Rubber & coconut cultivation, dairy & poulty empower villagers
SHILLONG: At a time when the State government’s ambitious Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Programme (IBDLP) is yet to reach the grassroots, Sister Rose Kayathinkara, who introduced rubber cultivation in Garo Hills, remains an unsung social worker for empowering Garo villagers by helping them take up livelihood initiatives without much assistance from the government agencies.
Apart from rubber cultivation, Sister Rose has also encouraged farmers to go for large-scale coconut plantation, dairy and poultry farming, besides helping them tap agri-horticulture produces.
However, Sister Rose is worried as she feels that the rubber cultivators, unlike in other states, are not getting any support price from the State Government.
During a recent visit to Mendipathar in North Garo Hills, Sister Rose revealed that as the current price of rubber in the market is low, the Meghalaya government should have given support price to the farmers.
She cited the case of Kerala where the losses incurred by farmers when the price of rubber is low are adjusted as they get financial support from the government.
Former deputy chief minister Timothy Shira, who represented Resubelpara constituency in the past, also viewed that the rubber price has come down to Rs 100 per kg while earlier the price ranged from Rs 160-230 per kg. “Farmers are losing due to the lack of support from the State government,” he added.
Poor road connectivity is another hurdle for the farmers in Garo Hills as after rubber plantation they take a long time to reach the processing and marketing places.
It was in 1987 that Sister Rose introduced rubber cultivation in Mendipathar. The catholic nun belonging to the Medical Mission Sisters founded the Mendipathar Multipurpose Cooperative Society in 1998 to promote rubber plantations, which helped the villagers to be free from the greed of middlemen and money lenders.
Later, there was large-scale cultivation of rubber in other parts of Garo Hills.
The Society receives the rubber sheets from the farmers who cultivate them in their respective plantations.
The aim of the Society is to help the subsistence level farmers to get fair wages for their hard work, prices for their produce, and more direct access to money and markets.
Before the Society came into being, from 1987 to 1990, Sister Rose had carried out awareness programmes among the villagers and farmers on the need to eliminate middlemen and money lenders and even fought against those who had exploited local farmers.
“The idea of planting rubber in Garo Hills originated in 1986 and I contacted the Rubber Board for advice,” Sister Rose said.
A boggy in the train was booked from Kerala to bring in rubber plants and people in Garo Hills were taught to carry out plantations, she said.
“In 1990s, there was lack of enthusiasm among the farmers to carry on with the rubber plantation as they often asked me what they will eat if they carry on with rubber plantation, but when they gradually reaped the benefits, there was renewed interest,” she added.
In North Garo Hills, besides facilitating the sale of finished rubber sheets, Sister Rose expanded her work by taking up poultry (in 2003) and piggery farming (2008) and started a mini-shopping complex (stationary shop) and dispensary, among others in Mendipathar .
The stationary shop sells goods at reduced prices and hence attracts many customers. Moreover, through her intervention, many thrift societies among women were formed to save their income from money lenders. She was also instrumental in starting several self-help groups and cooperative societies in many villages in Garo Hills.
Sister Rose, who received several awards from the State Government and other agencies, have now encouraged farmers to take up coconut cultivation and other agri-horticulture produces since the land is fertile. Coconuts were planted over several hectares of land in East and North Garo Hills and she wants more people to take up coconut cultivation as the land does not degrade unlike other plantations.
In her mission to provide justice to the needy, she had to face many hurdles.
Sister Rose recalled that in May 2012, there was an attempt to kidnap her by some extortionists who entered her convent and attacked the aged nun Cecilia. Thanks to the intervention of the inmates, the abduction was prevented though the kidnappers dragged Sister Cecilia who identified herself as Sister Rose to divert the attention of the goons.
Sister Rose, who started her profession as an X-Ray technician, joined the congregation of Medical Mission Sisters in 1961 and came to the North East in 1972. She studied medical technology and secured Bachelor’s Degree in social services that helped her to focus on her field of interest.
She was also associated with Caritas India’s North East Regional Forum as its coordinator and focused on the empowerment of women.
The first social activity of Sister Rose started in 1977 and continued till 1984 at Rajabala, West Garo Hills focusing on the empowerment of underprivileged women, including the Muslims.
Even at the age of 74, Sister Rose, born in Bharananganam in Kerala, is energetic and carries on with her mission to serve the people. “The people of Garo Hills always welcome development, and the need of the hour is seriousness on the part of concerned agencies to improve the livelihood of the people,” she said.