Reduce Poverty for Indigenous Rat Catchers

by Centre for Development of Disadvantaged people
Crafting the machines
Crafting the machines

(Prithi Trivedi, a former GlobalGiving intern, visited this project during her travels in India during June, 2007. Following are her impressions and photographs taken during her visit).

After being driven an hour outside of the bustling metropolis of Chennai, I first encountered what many call “true India.” Since the majority of India’s enormous population resides not in the city but in the countryside, I was thrilled to finally experience the real heart and soul of the country. As we arrived at the rural site of GlobalGiving’s ratcatcher’s project, the first thing that caught my eye was a huge sign that read “CDDP—Thanks to GlobalGiving.” The Center for the Development of Disadvantaged Peoples was able to fund its production and distribution of healthier and more effective ratcatching machines solely due to GlobalGiving donations.

I toured the area where the wives of the ratcatchers actually made the machines themselves, providing them with a source of income and uplift, and was struck by the productivity of the tribal women. They showed me the process of making the machines, and explained that the necessary funds came from GlobalGiving donations. It was amazing to see the effect of the donations on the ground—how far just a dollar went to the ratcatchers and their families.

Next, I visited a nearby village of tribal ratcatchers, who proudly showed me how to use the new machines, and explained to me how much more effective they were. The villagers were so happy about the machines that they were even trying to spread the word about the new machines to other neighboring villages. The new machines were truly changing the lives of these villagers, allowing them a more secure and safe source of income. My visit to the ratcatcher project was really eye-opening, since for the first time I was able to see just how far GlobalGiving dollars go!

See additional photographs in the Photo Gallery.

Thank you GlobalGiving!
Thank you GlobalGiving!
Group displaying their equipment
Group displaying their equipment
Photo - women building rat catching devices
Photo - women building rat catching devices

When Sethu Narayanan, project leader of CDDP, is asked about the leading principles of CDDP, he immediately references Gandhi. As a student of the Gandhi Gramin University, the only agricultural school in Chennai, Sethu learned the practices of rural development based on Gandhi’s philosophy. Simple teachings such as, “I’m not against machines, I’m against machines becoming masters,” and “I don’t want mass production, I want production by the masses,” guide Sethu’s work at CDDP. According to Sethu, a country can only develop at the rate that their villages develop. Critical to Indian development since 80% of Indians live in villages based on agricultural production.

CDDP’s mission is to identify problems facing a certain village and develop unique solutions to address those problems. CDDP had no preconceived notion of how to “fix” a village; they evaluate each village based on their specific circumstances. Evaluations are based on an integrative approach that addresses interconnectedness of health, education and economic development. Throughout the process, CDDP follows certain steps:

1) Identify health issues 2) Introduce advice 3) Educate the children 4) Educate the adults

Four years ago, Sethu visited a village of 40 families where the closest water source was 45 km away. The project – building wells to ensure a close and safe water source – began with construction of a road to the village in order to bring in the big rigs. During a break, Sethu sat down to rest under a tree where he had a good view of all of the houses in the village and he noticed that each house had a clay pot out front.

At first he assumed that the pots were used for carrying water, but then he noticed that there was a hole in the bottom of the pots. What good is a pot with a hole in the bottom, he asked himself. When asked, he was told that they were used to catch rats that ate the crops in the fields. People lit a fire in the pot by burning grass or leaves and then they blew the smoke into the rat burrows (by mouth) until the smoke suffocated the rats.

This set up was a win-win situation – the farmer whose land was cleared of the rats regained the 20-25% of land otherwise destroyed by the small rodents. Plus, these rats became an important source of income for the villagers who were paid 1-2 rupees for each captured rat. Plus, the villagers kept the captured rats for food (high in protein).

The only downside to this system are the high health risks for the rat-catchers themselves. Burns on lips, fingers and faces are common. Respiratory problems from smoke inhalation and eye problems from direct exposure to the smoke are also a big threat.

CDDP’s solution to the rat-catching problem was to replace the clay pots with handheld steel pumps. The pumps are operated with a small hand crank. The design for the pumps relied on direct feedback from the rat catchers.

As a World Bank Development Marketplace winner, CDDP used the winnings to build a factory for manufacturing the device and initially distributing it for free. Eventually, they began to charge 1500 rupees (roughly $35) for the pump after noticing the “give-away” was devalued and the Development Marketplace funds ran out.

A more long-term goal of this project is to develop “self-help” groups for women in these villages. “Self-help” groups are groups of 70-110 women who became a banking system for themselves. Each group elects three leaders who are trained by CDDP in reporting on funds spent and other banking basics. Each woman is then loaned 500 rupees (which the group must match from the funds they earn in the rat catching machine factory). Loans are then re-paid with interest. Returns on these loans are much higher than any standard bank because all of the lenders and loan recipients rely on each other. They are all apart of the social system and when one does not pay her loan, the others pressure her.

As the women begin to manufacture the handheld rat catching machines, they keep the earnings from the sales. Initially, a group of women was trained with funds from the DM earnings, but now one group of women trains the next.

The results for this project are astounding. Of 300-400,000 rat-catching families in the state of Tamil Nadu, 4,000 families have the hand-pump. The hand-pump increases production five-fold, which means that the rat catchers can send their children to school instead pf needing them in the fields to help increase rat catching productivity. Also, in order to accommodate this new need for education, CDDPcreated schools in seven centrally located villages.

Photo - showing me the spoils
Photo - showing me the spoils
Photo - the village children love the camera
Photo - the village children love the camera
Volunteer visitor Meredith meeting beneficiary family
Volunteer visitor Meredith meeting beneficiary family


Rat catching is certainly an occupation unique to only certain countries. The majority of three million Tribal community in India is involved in this line of work. Income levels depend on the number of rats killed in the field. The poor rat catching tribals are facing with severe occupational health hazards and also fetching very low income comparing to hard work they put in. We have innovated a new Technology through which they are able to get rid of all their occupational health problems and also income also increased four times. Hence they are the primary beneficiaries. The rat problem in Indian agriculture is so devastating that 20% to 30% of the potential output is destroyed by these rodents. We have six hundred million poor farmers in India and for them this loss is devastating. In India’s agriculture-dependent economy, each loss in productivity is crucial. By controlling the rat issue, the positive effects are staggering: with the resulting gains in productivity, we could feed our entire population of one billion three times a day for two months. Such is the annihilation of rats in agriculture fields. However, the farmers and economy as a whole will benefit as well.

Comments of some of the beneficiaries:

Ms. Lakshmi of Sirugumi villages said, “More income makes me elevated. I am able to send my two children to schools. We have achieved better health status in our family”.

Ms.Govindamma of Cherukkanur said,” I am aged to 65 years. I left rat catching activity at the age of 35 due to the hardship attached to the traditional technology. But, now, I am thrilled to restart my occupation with good income through the new technology introduced by CDDP.”

Ms.Valliamma of L.N.Kandigai said, “What the Government has not done to us (tribals) the CDDP and Global Giving are doing to us. We are very much thankful to them”

Activities contemplated under the help:

1. Selection of village and beneficiaries. 2. Conducting awareness meetings 3. Organizing health camp for the beneficiary families 4. Providing newly designed equipment for catching the rats to each of the families 5. Motivating the parents to send their children to schools once they get better income through use of new equipment 6. Promoting self help groups among women/beneficiaries of the global giving project.


$50 per family

Global giving help till date:

Total amount received till date (29.6.2007) from Global giving: $1347 helps to benefit 27 families as listed above.

All families belong to tribal Irula rat catchers’ families living in interior villages of India.

Outcome of the activities:

1. 27 families from two villages are already received the new equipment and enjoy the benefits. Occupational health problems are completely eliminated. 2. All 27 families have already undergone health check ups through health camps. Treatment was arranged for deserving cases. 3. Awareness meetings were conducted for the beneficiaries of all thee villages. 4. 14 children are able to join schools and attend without break. 5. Two self help groups were promoted with 25 women of the two villages. They are involved in micro credit and other development activities for them.

Visits by Global giving volunteers/representatives to our project:

Ms. Prithi, who is a former Global Giving colleague, visited our project on 30th of June 2007 and very much impressed of the activities. She spent whole day in visiting interior tribal villages and met the beneficiaries and had discussions. She also witnessed the working of the new technology for rat catchers. She very much moved the way the tribal women involved in various activities of the project.

Earlier last year, Ms.Meredith, representing Global giving also visited and commended the working of the project.

We attach photos of their visits. We also attach a sheet with details of the beneficiaries of our work.

Visitor Meredith observing a rat catcher holding a rat
Visitor Meredith observing a rat catcher holding a rat


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Organization Information

Centre for Development of Disadvantaged people

Location: Chennai, Tamilnadu - India
Project Leader:
S. Karthick
Project Coordinator
Chennai, Tamilnadu India

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