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Microfinance challenges: empowerment or disempowerment of the poor?

 | 
Isabelle Guérin
, 
Jane Palier

Part I - Questions as to definition: what is understood by empowerment?

2. Relevance of microfinance and empowerment in tribal areas: a case study of the Konda Reddis

M. Thanuja

Texte intégral

  • 81 The Konda Reddis here refer only to the 1,322 individuals who comprise the sample of this research
  • 82 This term has been used here to show the administrative category under which the Government of Ind (...)

1The concept of ‘empowerment’ has been widely used since the early 1990s as an approach in poverty reduction programmes. The purpose of this paper is to emphasise the importance of the socio-cultural environment of the population for whom poverty reduction programmes, specifically through microfinance and empowerment, are planned. This case study focuses on the Konda Reddis81, a Primitive Tribal Group82 (PTG) found in the three adjoining districts of Khammam, East Godavari and West Godavari in the State of Andhra Pradesh in India. Interestingly, the Konda Reddis neither think of themselves as ‘poor’, nor needing ‘development’. In fact, both these terms do not exist in their purview, and they now consider them to be unasked-for external intervention. They say:

  • 83 Fieldwork notes taken by the author.

“We have all that we need for survival and have survived till date without external support… we understand our forests, own and protect them and know how to utilise them to ensure our food supply… we do not understand why officials volunteer to help us when we have not asked for help, and insist on satisfying all our needs, which we have already done for ourselves”83.

  • 84 It is too early to anticipate changes to this policy with the change in the State government since (...)
  • 85 http://www.velugu.org

2Microfinance has been incorporated into the ‘Rural Poverty Elimination Programme’ of the State development policy, ‘Swarna Andhra Pradesh Vision 2020’84. This programme, named Velugu (literally meaning ‘light’ in Telugu), has been modelled on the South Asia Poverty Alleviation Project (SAPAP) of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP). Velugu aims to promote self-help groups (SHGs), common interest groups, microcredit, savings, health, education, and agriculture through empowerment. This implies that Velugu enables people to actively involve themselves in the process of decision-making and leadership by establishing a credit mechanism, generating additional incomes, enhancing livelihood opportunities and creating access to market spaces85. But this ignores the fact that some people and communities are already naturally empowered, and the empowerment that Velugu claims to create is already present. The approach of this paper with respect to empowerment is that it is a process; it is never fully absent nor fully achieved by a community, but is always in a state of flux. With Velugu (as in many such programmes), the concept that people are naturally empowered is negated, and as a consequence, the socio-cultural component, which should be the starting point for such programmes, is ignored. Thus it becomes necessary to make clear what the socio-cultural component really means.

The Konda Reddis: production-consumption pattern and resource ownership

  • 86 The ITDA was set up under the tribal sub-plan strategy during Fifth Five Year Plan for development (...)

3This paper is specific to the Konda Reddis who live in the hills of Khammam district. These hills are inhabited exclusively by the Konda Reddis and the settlements are called gumpus (clusters). Focused development planning for the Konda Reddis started in the late 1970s, coinciding with their recognition as a PTG. The geographical isolation of the hill villages, the absence of transport and communication facilities and the physical strain involved in reaching the gumpus, accessible only by foot, were considered strong obstacles to development by the extension agency, in this case the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA)86.

  • 87 Two varieties of beans are dibbled while millets (four varieties) are broadcast.
  • 88 The minimum fallow period is six years.
  • 89 It includes uxorilocal, matrilocal, virilocal, patrilocal and avunulocal residence.

4On an average, each gumpu has five households, and are situated on more or less level ground, while a few are situated on hill slopes, forming a terraced pattern. The fewer households in a gumpu is to enable its inhabitants to choose podu (shifting cultivation) plots in the vicinity of the settlements. Shifting cultivation is practised on hill slopes where flat land and irrigation facilities are not available. A plot of land is selected on the hill slope for cultivation, the vegetation there is cut (though not entirely) and then burnt just before the onset of the rains and the seeds are then dibbled and broadcast on this plot87. After the harvest, the cultivated plot is left fallow88. The following year, another plot is selected. In case the number of households in a gumpu increases, forcing its inhabitants to practice podu on hills far away from the habitation, then either a new/subsidiary gumpu is formed or temporary houses are constructed in the podu field to enable accessibility. Another interesting aspect of the settlement pattern is the ownership of the gumpus and the podu plots around them. Each gumpu is owned by a lineage, the members of which are identified as the patriarchs of the gumpu. The Konda Reddis are grouped into many patrilineal groups. In this study 28 patrilineal descent groups are present. But the rule of residence with the Konda Reddis is not unilocal89. This results in gumpus being multilineage gumpus and the patriarchal lineage of a gumpu need not be the most populous lineage of the gumpu. Figure 1 shows both the spread of lineages in different gumpus and the number of lineages present in each gumpu. The figure is divided into 31 spokes, each representing a gumpu.

Figure 1. Spread of lineages

Figure 1. Spread of lineages
  • 90 The lineage gudisae is also referred to as gudi (temple) and deiyal gudisae (hut of spirits).

5The question of the patriarch seems to be important to the Konda Reddis and this explains the presence of the lineage gudisae90 (hut) in the gumpu, which is named after the lineage and is a miniature version of the dwelling unit. In this gudisae is placed an earthen pot and a makeshift hearth, used for cooking the ritual sacrifices (usually chicken). The lineage gudisae is especially useful in tracing the movement of lineage residence and in distinguishing original gumpus from more recent ones. This is possible since the lineage gudisae is not shifted with the movement of its members. Moving to the marital residence or forming subsidiary gumpus for podu are the common reasons for members of a lineage to leave the patriarchal gumpu.

  • 91 New/subsidiary gumpus continue to accept the head of the parent gumpu as their head. Thus new gump (...)

6Each lineage has a kulam peda (political head) and a pujari (religious head). The kulam peda of a lineage is also the head of his patriarchal gumpu91, provided he resides there. The roles of political and religious heads are assigned only to men. Membership of an individual in the tribe is determined by descent, exemplified by identifying oneself with the lineage. The lineage in turn claims ownership of the gumpu, symbolised by the presence of the lineage gudisae. When members of the patriarchal lineage do not live in their gumpus, the ownership of resources within this gumpu territory will continue to remain with them; however, usufruct rights are given to the inhabitants of the village.

7The podu system of food-supply includes a year-round cycle of activities and is supplemented with hunting, collection of forest produce and rearing of livestock (see fig. 2). Along with podu the weaving of bamboo items, as in baskets, mats, and winnows is also a year-round activity. However, the labour demands of these two productive activities are different. Podu at the least requires the cooperation of the household, which at a minimum could be a couple with or without children. It is also common to find a couple of households working together on a single plot. The size of the plot varies with the number of the households and its members. Podu can demand communal labour on three different occasions, i.e. for weeding in August and November, harvest in January and felling trees between February-April. The rearing of livestock, especially pigs, satisfies the dual needs of financial transactions and direct consumption. As payment for communal labour, an adult pig is killed and divided among the individuals who form the labour force. Each individual is given one share, showing no bias in the quantity of meat with respect to age or gender. Most households rear pigs. In case a household lacks an adult pig for payment on such occasions, then one of its members (usually the head of the household) negotiates with another household in the same gumpu or elsewhere to spare them an adult pig, promising to repay them with another adult pig. Usually, adult pigs are not bought with cash. Instead, a piglet is bought for cash or kind, and is used for repayment when it is adult. Interest for the time lost in repayment is paid by allotting a portion or two of the meat to the original owner of the pig.

8As opposed to this, the labour involved in weaving bamboo ware is at the individual level, irrespective of age and gender. Weaving bamboo ware is a long process. It first requires cutting and carrying full-grown bamboo poles from the forest to the habitation, where it is stored and later split into appropriate sizes, which are in turn slit into fine strips. These strips are sundried and stored in the houses for later weaving. As fresh strips of bamboo are not flexible for weaving, it is necessary to maintain a stock of sun-dried bamboo strips. Besides household use, these bamboo articles are bartered with the Koya tribe dwelling in the plains for khallIu (palm wine) and sara (country liquor). Also, a few Koya men sell bamboo articles bought from the Konda Reddis at the weekly shandies (weekly market in the plains). These Koya men have evolved as cash providers, linking the Konda Reddi artisan to the market. They also provide credit to the Konda Reddis, which is recovered through the bamboo articles. Another important source of cash for the Konda Reddis is through the sale of honey and non-timber forest produce (mainly resin) at the Girijan co-operative stores run by the ITDA at the shandy villages. Tamarind and lime from the hills are also sold at this store. All these products generate cash, which is owned by individuals.

9What is interesting here is to see how this individually owned monetary economy is consumed opposed to other forms of resources owned at the household level, gumpu level, and community level. The table 1 below details the resource ownership pattern.

Table 1. Level of resource ownership

  • 92 Non-Timber Forest Produce.

Level

Ownership

Individual

Money generated through sale of NTFP92 (mainly resin) and honey (men only); bamboo articles (both men and women); and tamarind, lime and mango (women only).

Household

Livestock (chicken, goat and pigs) and harvest of shifting cultivation (includes four varieties of millet, two varieties of beans, three varieties of gourds and one variety of green leafy vegetable), kitchen garden (includes bottle gourd, chillies, fruit trees such as papaya, sweet lime, custard apple, etc).

Gumpu

Land for podu; fruit trees such as tamarind, mango

Community

Forest for hunting, honey and tuber collection and collection of NTFP

  • 93 Though direct consumption is the purpose of podu corps, one cannot rule out their role as a commod (...)

10What emerges from this table is that a resource for consumption owned at one level, goes through a stage of production, shifting the ownership to another level in the process. How does this happen? The forest area, owned at the community level, is utilised for hunting and collection of honey either by the individual or a group of individuals (not necessarily from the same gumpu). The hunted game is shared among these individuals and consumed by the household. In the same way, honey collected, after keeping aside a share for household consumption, is sold at the Girijan store for cash, retained by the individual. With fruit trees like tamarind owned by the gumpu, the collected tamarind is shared by the households of the gumpu, where a portion is kept aside for household consumption and the rest is sold to the Koyas, who in turn sell them at the shandy. Here again, money is generated for individual ownership, in this case for women. But the case of podu is different. Here podu land is owned by the gumpu, and used for production by the household. The crops produced are not sold93 as in the case of tamarind or honey, or shared for consumption, as is the case of small game, but stored to sustain consumption till the next harvest. Where a couple of households together have cultivated on a single podu, then the harvest is shared on the basis of individual labour input. This implies that the share of harvest is not proportionate to the household size but to the number of individuals from a household who have contributed the labour. Another question arising from this is whether it is possible for members of a household not to contribute labour. If so, what are the reasons for this, and how can the harvest be shared within the household? The members of the household excused from podu labour are children (roughly below 10 years) and the physically disabled. All other members are not forced to work, but participate on their own initiative. When a single household cultivates a plot, the harvest is not shared on the basis of labour input, but belongs to the household collectively. Thus land belongs to the gumpu and is utilised for production by a household/s, which both own and consume the harvest.

11Thus resources owned at different levels are brought to the level of the individual or household for consumption. A different picture emerges when one looks at resource ownership and consumption with respect to rituals. Besides life-cycle rituals, all other rituals observed by the Konda Reddis mark an event of production or consumption. Here I will discuss the pacha pandaka (green/harvest festival) and the mamidi pandaka (mango festival). Pacha pandaka is celebrated in January when the jonna (great millet) is ready for harvest, in a similar way the mamidi pandaka is celebrated in April-May when the mango fruit is ready for consumption. For both festivals, two chickens are sacrificed in the lineage gudisae with the first offerings of jonna or mango (as the case may be) to the lineage gods (ancestors). The sacrificed chickens and jonna are cooked in the lineage gudisae and eaten by the lineage head and pujari who performs the ritual. Members of the lineage from different gumpus gather for the ritual with their contribution of jonna and chicken and partake in communal eating.

Figure 2. Production cycle of the Konda Reddis

Figure 2. Production cycle of the Konda Reddis

12A nightlong dance is organised on the evening of the ritual for which members of other lineages are invited. Once in three years, each lineage performs a larger sacrifice for the mamidi pandaka, which includes five chickens, a goat and a pig. The members of the lineage consume the sacrificed animals. The next morning, households of all lineages are invited for a communal lunch, where each household contributes a chicken and two kilos of jonna.

13Every household of the lineage need not contribute the resources needed for the rituals as they are limited. The resource contribution is voluntary and it will suffice if a few households contribute, though it is consumed by any lineage member who attends the ritual. If more members attend, then the lineage members cook more food in their respective households, but the number of sacrificial animals remain the same. Thus, with rituals, the resources (livestock, podu crops and sara) are contributed at the household level but consumed at the lineage level.

14What has been discussed above is the pattern of resource utilisation in production and consumption. What is missing is how the money generated is consumed. Money is not borrowed or lent among the Konda Reddis. This could also mean that money is not stored or saved. Therefore money is spent, but where and how? The Konda Reddis visit three shandies. They buy rice at subsidised rates through the ration cards issued to each household, at the Girijan Cooperative store. Bathing and washing soaps sold at this store are also popular with the Konda Reddis. The priorities at the shandy seem to be the same for both men and women, and their favourite stops were at the khallu and sara stall, the second-hand clothes stores, and places that sold sweets, chillies, tobacco and dried fish. Also popular are the trinkets stall visited by women. With men, the stall with radios and watches is popular. Though vegetables were abundantly available at the shandy, the Konda Reddis seldom bought any. Occasionally, they bought utensils.

Conclusion

  • 94 I have not attempted to discuss the various connotations that this concept has been subjected to. (...)
  • 95 Though rice is bought at the Girijan store, it does not last for more than a week for an average h (...)

15I have discussed above, a part of the socio-cultural system of the Konda Reddis. The fact that the Konda Reddis are empowered94 even before developmental intervention is clear from their system of resource utilisation, where they are in control of ensuring their food supply. Money is used in the place of barter articles (as in NTFP and bamboo ware) but it does not contribute to the food supply95. It is thus crucial to understand this system before intervention, to enable developmental programmes, microfinance or otherwise, to adapt to the system. Microfinance is an important tool for empowerment in the Velugu programme, and it should take into consideration all forms of savings, cooperation of individuals at different levels of production activity and resource utilisation and ownership, which are embedded in the socio-cultural system. There is also a need to look at the need or motivation behind these forms of savings.

Notes

81 The Konda Reddis here refer only to the 1,322 individuals who comprise the sample of this research.

82 This term has been used here to show the administrative category under which the Government of India has classified this group. This category was created on the recommendations of the Shilo Ao Committee set up in 1969. The criteria used by the Committee to identify Primitive Tribes were small population size, preagricultural levels of technology, and extremely low levels of literacy. In Andhra Pradesh, eight hill tribes have been identified as PTGs.

83 Fieldwork notes taken by the author.

84 It is too early to anticipate changes to this policy with the change in the State government since May 2004.

85 http://www.velugu.org

86 The ITDA was set up under the tribal sub-plan strategy during Fifth Five Year Plan for development of scheduled tribes.

87 Two varieties of beans are dibbled while millets (four varieties) are broadcast.

88 The minimum fallow period is six years.

89 It includes uxorilocal, matrilocal, virilocal, patrilocal and avunulocal residence.

90 The lineage gudisae is also referred to as gudi (temple) and deiyal gudisae (hut of spirits).

91 New/subsidiary gumpus continue to accept the head of the parent gumpu as their head. Thus new gumpus identify with the parent gumpu, sharing all its resources except for the podu land.

92 Non-Timber Forest Produce.

93 Though direct consumption is the purpose of podu corps, one cannot rule out their role as a commodity for barter.

94 I have not attempted to discuss the various connotations that this concept has been subjected to. Here the concept has been used to mean “to give power”, again in a limited sense, where power means decision-making.

95 Though rice is bought at the Girijan store, it does not last for more than a week for an average household made up of four individuals. Also, rice is not considered as staple food by the Konda Reddis.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Spread of lineages
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/4716/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 245k
Titre Figure 2. Production cycle of the Konda Reddis
URL http://books.openedition.org/ifp/docannexe/image/4716/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 201k

Auteur

PhD Research Scholar in Anthropology, Madras University, French Institute of Pondicherry (India)

© Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2005

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