Uma Koli  - Credit: Swikriti Sharma/Oxfam

From outcast to entrepreneur

“People respect me for my hard work and leadership. I feel proud of how society has changed its treatment of a Dalit woman like me. This is the outcome of my involvement in vegetable seed farming.”

Uma Koli

Born into a Dalit family, Uma Koli's life in the past was full of hardship. The mother of four received no respect in the community and was socially discriminated as ‘untouchable’. In addition, she faced economic problems, since she had no source of income.

The 50 year old woman farmer from Manilek in Dadeldhura district, owns a small plot of land. “I used to produce vegetables and crops in a traditional way and it was hardly sufficient to sustain my family. I tried vegetable farming but lost my investment as there was no nearby market," says Koli.

With the support of Oxfam’s Enterprise Development Programme, Uma Koli received training in vegetable seed production. The meetings conducted by the Seed and Vegetable Enterprise in her community gave Ms Koli lots of ideas on quality production and markets for vegetable seeds. “The enterprise buys all seeds that I produce and pays a very fair price. In addition we receive technical support and services from outreach workers,” says Ms Koli.

At present, Uma Koli is one of the best seed farmers in Dadeldhura. She annually supplies 700 kg of seeds, mainly maize, okra, spinach and peas, and earns around NPR 66,000 (£429) per year from her seed business only.

Thanks to her improved financial condition and her involvement in meetings with the local government and the Participatory Learning Centre, the social status of Ms Koli has improved.  “My seed enterprise has helped me earn a good living and good social status too,” she concludes. 

Ms Koli is one of the many woman farmers supported by Oxfam’s innovative Enterprise Development Programme, pioneering a business-based approach to development. This programme in Dhadeldura district aims to strengthen the economic condition of the rural poor and women by supporting them to develop their own micro enterprise of vegetable seed production.

Ms Koli is a member of Oxfam's partner Dhadeldura Farmers' Cooperative Society (DAFACOS). The organisation in 2015/16 increased its sales by five-fold reaching NPR 12,785,265 (£85,803) in comparison to base year 2014. The enterprise expanded outreach to farmers of 3 neighbouring districts and established linkages with 5 seed companies and 12 wholesale vegetable vendors. Seed sales income of each farmer ranged from NPR 6,500 to 75,000 (£ 44 to £ 510).