Art And Culture

Window of Opportunity for the Rural Unprivileged

Window of Opportunity  for the Rural UnprivilegedWindow of Opportunity  for the Rural Unprivileged

Poverty is a vicious cycle and often it leaves little hope for breaking the cycle especially in rural areas where sometimes it is overwhelming. For the 70% of the world’s poor, agriculture is the main source of income and employment. But depletion and degradation of land and water globally, have posed serious challenges to food production and sustainable livelihoods in rural areas. Under such circumstances, villagers migrate to outlying areas in cities in the hope of better livelihoods; however many of them end in abject misery.

In Iran, villages are depleting at a worrisome pace. In 1995, the country’s villages contained about 70% of the population. In 2011 however, the number dropped to 30% (which equals approximately 33 million people). This is while extensive migration to urban areas has caused various problems in the cities. Nevertheless, there are people trying to reverse this trend, or at least to check the rapid influx from rural areas.

Leila Khademi, an environmentalist and an activist who is helping empower local communities so that they stay put in their villages says: “We are losing much of the valuable traditional knowledge and culture in rural areas due to migration. However, there are still some people who don’t want to leave their village homes, despite all the adversities.”

 Market Access

Leila and her husband Pejman Pazouki, who have worked with various local and international developmental programs for nearly 15 years, are now running a tiny store called Kafshdouzak or Ladybird in the capital Tehran. The store provides people in the distant rural areas with market access and an opportunity for alternative sources of income.

The shop sells cultural materials and food products of rural people most of which are prepared by women. The handicrafts consist of dolls, Jajim-a type of rug, bags, and decorative materials; and the food items are breads, honey and jam, herbs, oils, herbal water, dried fruits, and local food.

“We have encouraged artisans to redouble their handicraft production, and also place orders for something entirely new and creative; however coming up with the optimal quality needs patience and it is the long term goal. Over the past year since we opened this shop, many a times we had to return the products as they didn’t come up to the standards; sometimes when we didn’t notice the flaws, the customers did,” Leila says.

The positive side is, however, the supportive customers and friends despite all the shortcomings. “We have backed locals step by step along the way. Now their handmade dolls have become popular and much improved,” she adds with a laugh. “However, local food products are more easily prepared and sold.”

Leila estimates more than 500 people in over 30 villages are affected directly or indirectly by the project.

The villages where the products are made are: Keikha in Sistan and Baluchistan Province; Jaban, and Lazur in Tehran Province; Farvan, Rameh, and Kalatekhij in Semnan Province; Hossainabad Ghinab in South Khorasan Province; Siahkal in Gilan Province; Saman in Chaharmahal-o-Bakhtiari Province; Sahne in Kurdistan Province; Mazga, and Suteh in Mazandaran Province; villages of Sedeh in Isfahan Province; Borke-khalaf in Hormozgan Province; Kerend in Kermanshah, etc.


In business, they stick to a number of principles, a central one of which is in choosing suppliers. Leila explains: “We don’t buy from individuals. Our products are the fruits of people’s collaboration in groups - which can be in the form of cooperatives or other assemblies.” By doing so, they believe, it can help foster social capital in villages, a factor vital for rural development. Leila adds, “Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable.”

The term social capital emphasizes a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from trust, mutual aid, flow of information among people, and cooperation associated with social networks. “People come together to have joint outcomes, and we help them develop the ‘I’ mentality into a ‘we’ mentality; this change can benefit them to improve their life situations in other spheres too.”