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Sweet taste of success: Puneeta’s story

girl on a tricycle
© CBM India
Puneeta is confident with her eyes set on changing her life and working to inspire other people with disabilities in her village. She is a part of CBM supported disability inclusive organic farming project.

Puneeta wears many hats today. She is a beekeeper, a processor of organically produced edible oil and the local advisor on methods and advantages of organic farming. This change is remarkable not just because Puneeta is something of an entrepreneur but also a woman with a disability who is inspiring many around her.

As a girl with disability, Puneeta grew up hearing insults from her neighbours on how she will always be a ‘burden’ and never be ‘useful’ in a village where agriculture is the only source of income.

At the age of five, she was affected by Poliomyelitis virus which affected her lower limbs leading to neuromuscular paralysis. She cannot use her legs and uses her hands to drag herself to move.

She lives in Deurawa village of District Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh which is one the largest and most populous states in India. The state had a history of a high number of Poliomyelitis cases, as a result, there are a large number young people with physical disabilities in the region.

Uttar Pradesh is also home to the largest number of people living below India’s official poverty line that defines the poorest people in the country.

Oldest 9th standard student

Puneeta in her mini oil mill supported by CBM ©CBM India
Puneeta has received support and loans from the farmers group developed as a part of the project to set up an oil extraction machine and flour milling unit.
Sitting on the ground under a broken shed that had its roof damaged by a recent storm, Puneeta’s eyes shine, almost challenging the glaring sunlight of the harsh north Indian summer.

“I am now going to school at this age. I feel education is important for becoming independent,” she adds before highlighting “I am not embarrassed about being one of the oldest 9th-grade student”

She had to drop out of school and stop her studies at the age of 13.

Puneeta’s new found confidence is the result of a journey that started in 2012 through a CBM supported disability inclusive agro-enterprises for the organic farming project.

The 25-year-old has seen many changes in her life, ranging from a dependable cash income from assets that create economic value like beekeeping for honey, and oil extraction machine to being respected in the community because of the knowledge she has on organic farming.

Puneeta has bees

Mini oil mill ©CBM India
The oil extraction machine allows farmers and Puneeta’s own family to process the local produce and sell it in markets nearby.
Seven white boxes hide a swarm of activity under the shade of four towering trees. Puneeta is eager to explain what these are.

“They are honey bees boxes and mine are full of them even in this heat. They stay here because I never miss providing water mixed with sugar and jaggery,” she explains and adds emphatically 

Moving on a customised wheelchair styled tricycle around the boxes, she points out that she is one of the few people in the village who extracts honey and sells it at a premium price. Though the ground is uneven the access to the opening has been modified for her to reach the boxes.

The boxes generate about 84 litres of honey in a year which is sold for 400 INR per litre, yielding about 33600 INR annually.

She not only received the boxes and necessary training to start beekeeping or apiculture, but also information on how bees benefit farming, particularly vegetable production.  

In addition to this, she has also been supported by a machine that is used for extracting oil from mustard and sunflower seeds grown locally. With the machine being available she offers its paid services for farmers in the village. 

She also purchases seeds to extract oil and sell it as an organic product in the local market. This too provides her with a steady income through a value addition asset. 

As we discussed the wind storm that hit the area the previous night, Puneeta’s machine is put to work extracting about a litre of mustard oil, which she offers to sell to us. She comes across as a focused entrepreneur constantly looking to optimise the benefits of assets she has been supported with.

I have an identity

Puneeta smiling ©CBM India
Puneeta’s eyes shine with hope and the new found confidence
Puneeta though married has limited interaction with her husband and does not like to discuss it. But she is quick to add that: “I am independent and have a bank account. I am respected for the knowledge I have on organic agriculture from all the training that are taking place under the project.”

Puneeta has not only grabbed new opportunities that the CBM supported livelihood project has offered but has also become a strong voice in her family.

“I have an identity of my own. It was not the case earlier when I was seen as a burden. People with disability are often left behind as family members see them as a financial burden,” she adds.

“Being able to make a living close to home and within the village has allowed me to change my life… and with the beekeeping and oil extraction machine, I am now an example for other women with disabilities,” she adds.

An important aspect of the CBM project is that it brings the community members together to create farmer support groups where both disabled and on-disabled members from the project share their learning and resources.

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