By A K SAHOO
Bhubaneswar, July 10: It could well be an apt learning lesson for all those politicians who are indulging in public spat over farmer issues – ranging from providing necessary supports for cultivation to marketing of their crops at legitimate prices. Without much governmental help, tribal women in Odisha’s poverty-ridden and Maoist-hit Koraput district have increased their earnings by nearly three-fold (almost 140 per cent) in the last four years.
The significant achievement has come after women from four thousand household, inspired by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Bhubaneswar-based civil society organization Centre for Youth and Social Development (CYSD), organised themselves into 261 Women Producers’ Groups (WPGs) and started selling their processed forest and agriculture produces under the banner of ‘Banashree.’
Banashree has emerged as a trusted and popular brand in Odisha.
It all started in 2014 with the implementation of a project called ‘Strengthening Forest and Forest Based Livelihood.’ The project focused on mapping of availability of agriculture and Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP) in 250 villages spread over five Maoist prone blocks of Koraput district – Laxmipur, Narayanpatna, Bandhugaon, Baipariguda and Kundra. The aggregated products were locally value added and sold through the collectivisation process to the higher market bypassing the local traders.
The baseline study conducted in 2014 before the inception of the project showed that the average annual income of a tribal family was Rs 19,618 which in 2017 went to Rs 47,256, an enviable increase of 140.88 per cent.
The tribal women producers companies, according to CYSD mentor and co-founder Mr Jagadananand, play the role of local traders by which the ultimate benefit goes to the tribal women.
The agriculture, horticulture and NTFPs that the tribal women process and sell, among others, include minor millets like Suan, Mandia and Kangu; turmeric, mango jelly, grafted mango, tamarind, deseeded tamarind, hill grass, piped hill-brooms, plastic-handle broom-sticks, steel-handle broomsticks and lemon grass.
“Earlier, before forming WPGs, we used to barter our precious hill grass with local traders for a meagre quantity dry fish, dry chilly, onion and other daily consumables with local traders. They would not pay us any money. Now, a hill-broom (also known as hill-broomsticks) made by us fetches up around Rs 50-60 rupees. We are selling our products through Banashree,” says Tilei Wadeka of Pandakapadar village under Laxmipur village.
Hill grass is used to make broom sticks for cleaning houses.
“With the additional income earned through trade and collective marketing, I could send my child to school and I’m also able to repair the roof of my house,” says Rupai Wadeka of Laxmipur.
The project also focuses on forest restoration and regeneration under which 2760 hectors of village forest are protected by 84 tribal villages.
The increase in income has contributed to significant drop in migration of male members of the WPGs from going to other states to work as migrant labourers.
“I’m no longer migrating to other states in search of work. I can now take care of my family by being with them. Nor do I have to borrow loans from anyone for agriculture purpose,” says Balaram Gadabba of Koraput.
The products sold under Banashree are completely organic and hence they are in great demand.
“We never use chemical fertilizers and pesticide because they are not only costly but harmful. We prepare organic manure at home and use them. It gives us high yields,” says Hari Miniaka.
Laxmi Khila of Dadhipada under Doraguda panchayat in Baipariguda block says the women of their village have developed the community farming practice that has addressed the food requirement of the local people who would previously facing food crisis for many reasons.
“Now we are happy and content to some extent as we have enough on our plate to consume and need not starve,” says Laxmi Khila of Dadhipada.
Daimati Darua, who was encouraged to cultivate yam in the backyard of her house, says the benefit she got from the crop was beyond her expectation.
“It was first time I cultivated yam (a tuber) in 2015 and the benefit was out of my expectation. This practice does not require dependency on anyone for tilling the land and I can do it without any help from anybody,” says Daimati.