Godavari Dange, a 31-year-old entrepreneur, boarded her flight to New York in 2011. At the time, there were celebrations in Tuljapur in Osmanabad district of Maharashtra. Yes! that’s the area where she comes from. She was on her way to the United Nations to represent grassroots women’s network in India at the Commission on the Status of Women. It was the first ever flight travel in her life.
She was accompanied by her translator. A farmer-turned-entrepreneur reached the convention and addressed the attendees in Marathi speaking about the crisis of farmers in Marathwada. It’s been seven years since then and she has travelled more than 14 countries and spoke at hundreds of events that she attended all around the world.
Widowed at the age of 19, she paved way for many farmers from her region to raise their standard of living. The eldest of four sisters, Godavari studied only till the sixth standard as she lacked resources to pursue her further education. She was married at the age of 15 and faced a tragedy when she lost her husband at the age of 19. Her husband passed away in an accident. Her parents supported her and took care of her two children.
In 1999, Godavari started participating at a self-help group under the influence of a fellow villager Balu, who worked at several SHGs and insisted her to joining the community. She soon started mobilising other women and found employment with Yashwanthi Sakhi Sanstha, an SHG in the Osmanabad district in Maharashtra.
She lacked confidence and found it difficult to even stop a bus when she got out of the house for the first time. She wondered what if the bus does not stop and the people at the bus stand laughed at her. You can imagine the level of insecurity she had. She was fearful of travelling alone and meeting unknown people and starting a conversation with them.
But her job at SHGs helped her overcome her fears and gave her many opportunities like screening applications and monitoring payments. She boarded more women and helped the underprivileged address their inhibitions of stepping out of their comfort zone. She was later appointed as the federation secretary of the Sashakath Sakhi Sanstha where she worked in empowering rural female and enhance their livelihood and standards of living.
In 2000, she joined the Swaya Sikshan Prayog to empower grassroots women and enable a sustainable progress for them. It was a Pune-based NGO that helped under-served communities. Over those years, Godavari pursued and completed her matriculation and started working on various issues related to malnutrition, health and sanitation of women. Her constant interaction with several women helped her gain insights into their problems.
You might remember that the Marathwada region faced a severe drought in 2012. This was the time when the Godavari empowered more than 1000 women across 110 villages in Maharashtra to grow vegetables and crops to improve food supply and security. While most farmers in the region grew only sugarcane and soya. These crops required more water and depleted the underground water.
Godavari developed the one-acre model and advised them to grow more than 25 different types of vegetables in the one-acre of land. Farmers understood and started earning profits. The organization focuses on women farmers and introduced the model along with several scientific techniques of organic farming.
Godavari now leads a community innovation fund that disbursed more than INR 1 crore for agriculture, water conservation and women enterprises. She has been awarded the Best Trainer at the district level by the DRDA of Osmanabad. She also presented the accomplishments to several global peer-learning exchanges, academies and conferences. She advised the organization to offer small loans to women farmers, as most of the banks do not offer small funds.
If any women farmer has goals to buy a cow, there is no financial institution in the country that has products designed for this. Landless farmers are denied loans across India. This is the issue she wants to address with her initiatives. For the last 18 years, Godavari has been working with SSP to help over 4,500 farmers across the district with training and funds. A farmer can avail loan from the SSP by submitting his/her Aadhar card or Ration card.
Godavari is working hard for the last 18 years to recognize women as farmers instead of labourers. Despite the fact that 80 per cent of workforce sweating in farms are women, they are termed as labourers. Lands are generally owned by men and Godavari is working towards making women the in-charge of these lands. Under her leadership, the SSP has started two farm products companies – Manhari Farmer Produce Company and Vijaylakshmi Farmer Produce COmpany.
In her 18 years of career, she travelled to countries including Kenya, Philippines, Italy, Nepal, Turkestan, Brazil, Switzerland, Malaysia, Sendai, Turkey, Indonesia and the United States. She participated in Rio+20 where she showcased the critical role of grassroots women in sustainable development. She also represented India as a panellist at the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction where she presented the measures of women in drought situations.
Recently, she has been appointed as the Global Ambassador in the United Nations for the International Fund for Agricultural Development and Huairou Commission on Rural Women in Sustainable Agriculture. Godavari was recently awarded the Rama Govinda National Award for her exceptional work in the field of climate community resilience and, today is the face of women farmers of the Marathwada region.