy blooms
Today, a drive through the countryside in Chhattisgarh takes one through hamlets where there is perceptible change with special animal enclosures to house cattle. The innovative, useful and eco-friendly products made from cow dung include designer lamps, idols of Gods and Goddesses, earthern name plates, candles, mobile stands, home utility goods, key chains, flower pots, manure pellets, among others. “We supplied 3 lakh diyas ahead of Diwali last year to various metro cities. Corporate orders were received in bulk. They gave a leg-up to our collective endeavour,” said KK Sahu, Sarpanch of Van Chaurada village. The SHGs involved with Gauthan have begun growing organic vegetables and other crops. “During the last kharif season we earned over `80,000 by selling vegetables”, said Tukeshwari Chandrakar, a member of an SHG in Mahasamund district.