Bridging the gap

It's called 'GAP', but it actually bridges one—between poverty and sustainable livelihood. The Gadchiroli Agarbatti Project (GAP) is shaping up to be just the kind of initiative needed in the Naxal-affected district. The project has helped several families out of poverty.

The project, being implemented by the district administration along with the Forest Department, has secured round-the-year employment for women in far-off places who have no livelihood opportunities besides traditional rain-fed paddy farming and seasonal tendu collection. These poverty-stricken people, tucked away in the interiors, now earn between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000 a month. With an 80 per cent forest cover in Gadchiroli, GAP is successfully incorporating the idea of forest-based employment.

The idea came from Vinay Kumar, founder of The Village Store NGO, who also helped set up the project in Gadchiroli. "The project is for women since they are, by nature, thrifty. It also gives them a sense of empowerment," says Collector Abhishek Krishna. "We started with five centres in different parts of the district and will eventually reach 43 places creating over 1,000 jobs over the next one year," he says.

Krishna stresses the importance of livelihood in districts such as Gadchiroli. "For an interior village, livelihood is even more important than a road," he argues. The scheme is being funded under National Rural Livelihood Mission.

Using bamboo to manufacture incense sticks, each woman can produce up to 15 kg of incense sticks to earn Rs 150 a day. "As a farm labourer, I would get Rs 100 a day," says Venkateshwari Maddela at the Sironcha Agarbatti Centre. "Moreover, the farm job isn't assured every day. Here, I am assured of work through the year," she says.

Eighteen-year-old Sapna Banala, who is also part of the project, dropped out of school after class X. Her father frittered away his income on drinking. "I had no money for fees. But now I can continue my education," she says.

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