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3.2 Identifying missing livelihood capitals

We shall now apply the sustainable livelihoods approach to some real cases that explore what types of inputs, or ‘capitals’, are needed to enable poor rural people to escape poverty. These cases cannot in any sense be considered typical or ‘representative’. However, they do make the point that addressing poverty and vulnerability requires much more than simply the provision of financial services.

Read the case studies in 3.2.1 about Jakla Punama and Fatima Begum, two women from Andhra Pradesh in India whose husbands committed suicide. As you read the cases, think about their misfortunes from the point of view of their households’ asset or capital endowments; to which of the five types of capitals do they have or not have access?

3.2.1 Two rural Indian agrarian tales

Jakla Punama's story, Anna Sagar Village, Andhra Pradesh

Description: File:Kinar.jpg

A water well, India. Source: Navaneeth (2011)

Jakla Punama's late husband was a paddy farmer. In the year 2000 or thereabouts he had taken a loan from a local moneylender to dig a bore well. He dug his well, purchased pipes, and bought a motor, but the yield of his well was quite low. So, he leased his land out to raise some money to help pay his debt. According to Jakla, her husband's total debt was around 50 000 rupees, or around US$1000. There may have been other debts of which she is unaware. In 2002, Jakla's husband had collected together enough money and was able to repay what he owed. Unfortunately, the moneylender did not give her husband a receipt and denied that he had been repaid. He seized her husband's land in lieu of repayment and harvested the standing crops for himself. According to Jakla, when this happened her husband walked out to his field and committed suicide by drinking a bottle of pesticide.

In 2004, after the introduction of a government scheme to assist the families of suicide victims, Jakla Punama was given 150 000 rupees in compensation. She used 50 000 rupees to repay the loan and recover the land, and she put the balance into an account with the State Bank of India, under her daughters' names. She also receives 200 rupees a month as widow's pension. She told us that her late husband's family are trying their best to lay a claim to the children's accounts.

Though Jakla Punama should have inherited her husband's land, her mother-in-law will not let her cultivate it. She has to keep herself and her daughters by doing casual labour on other people's farms, for around fifty rupees or a dollar a day. Her mother-in-law has informally leased out the land to someone else. Because Jakla is illiterate, she would find it very difficult to find out who has legal title to the land and how much belongs to her.

Fatima Begum's story, Tatipathy village, Andhra Pradesh

Fatima Begum's husband Mohammed hanged himself in 2002. Fatima is illiterate, and she probably was unaware of the exact amount of her husband's debt, but she told the story as follows. In 1998 or thereabouts, Mohammed got a loan from the local primary agricultural co-operative society, or PACS, which is part of India's massive network of over 100 000 such institutions; they (all or most) are only co-operatives in name, and are usually dominated by the richer farmers in the local community. Although the loan was distributed between all his family members, because their ancestral land had been divided between them, somehow the repayment burden fell only on Mohammed.

The money was used to dig bore wells for irrigation, but the wells failed. Mohammed then took another loan, this time from a local moneylender, for around 6000 rupees or US$120. The PACS had issued Mohammed three notices telling him to repay his loans. The money lender also pressured Mohammed to repay his loans. Although Mohammed prayed regularly at the nearby Masjid, Fatima said that he never discussed his problems within the community. Fatima thinks that it was the third notice he received from the PACS as well as increasing pressure from the moneylender that prompted Mohammed to take the drastic step and end his life.

In 2004 the government started a program to provide compensation for families of farmers who had committed suicide. So, in 2005, Fatima received 150 000 rupees. 50 000 rupees was used to pay off the PACS loan her husband had taken and the other 100 000 rupees went for the marriage dowry of her eldest daughter. The priority placed on a marriage dowry is extreme and Fatima described her current burden; her second daughter was ready for marriage but they did not have enough money for a dowry to get her married, a fact that would of course be a blow to their social status.

One of her two sons attends a madrassa in the nearest town, where he gets room and board. The older son works at a restaurant stall in town. Fatima wants him to stay there, as there is no work for him in the village. Fatima herself does daily labour work wherever she can find it-intensive work that pays only 50 rupees or around one dollar a day. A new government program, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) guarantees 100 days work at 80 rupees a day for one person in every household that wants it; both women and men are eligible. Fatima explained why she wasn't working under this scheme; she knew about it, but that others in the village told her that it wasn't for women.

Fatima is part of the minority Muslim community in a predominately Hindu village. Now that she is a widow, she is also ostracised for that. This could explain why she cannot get the information she needs to take advantage of the NREGA scheme. When we asked whether she was part of a women's self-help group, she said that she was but admitted it was a newly formed group and she still hadn't really opened up to the group. In the five years since her husband had killed himself, Fatima said she had not really shared the story with anybody. Her in-laws were also of no support to her.

Source: adapted by unit author from an unpublished paper by Rozina Kanchwalla

Now think about which of the five capitals of the asset pentagon these women's households had access to and which they had more or less of.

Draw an asset pentagon (as per the sustainable livelihoods framework in 3.1.1) for each woman. These should be irregular pentagons, with a longer distance from the centre to a point indicating that the woman in question had relatively more of that particular type of capital.

Then compare your pentagons to the ones below.

The suggested shape has strong physical and natural assets, good human and financial capitals, but low social capital.

An example asset pentagon for Jakla Punama

An example asset pentagon for Fatima Begum

Check your answer


The main problem, in both cases, was their lack of social capital. This applied to the husbands, who seem not to have been able to talk through their problems to anyone, particularly their wives, and there was no debt counselling service which might have helped them to sort out their financial problems. Social capital of this kind is often the most important capital, and is the hardest and slowest to provide.

The main problem, in both cases, was their lack of social capital. This applied to the husbands, who seem not to have been able to talk through their problems to anyone, particularly their wives, and there was no debt counselling service which might have helped them to sort out their financial problems. Social capital of this kind is often the most important capital, and is the hardest and slowest to provide.