The highway is the road to empowerment
Adarsha self-help group members do videoconference with scientists in Hyderabad
As far as appearances go, the Adarsha Restaurant abutting National Highway-7, connecting Bangalore and Hyderabad, resembles any other roadside eatery. Located on a sprawling campus, the restaurant is different in many ways.
The restaurant at Addakkal, some 100 km from Hyderabad, is run by highly
motivated women of Adarsha Mahila Samakhya (AMS), a conglomerate of 569 self help groups (SHGs) belonging to 37 villages of the backward Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh.
The Samakhya was formed with the initiative of the then District Rural Development Agency (DRDA) Project Director Anitha Ramachandra. The centre for all women-related activities was set up with funds from Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS), DRDA, Janma Bhoomi and other state-sponsored schemes. A restaurant, a bank for the Samakhya members, a dairy farm, a handloom shop, a resource centre, a training hall and a centre for the disabled were in place quickly.
With the Samakhya convincing the Andhra Pradesh State Transport Corporation to instruct its bus drivers to make a compulsory stop at the Adarsha Restaurant on their long hauls, the restaurant became popular and travelers, accompanied by families, preferred Adarsha to eat because of the ambience and the women were kind and polite, unlike the dhabas.
As the politics commenced with the restaurant becoming popular, Samakhya decided to allow all SHGs to run it on a rotation basis. The group has to pay a rent of Rs 7,200 per month for the facility and deposit a refundable amount of Rs 60,000. At present B Jayamma of the SHG from Polakampalli village is successfully running the restaurant with the help of her group members. The restaurant has created job opportunities for hundreds of women. “The ingredients of the food served here are grown in our Samakhya villages. Grain, vegetables and milk are supplied by our women members,” said Jayamma.
The restaurant earned Rs 1.6 lakh in profit during the last three years and the amount will be equally distributed among the Samakhya member groups this year, said Jayamma. She provides employment to 22 men and women who work almost 18 hours a day in two shifts. The food joint serves hot breakfast, lunch and dinner for the roadies.
Rameswaramma of Nijalpur who helps Jayamma at the cash counter, complained that the recent widening of the highway had cut down a large chunk of the front yard shrinking the parking place. “As result the number of APSRTC buses stopping at the restaurant has dropped affecting our business.” The Addakkal women hope that soon the APSRTC will once again advice its drivers to stop at the restaurant on their long journeys.
There is more for travelling public.
After the food, they can shop at the handloom centre run by the AMS women. The Handloom Shoppe showcases hand-woven sarees including the famous Gadwal sarees, Warangal carpets, durries and gifts. Bheemeswaramma, the in charge of the store, says that they have been constantly making a profit of around Rs 10,000 every year, indicating that it was a big hit among the travelling public. “We want to improve our revenue. We want to encourage women from other districts to showcase their products and earn profits,” she added.
Not to be left behind, they have started using information and communication technology. They are trying to help drought-prone farmers of the member
villages using ICT. The Patancheru-based Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT) has agreed to collaborate with the AMS to empower vulnerable
rural communities to cope with drought. Rural communities have been using a technique pioneered at IIT-Bombay to get advance warning about the intensity and impact of drought in individual villages in Addakkal mandal. This is followed-up with a regular advisories and suggestions, interventions that aid farm communities to cultivate drought-tolerant crops recommended by scientists.
The Village Resource Centre plays a key role in sharing information in the community. The inclusion of a videoconferencing facility in collaboration with the ISRO has been an added advantage. The members of the Adarsha self-help groups from eight neighbouring villages attend the videoconference every Thursday and Friday to interact with scientists in Hyderabad. The interactions help farmers elicit suggestions on types of crop, cultivating practices, application of manure and tillage. Women volunteers transfer pictures of pest attack on crops to scientists through email and mobile phone directly from the field, and receive appropriate solutions.
The micro-level drought vulnerability maps created using advanced GIS techniques and ICT tools enable communities to make informed decisions. For example, they deferred from cultivating water intensive crops like paddy and instead
cultivated dryland crops such as groundnut and ragi. Farmers who depended on the nearby Peddavaagu (a seasonal rivulet) filled with previous flood water faced severe water shortage during mid-kharif season last year, while those who planted drought-resistant crops survived the onslaught of drought.
The women groups also recently started transmitting crop advisories in Telugu, though SMS on mobiles.
The AMS also provides dormitory facilities to villagers who attend the meetings at the resource centre. In short, the AMS has become a nerve centre for development in the most backward district.