Maniben Dabhi

Maniben Dabhi

Vegetable SHG,
Vasna Khurd Village

Maniben, 55 years old belongs to Vasna village in Gujarat. Her confidence is addictive. An extremely lighthearted woman, she lives with her husband and four children on a farm in the village.

She talks about her past. "We couldn't even manage one meal a day; we used to work on other people's farms to earn our living. The fields produced crops just once a year. This meant less work and lesser income. Our sustenance had become very difficult. We did have our own land but we had to mortgage half of it to get money for our survival. We still couldn't afford to buy seeds, fertilizers or water to continue farming on our remaining land."

She pauses a while and then continues, "Initially, we were forced to sell all our produce to the traders who gave us advances up to Rs1, 000/- and thus exploited us. All 24 women farmers of our saving group did not get good prices for their produce. Being the leader of this Bachat Mandal (saving group), I decided to get rid of the exploitation. I spoke to the people at the Sewa Federation and they helped me sell the produce directly to the customers, avoiding the middlemen. Then a lot of people from the village joined me, and thus we started selling our stuff at Shop no. 40.

Maniben talks about a crisis that hit her not long ago. "In 2006, there was a heavy flood in Gujarat. We had to spend four days on top of the trees. We lost everything our land, our well and our house. Then, Sewa Federation came to our assistance. We got a new loan of Rs 3,10,000/- at low rate of interest. It was critical time for my family's existence .Within a year; I was able to re-establish my earning cycle to sustain myself".

"We repaid the installments regularly at Shop No.40 by selling our produce from time to time. As a result, we are no longer compelled to sell our produce to the traders at throw-away prices, or to mortgage our produce to the traders or middlemen in lieu of the loan amount."

Maniben is satisfied today about the way her life is moving. "My life started to change; I started earning a regular income. My expenses reduced and savings increased. Sewa Federation has not helped us to come out of the vicious circle of debt, but it has also empowered us to become self-reliant. Today, I sell vegetables worth Rs1, 50,000/- and more in the market. I have made a house in my village and have rented three acres of land for growing different varieties of vegetables to enhance my income."

Her achievement is that she has managed to get all her children married. And of course, has no debts.

"I have a telephone connection at home and feel proud when I do brisk business by using my phone. Before, I had never left my village. But after joining the Federation, I got an opportunity to travel to different places like New Delhi; Bangalore and even Sri Lanka for study tours".

"I desire to experiment with organic farming in vegetables like bitter gourd, bottle gourd, tomatoes specifically. I take this as a challenge and hope to start organic farming in the near future. I have even attended the workshop on organic farming."

"The most important aspect of my growth is that I have an identity of my own today."

The fear Maniben had about life was converted to courage, strength and leadership.