SAVARIRAJ Pushpa - Tamil Nadu, India

A pioneer of organic cultivation among tribals

Sister Pushpa (35) is a member of St. Joseph’s Hill Tribe Development Social Service and Orphanage Society and is a leader and motivator of Tribal Women’s Self-Help groups. She has been working with these women since 2008. As a dynamic and talented trainer and resource person who works especially with women and girls, she has made a significant impact. She belongs to the Medical Mission Sisters.

 Her main project is promoting organic cultivation among tribal women and farmers and also marketing the produce on local markets. The vegetables are also sent to cities like Pondicherry and Chennai, where the demand for vegetables has been soaring due both to population increase and the increase in vegetarianism.

Traditionally, vegetable cultivation was undertaken only by men. But many men have entered into other professions such as masonry assistants, blacksmiths, carpentry and other activities needing specialized training. Others have migrated in search of salaried jobs, so the space was open for women to take over.

The vegetable production is undertaken without pesticides or other chemicals. The following activities are promoted by Sr. Pushpa:

- development of vermin culture and compost pit

- organic cultivation/development of seed banks

- plant nurseries/bee keeping

- the production of vegetables at an affordable cost

- protection of the environment

Sr. Pushpa is also establishing linkages with marketing outlets and banks, and teaching the tribal women to challenge a male-dominated social structure, enabling them to generate a self-sufficient livelihood and to educate the tribal children.

The challenges were immense as the tribal women had no idea whatsoever of the importance of vegetable production, let alone organic production, and its potential impact in terms of health, regular income, etc.

Marketing from scratch, especially in the cities, was another major challenge and Sr. Pushpa had to initially canvass potential outlets street by street, shop by shop.

The nominators feel awarding the prize to this candidate will give her significant recognition regionally and hence empower the cause of this important activity for some of the most downtrodden and neglected populations of the sub-continent.

Her work contributes to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals-Agenda 2030 -Targets #3, #12 and #15.