One Year of COVID-19: Gomti Devi, Farmer in India

In this series, we check back with TechnoServe program participants previously featured on our blog, documenting how their lives have changed and progressed. Gomti Devi is a smallholder guar farmer in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, whose gender-inclusive training from TechnoServe helped her withstand the COVID-19 crisis. Having learned how to sew and to grow food, Gomti saved money, reduced her risks, and gave back to protect the wider community. Find out how she is doing now, almost a year later.

Decorative graphic reads: "Risk and Resilience: One Year of COVID-19." Image of Gomti Devi, a smallholder guar farmer in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, whose gender-inclusive training from TechnoServe helped her withstand the COVID-19 crisis.

Gender-Inclusive Training Helps Farmers Weather the COVID-19 Crisis

When cases of COVID-19 peaked in India last September, the country was reporting almost 100,000 new cases every day. In the months since, cases have declined significantly, but many people still feel the pandemic’s economic effects on their farms, businesses, and livelihoods. 

Such is the case for Gomti Devi, a smallholder guar farmer in northwest India. Guar is a highly versatile, drought-resistant legume that grows in arid areas. When we first featured Gomti in April 2020, she was worried about managing her farm and providing for her family, given the strict lockdown and restrictions on movement. 

Quote from Gomti Devi, a smallholder guar farmer in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, whose gender-inclusive training from TechnoServe helped her withstand the COVID-19 crisis. Graphic reads: “When the lockdown began in March, I was very tense about how my family and I would buy guar seeds, inputs, fertilizers, and other farming essentials for the upcoming Kharif season. There was a complete lockdown, and no movement was allowed. The local shopkeepers were also not opening their shops. The entire village was worried about how they would even get essential stuff for their homes.”

After the lockdown was lifted, challenges remained. Diesel prices skyrocketed, forcing Gomti and many other farmers in her community to absorb a 20% increase in the cost of renting farm equipment. But despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of her guar harvest, one thing gave her a sense of security: her kitchen garden. 

Kitchen Gardens as Part of a Gender-Inclusive Approach

In 2018, Gomti joined the Sustainable Guar Initiative, a partnership between TechnoServe, Solvay, L’Oréal, Henkel, and HiChem. The program works to support guar-farming households through a gender-inclusive approach. Women farmers learn how to cultivate “kitchen gardens” — growing produce in their own backyards — helping them gain economic independence and contribute to household income and family nutrition.

Kitchen gardens have several benefits, including:

  • Boosting household access to healthy, nutritious food 
  • Reducing the need to travel to markets
  • Helping farming families save money 

When Gomti first established a kitchen garden in her backyard, she relished the vegetables that were suddenly regularly accessible to her and her family throughout the year. However, it wasn’t until the nationwide lockdown that Gomti truly realized the benefits of kitchen gardening. The garden has allowed her to save money and reduce her risk of being infected with the virus. 

Quote from Gomti Devi, a smallholder guar farmer in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, whose gender-inclusive training from TechnoServe helped her withstand the COVID-19 crisis. Graphic reads: “The support that my family and I received from TechnoServe has helped us cope with the pandemic and the unforeseen challenges that came with it. I have been able to set up my kitchen garden and feed my family with healthy homegrown food without any need to go out to the local vegetable vendors. This has helped us save a lot and keep ourselves safe with minimal exposure to the community.”

Giving Back to the Community

For Gomti and her family, the pandemic has created new challenges, but it has also provided opportunities. With the extra money and time she saves by not going to the market, she decided to give back to her community by sewing masks and giving them away. 

The pandemic has changed our lives a lot. I make sure that my family and neighbors wash our hands regularly, wear masks, and wash [our] clothes and dry them in the sun. I distributed 40 masks to the national toll tax booth and 40 masks to the nearby women and girls in my village. When I started stitching masks for my community, there was no supply of elastic in the village. I had to scrape together material from old used clothes while making the masks.”
— Gomti Devi 

New Business Opportunities

In addition to sewing and giving away masks, Gomti also decided to start her own business in recent months, selling daily household essentials like toiletries, snacks, and stationery. Part of TechnoServe’s gender-inclusive training approach included teaching women like Gomti important entrepreneurial skills. 

Quote from Gomti Devi, a smallholder guar farmer in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India, whose gender-inclusive training from TechnoServe helped her withstand the COVID-19 crisis. Graphic reads: “I never thought about starting my own business until the TechnoServe staff trained me on entrepreneurship skills. I recently set up my own shop in front of my house. I am spending all my time managing the customers in the shop and maintaining the stock.”

I did not know that so many rural women in our country are already running shops. This motivated me to start my own business, and the training helped me understand the basics, like how to manage a customer, how to make profits, and how to do recordkeeping. This training has helped me scale my shop from zero to what it is today in the last four or five months.”
— Gomti Devi

Although there will undoubtedly be more challenges ahead, Gomti is optimistic about the future of her farm, her business, and her family. 

I have received a very good response from the village on my new shop, and I am optimistic about its growth in the future. My family is also prepared for next year’s guar cultivation, and we will be trying to cover all the losses we have incurred during the pandemic. We are hoping that the country recovers from the pandemic and the restrictions are relieved a bit. I am hopeful for the shop that I am currently investing all my efforts in. I wish to expand the shop and earn a good amount of income from it.”
— Gomti Devi 

Invest in hardworking women like Gomti

 

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