Leading by ‘eggsample’: Tribal women in Maharashtra earn decent, address malnutrition during COVID-19

Tribal women in a hamlet in Thane are earning a living by selling eggs during COVID-19 crisis. They are also addressing malnutrition among women and children.

Shivani Gupta
| Updated: Last updated on November 15th, 2021,

Tribal woman selling eggs to the anganwadi worker in a hamlet in Maharashtra. Photo: Fazal Pathan

When many lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, 55-year-old Indubai Vithal Wagh had something to cheer about. From earning nothing at one point to now earning Rs 1,200 a month – an income that gives her a sense of pride – she is financially supporting her family of six in the ongoing crisis.

Indubai lives in Khanduchiwadi, a tribal village in Shahapur block of Thane district in Maharashtra. She earns her living by selling eggs. “Everyone needs money. In a situation where we could not step out to work, selling eggs these chicks produce has proved to be a blessing. With this, I manage our household expenses,” Indubai told Gaon Connection.

Population First, a non-profit that works towards improving the quality of health of the rural women in India, distributed 10 chicks per woman in the village. A total of 18 tribal women, including Indubai, are now earning a livelihood by selling eggs. This has not only provided a source of income to these tribal women, but has also addressed malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women, and children in the hamlet.

An income of Rs 1,200 a month gives Indubai a sense of pride. She is financially supporting her family of six in the ongoing crisis. Photo: Fazal Pathan

“We started the poultry project in this hamlet in January this year. Earlier, there was no source of livelihood for these tribal women. Most of these women are uneducated. We trained them so that they can look after the chicks. In April, we distributed 10 chicks per tribal woman in the village. So far, we gave 180 chicks to 18 women,” Fazal Pathan, programme manager of Population First told Gaon Connection.

At a time when supply chains in the country are broken due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these tribal women are also providing for the eggs to be given to the pregnant and lactating women in the anganwadis (rural child-care centres) in five neighbouring hamlets including Krushnachiwadi, Musaiwadi and Ambyachiwadi. This is helping run the Abdul Kalam Amrut Ahar Yojana – a scheme to combat malnutrition and improving the nutrition of pregnant and lactating women, and children. The anganwadi workers buy eggs from these tribal women directly.

“Earlier, these women would eat eggs, but when the production increased, they started selling these to the two local vendors and later to the anganwadi workers. Because of the poor roads and connectivity with cities, tribal people here don’t get to buy vegetables. They were surviving on wheat and paddy. But, ever since the poultry project started, women and children started consuming eggs, which became a permanent locally available food. This has addressed malnutrition in them,” informed Pathan.

A total of 18 tribal women, including Indubai, are now earning a livelihood by selling eggs. Photo: Fazal Pathan

In a written reply given in the legislative assembly earlier this year, Rajesh Tope, the state health minister, informed that 1,070 cases of maternal mortality were registered in the state between April 1, 2019, and January 5, 2020. In rural parts of Thane, 327 children were diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition and 1736 with moderate malnutrition. Despite the measures by the state health department, the rate of malnutrition is on the rise. However, the tribal women in this hamlet of Thane, stepped up to address malnutrition themselves.

“Now, we see positive health changes in women,” said Pathan. Pathan along with his team has been addressing malnutrition problems in the hamlet for the past five years.

An unintended but serious impact of the lockdown was that about 217 million children in India — 158 million kids registered with the anganwadis and 59.6 million students approved for mid-day meals at government schools — are possibly going hungry. But, this tribal hamlet continued its services, thanks to these tribal women.

“We are giving eggs to five pregnant women, and four lactating women in the hamlet since April. We give them eggs six days a week. Diet includes rice, pulses, oil, salt, and eggs,” Anita Dharma Wagh, 35, an anganwadi worker who lives in the same hamlet told Gaon Connection.

“Giving eggs to these women is extremely necessary. If we don’t give them eggs, their weight would start decreasing,” informed Anita, who is into this work for the past 17 years.

Indubai and other tribal women are also rearing new chicks. Photo: Fazal Pathan

According to Pathan, there are around 60 children between 0-6 years of age in this hamlet. “Weight of these children is improving. We see visible changes in women and children,” said Pathan.

Besides, Indubai informed Gaon Connection that she sold 250 eggs to the anganwadi centres and the local shopkeepers in June and earned Rs 1,250. On average, these tribal women manage to earn Rs 700-800 a month. They sell these eggs for Rs 7-8 per egg. Cost of production of each egg is Rs 2-3.

Talking about the cost of production and the profits, Indubai said: “We give these chicks rice, wheat, and bajri (millet).” Indubai also works in farmland provided by the forest department where she grows paddy. She informed she only has to buy millet. The rest, she gets from the field and the ration shop at cheaper rates.

The 10 chicks each tribal women has produces 8-10 eggs a day. These women earn Rs 7-8 per egg. Photo: Fazal Pathan

Indubai and other tribal women are also rearing new chicks. “Of 18, thirteen women started rearing chicks. A total of new 100 chicks were produced. A few died of heat, rest survived. Now, we have 250 birds. These will later produce new chicks, and in turn, more eggs. This would keep multiplying and hence the profit,” said Pathan.

Population First plans to further the pilot project in three more villages and establish linkages between the local market of Shenva, a market which witnesses high sale and consumption of eggs, for these women. This will generate livelihood opportunities for many more women living in the tribal belt of the state.