In 2006, Bihar, one of India’s poorest and most populous states, was contending with poor infrastructure and service delivery, and a complex political and social context. Limited inclusion of women in governance and local government institutions, coupled with their severely constrained access to economic opportunities, services and finance, made inclusive rural development an especially urgent and challenging agenda for the state.
Delivery of financial services was constrained. The number of bank branches was less than half of national average. Against an estimated rural micro-credit demand of $2.4 billion, the annual credit delivery in 2006 was only $8.4 million and vast sections of the poor were dependent on high-cost loans from informal sources.
Low-productivity subsistence agriculture was the dominant source of income for nearly 70 percent of Bihar’s population. Poor quality of producer organizations and value chains, inadequate capital formation, weak research and extension facilities, and low levels of social capital among the poor constrained opportunities to increase agricultural productivity and income diversification.
In March 2020, the Government of India announced a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. This created significant challenges for small farmers and daily wage earners due to restricted mobility and market shutdowns at peak harvest season. Higher risks to food security and absence of banking services limited rural households’ access to funds, especially remittances. Limited awareness of COVID-19, coupled with a high influx of returnee migrant workers, posed significant economic and health risks. Floods in July and August compounded these difficulties.
The project initially focused on building strong institutional platforms for the poor through Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and commodity-specific producer groups. It invested in building the capacity of these groups for savings and financial intermediation, and supported development of credible credit histories for rural households that had not previously had a bank account. In addition to catalytic initial capital that spurred higher financing from commercial banks, the project introduced customized financial products to support productive livelihood investments and reduce vulnerability.
This institutional model later extended to support commodity-based producer institutions and enterprise groups. The project facilitated development of a community-based agriculture extension system, enabling large-scale adoption of improved agriculture practices. Commodity-based producer organizations collect, market and sell small farmers’ produce and use technology into various aspects of production and quality control for higher returns.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the project deployed the institutional outreach of JEEViKA to participate in awareness campaigns and women’s enterprise groups produced protective materials on a large scale, meeting market demand and maintaining a source of earning for themselves. The network of JEEViKA village organizations also helped in rapid assessments of the coverage and inclusion gaps in the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM), and institutional links with government program such as work guarantee schemes were strengthened to include the most vulnerable households.
Since 2008, the JEEViKA program has emerged as the state’s flagship program for rural development and poverty alleviation. The project has contributed to the following outcomes:
- More than 841,000 women’s groups have bank accountsBetween 2016-2020, 1,085 digital banking kiosks run by members of women’s self-help groups have carried out more than $350 million in digital financial transactions.
- Since 2009, more than 12,000 community-level professionals have trained 1.2 million farmers on improved practices to enhance the productivity of crops such as rice and wheat.
- Between 2014-2020, more than 285,000 women small farmers have formed commodity-based Farmer Producer Organizations, while Farmer-level returns per unit of produce have increased by 15-20 percent due to higher margins and improved production practices.
- Between 2014-2020, 2.08 million rural women have enrolled in public insurance schemes with a project-supported claim settlement system.
- Since 2015, 131,000 rural households have backyard poultry investments under the project while 17,250 milk producers have market linkages through project-supported producer companies.
- Between 2007-2020, JEEViKA has helped scale up the project approach to 121 blocks of six other states in India through a workforce of more than 100,000 community resource persons and technical experts.
- Since 2016, the project has developed innovative community enterprise approaches (Rural Retail Marts) aimed at improving income levels of rural women working as small traders and women- owned catering enterprises to improve services at public institutions such as hospital canteens and administrative offices.
- In 2018, JEEViKA was designated as the implementing agency for the government of Bihar’s program focused on ultra-poor inclusion and graduation, reaching 72,000 ultra-poor households to date.
JEEViKA played a key role in supporting COVID-19 relief measures across the state.
- Between April to July 2020, 58,000 JEEViKA village organizations undertook a state-wide survey to identify more than 2.4 million additional households to be included under the public distribution system of the National Food Security Mission with 1.7 million new ration card numbers issued to date.
- Between April to July 2020, 17,300 Village Organizations undertook collective procurement of food grains, bolstering food security for nearly 1 million vulnerable households.
- More than 50,000 women members belonging to returnee migrant households were added to existing or new self-help groups and are being supported through the full package of interventions under the project to help them develop income generating opportunities.
- Women banking agents carried out banking transactions worth $38 million in three months, ensuring availability of cash in hand for the poorest.
- 116 Custom Hiring Centres and 729 Village Tool Banks established under JEEViKA supported local provision of mechanization services during April-June 2020, enabling farmers to harvest crops despite lockdowns. Large-scale direct marketing of fresh produce to consumers was facilitated by JEEViKA producer institutions. More than 16,000 individuals under quarantine were served through community managed kitchens and catering services.