Sri Lankan women improve their livelihoods through cooperatives in the groundnut value chain

Two women producers supported by the ILO LEED+ project share their stories on how they increased their income through cooperatives in the groundnut value chain.

News | 28 November 2019
In Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, the ILO is empowering local farming, fishing communities, ex-combatants and producer organizations such as cooperatives and other SMEs. Since 2011, the Local Empowerment through Economic Development (LEED) project has contributed to inclusive development among conflict-affected communities through poverty reduction and sustainable job creation, particularly in the fisheries and fruit and vegetable sectors.

In 2018, the project entered into a new phase as LEED+ (Local Empowerment through Economic Development and Reconciliation), which focuses on three main challenges: 1) income generation; 2) gender equality and women empowerment; and 3) scaling up and replication. The project has been supported by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of the Government of Australia and the Government of Norway and implemented by the ILO in collaboration with its constituents (Government, Workers’ and Employers’ Organizations).

Here are the stories of two cooperatives supported by the LEED+ project that have empowered women producers in the groundnut value chain to increase their income and enhance productivity.

Malarum Bhoomi Women Farmers’ Development Cooperative (Omanthai, Vavuniya District)

Malarum Bhoomi women Farmers' Development Cooperative
In Omanthai Village, Vavuniya District, people who had been internally displaced due to the conflict started returning and resettling back in their original regions. Women villagers first formed their self-help groups for purposes of solidarity. In order to increase their income, they registered the group as the Malarum Bhoomi Women Farmers’ Development Cooperative with the support of the Department of Co-operative Development and started to cultivate seed groundnuts. The Seed and Planting Material Development Centre (SPMDC) under the Department of Agriculture provided the cooperative with technical support in farming and the assurance to buy their produce back from the cooperative members.

Ms Kamalraj Sasikala
Ms. Kamalraj Sasikala, a member of the cooperative, recalls that soon after their resettlement in the village, they had no resources except a small piece of land. Her husband managed to get odd jobs to meet day-to-day expenses. To create income opportunities in agriculture, the Malarum Bhoomi Cooperative has financially supported its members to construct a deep bore well at 50 per cent subsidy.

“We dug a deep bore well in 2018 and worked in our fields day and night. We levelled our farms and put bunds and fencing around them.” Ms. Sasikala

While the cooperative members were using traditional farming methods at the beginning, the ILO LEED+ project and Agricultural Extension Officers supported them in adopting new technologies, better crop production practices, and crop planning and sequencing. They also had opportunities to participate in training sessions provided by the Department of Agriculture through the cooperative.

Despite heavy droughts, Ms Sasikala was able to harvest 420kg of seed groundnut from 0.5 acres (approx. 0.2 ha) and sold them to the SPMDC. She aims to extend the cultivation area and increase the production to 550kg. Women in the neighbourhood have formed a small self-help group to support each other’s farming and the cooperative society has taken the responsibility of marketing all produce bypassing middlemen.

“Now I can manage our household expenses and self-savings with our earnings from the piece of land. Thanks to the constant support and guidance of the Agriculture Extension Officer and Cooperative Extension Officer, we have become successful agri-entrepreneurs and feel proud of ourselves.” Ms. Sasikala

Kalimoddai Punyankulam Thrift and Credit Cooperative Society (Kalimoddai, Mannar District)

Kalimoddai Punyankulam Thrift and Credit Cooperative
In Mannar District, groundnut cultivation is expanding as it has better returns on investment than cultivating other crop like rice paddy. However, the groundnut market system in Mannar was predominantly influenced by local collectors. Groundnut producers who purchased seeds and other farming inputs from the collectors had an obligation to sell their produce to the same collector at a low price. This was due to the limited access to finance and absence of an established market system.

With the support of the ILO LEED+ project, the Mannar District Thrift and Credit Cooperative Union created access to finance for vulnerable producers, especially women and persons with disabilities. The ILO also brought in other buyers of groundnut to the local market to diversify sales channels for smallholder producers. This intervention enabled the producers to get better prices for their products, in a more timely manner.

Ms Yasotha Sivapalanesan
Ms. Yasotha Sivapalanesan is a member of the Kalimoddai Punyankulam Thrift and Credit Cooperative Society, which is affiliated to the Mannar District Thrift and Credit Cooperative Union. She is one of the 15 groundnut producers among 50 members of the cooperative society. In the past couple of years, she used to cultivate vegetables, especially pumpkins, but the market was very volatile. With the loan from the society and support of the ILO, she started groundnut cultivation with her husband in 0.5 acre of land and managed to harvest 650kg of groundnut at the end of October 2019. Her income increased by 20 per cent compared to what she used to earn from pumpkin cultivation.

"Groundnut cultivation is expanding in Mannar District and there is a growing need for quality seeds. I plan to expand my cultivation next year to produce seed groundnuts with financing from the cooperative." Ms. Sivapalanesan.

She also wants to motivate other members of the cooperative to engage in quality seed production as they are trained by Department of Agriculture.