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As a result of our programmes, over the years rural women have been enabled to actively involve themselves in the economic sustenance of the household. To empower women economically, REAL has for many years organized groups of women (and later also men) into Self Help Groups (SHGs). With these SHGs, REAL tries to upsurge the awareness about the role of savings, credit and alternative sources of finance, so that women become less vulnerable and economically more viable. Regular banks do not provide loans for the rural poor, as they are reflected as a high risk group who fails to repay their credit. A high rate of interest is charged from the people in the rural areas. By organizing women Self Help Groups, the villagers can start saving as a group, and create their own savings reservoir. The savings are provided as loan for each individual in the SHG.

Over the years, REAL had supported the formation and strengthening of SHGs in its regular target areas, as well as in the tsunami affected villages. A sum amount of money is deposited in the beginning as savings each week or month by each member of SHG depending on the regulations. The SHG has become more organized and operative, that makes a vibrant increase in their collective savings. Most groups have been linked to the block level, allowing them to undertake income-generating activities on a larger scale. SHGs in the villages have integrated and organized themselves into federations, thus gaining access to state funding. The Government facilitates loans to recognized SHG federations though a government established revolving fund. Links with local banks for external funds are also established. This extends their economic empowerment significantly as such loans would never have been possible for the individual members of the SHG groups.

REAL undertakes systematic capacity building training programmes for the newly formed federations in different phases, including record-keeping and financial training, and supports the groups to undertake income-generating activities. Loans are taken from the collective savings to start an activity and collective income generating activities includes agriculture and horticulture, livestock rearing (poultry, goat, and milch animals), mushroom cultivation, AZ olla cultivation, etc. Apart from credit and savings, the SHGs also provide social space for women to discuss issues of common concern and create leadership opportunities, enabling women to develop confidence and active participation in village level decision -making activities. SHGs have assumed responsibility for development activities such as ensuring regular immunization from government health services, growth monitoring, proper functioning of the village education centre and regular attendance of children, management of community toilets, and village cleanliness.

Currently there are more than 1,650 women’s groups with approximately 30000 members functioning in 300 villages, spread over the districts of Villupuram and Cuddalore. Over a ten-year period, a total of more than Rs. has been made available for these groups in loans and credits.

· Dairy Development

· Livelihood Activities

· Goat Rearing

Yet another alternative scheme promoted by REAL for the agricultural landless families, is the promotion of goat rearing. This programme has been running so far, we have distributed 2500 goats to 500 women beneficiaries in Cuddalore District. The rearing of goats is another secondary source of income generation for poor families with benefits in a short span of time. They can use the milk and meat for their own use or market it to neighboring communities. The programme operates in a way that the first line beneficiaries will give a baby goat to another needy family within the community, so they can start their own goat rearing. Through this wealth sharing model, more and more families can be benefitted. REAL also provides feeding courses for the goats, so the quality of the milk improves. Veterinary service and goat insurance are also part of this goat rearing programme. REAL has organized veterinary camps in the Ennayiram region to provide adequate care and support to the livestock. These camps have helped the beneficiaries to treat and learn the basics of veterinary care to keep their animals in a healthy condition.

Agricultural Activities

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood in many villages in the target area of REAL. Their main cultivations are groundnut, paddy and green vegetables. These dry fodders indirectly serve as feed to the cattle/milk animals. REAL has promoted men’s Self Help Groups, and loans were provided to these men to start crop cultivation in 42 acres in Muniampettai and Aathikuppam villages. The loans are being repaid regularly by the groups to the federation. Beneficiaries can earn an amount of Rs.4000 per acre as profit from the cultivation. Fodder Cultivation and Azolla Production Units are the other sources promoted by REAL in these villages. A decline in the dry fodder is compensated with commercial feed, resulting in increased costs in milk production. Moreover, as commercial feed is mixed with urea and other artificial milk boosters, it has a negative effect on the quality of milk and health of the livestock.

In the past few years, support was provided to more than 500 dairy beneficiary families to construct an azolla growing tank. REAL agronomists have trained the beneficiaries in the production process.

Small Business Development

Promoting individual and group enterprises has been the main agenda in strengthening women’s groups recently. Several groups were supported to start their entrepreneurial activities in the areas of coir making, shoe making, prawn and fish selling, mushroom cultivation, fodder cultivation, feed shops, saree sales, petty shops, tiffin stalls, tailoring, masala making, provision stores, handicrafts production, beauty parlor, etc. A total of 18,000 women have been supported with grants through the SHGs to venture their desired business. Training programmes has been provided to the entrepreneurs for their development in the business sector .

Micro Finance and Micro Credit

Microfinance plays a vital role in the development of the poorest of the poor and marginalized. The goalmouth is to reduce and eradicate poverty, which has existed for a very long time, in which the high class people profit from the poorest of the poor. Initially, the poor people joined in the community-based institutions but the capacity of the credit did not raise them to the level of self-reliance. Members of the SHGs took loans from the groups, but the loans did not fulfill their needs .An high rate of interest was collected form the people in the village areas. REAL has analyzed why the SHGs became ineffective or became defunct, and why the members of the SHGs became indebted to outside lenders.

REAL found that the poorest members of the SHGs often could not obtain loans from the groups, and many times they could get only one loan at a time. The urgent needs could not be met by the SHG because it had only a minimum common fund to provide credit to its members. Based on the analysis, the micro credit system has been developed through the federation structure. The basic concept is to empower women who have credit worthiness and the leadership qualities to manage their situation.

Micro Credit Federation: It was started with 1141 SHGs (26,722 members) at Villupuram and Cuddalore District in 2006 with a clear vision and mission. The federation has been registered under the trust act and developed the yearly micro credit plan for each SHG. Some of the activities assisted are High Interest Loan Redemption, Hospitalization, and Education for Children, Asset Creation, Family Ceremonies and Income Generation.

Micro Insurance Programme: Insuring those who are marginally poor is a sustainable strategy to safeguard them from external shocks. This year we have been instrumental in promoting group insurance in Kattumannarkoil and Srimushnam Block covering 55 panchayats spread over to 261 villages, through the financial support of CARE – India with the technical backup of Bajaj Allianz. The scheme focuses mainly on the rural poor who are daily waged labourers engaged in agricultural activities.