Phulomani Hansda: From Scavenging to Secure
December 18, 2019
Phulomani Hansda used to forage the forests around her home in Odisha for sal leaves. The east Indian state has long been a lead producer of eco-friendly, biodegradable plates made of sal leaves. But hours of searching, collecting and stitching these leaves into plates would add just a few extra pennies to Phulomani’s household income — 10 rupees for a bundle of 80 plates and cups. And in her case, every rupee went to feeding her family of five.
Prior to 2016, Phulomani’s forest expeditions were not only tiring, but often were wasted when she could not find any leaves or buyers for her products. To supplement income, she used to till other farmers’ land while her husband worked as a helper to a van driver. He would generally spend most of the time traveling—often days at a time—without sending money home. The family had days with little or no food.
Things began to change when Phulomani became a part of a self-help group in 2016 and bought some chickens. However, she was unaware of the best practices to raise poultry and left the birds open for scavenging. Consequently, predators killed many in the flock. In 2017, she received training on Improved Animal and Resource Management and a one-day training session on Backyard Poultry Management. She learned the benefits of regular vaccination and deworming. In the course of just a year, she was able to raise and sell more birds than ever, bringing in 12,000 rupees.
Income through poultry sustained in the next few years. Though vaccination and deworming prevented her flock from disease and death, predation was still a major threat. It was also difficult for her to keep a watch on all her hens and chickens. Open laying meant eggs were broken and chicks died regularly. Only three out of 15 survived.
Two months ago, as a participant of Hatching Hope, Phulomani received assistance to construct a chicken coop for her poultry. Since then, her four breeding hens have given birth to 40 chicks. It has become easier for her to keep watch on all the chicks. She has been feeding them with better feed including low-cost, nutritious and locally available components such as rice-bran and mustard cakes. She also feeds them azolla (an aquatic fern) which provides ample protein. The coop allows her to more easily separate birds in the case of disease, and she has easy access to the community vaccinator who provides timely and affordable vaccination and deworming services.
As a result of the coop, improved feeding, and better disease prevention services, mortality has substantially reduced, and her birds are healthier. The coop has a separate space for hatching, so Phulomani can keep track of eggs laid. Currently, she keeps most of the eggs for hatching, as she plans to increase her flock size. On average, she is able to fetch 100 rupees for four chicks. Any remaining eggs are used for cooking and eating.
Now that she has a large flock, she is able to cater to her household and local demand. Because her birds are healthy, people often come to her to buy hens for breeding purposes as well. As her flock size is increasing, she is looking forward to other profitable selling opportunities. She plans to collectively sell her chickens to bigger markets and buyers through the Farmer Producer Organization. This will not only bring better returns but also provide a sustainable linkage to market for her growing flock.
Watching her progress, her mother-in-law and husband have also started assisting her in rearing poultry birds. Through combined efforts of the family, Phulomani and her husband just bought their own van by making an initial payment of 100,000 rupees. They plan to use the vehicle commercially to ferry passengers and add to their household income. They will be paying the rest of the amount through monthly installments, part of which will come through their income from poultry.
Now that the family is financially secure, Phulomani does not worry about providing her family nutritious food each day. Her days are not spent scrounging the forest. She is able to feed her family well and plans to send both of her children to private schools. With increased income, she also plans to reconstruct her house. Amidst tending to the needs and wishes of her family, Phulomani does not forget to keep some part of her earnings as savings. This gives her and her family assurance about their future.