Empowering & Building Capacity in Tribal Communities in Odisha, India
Empowering and Building Capacity of Tribal Communities of Four Gram Panchayats of Laxmipur Block of Koraput District in Odisha to Increase Food Security, Strengthen Social Cohesion and Enhance Climate Resilience.
Funded by Scottish Government and Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland (Today known as Corra Foundation)
April 2014 to October 2016
Rice has been cultivated in the East Indian state of Odisha since ancient times, its fertile land and running rivers supporting paddy cultivation as the mainstay of its people. Odisha is similar to the Latin word for rice (Oryza) and some believe the name of the state derives from the crop known as Oryza Sativa, also known as Asian rice.
Koraput is a district of Odisha known for its abundance of paddy fields as well as many varieties of millet, yam and tuber crops which are gradually vanishing due to the introduction of cash crops and GM seeds, and the increasing impact of climate change.
In Odisha, 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture. Although endowed with rich natural resources, 66.2% of the population lives below the poverty line, earning just 28,400 Rupees per capita a year, the fourth lowest income of the 17 major Indian states, according to the Economic Report Survey 2014-2015.
In partnership with the NGO THREAD and the women’s federation Orissa Nari Samaj, and funded by the Scottish Government, Gaia Education has been supporting tribal communities from the Koraput District to strengthen their agroecological production, while attempting to address the deeper structural changes needed to tackle the root causes of poverty and climate change.
The project aims to break the cycle of food insecurity, strengthen social linkages and improve the status of women. Through permaculture and sustainable farming practices the project is improving the health of the soil, diversifying crops, and enhancing the villagers’ livelihoods and well-being. This is exemplified by Sabitri Sawnta from Dangapaiguda Village who sustains 33 types of vegetables, fruit trees, herbs and flowers in her kitchen garden of 45 square metres.
Tragically it is those who have contributed the least to green house gas emissions who are suffering the worst effects of climate change. We are constantly developing new climate-resilient agricultural approaches which are very close to the traditional methods of food growing. Drought-tolerant plants combined with mulching, fortified composting, vermi-composting vermiculture, herbal pesticides and green manures have so far significantly improved the productivity of their soil and the nutrition of their meals.
The heart of the project is the campaign, Grow Your Own Food, to counteract so-called ‘Climate-Smart Agriculture’ (CSA) techniques. CSA encourages the use of modified seeds, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, as well as high-risk technologies such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and geoengineering. This imposition of new biotechnology has been particularly damaging for farmers in India. As one leading expert put it, “For the world’s small farmers, there is nothing smart about this. It is just another way to push corporate-controlled technologies into their fields and rob them of their land”.
The Grow Your Own Food campaign has two key components: a community learning element incorporating ecovillage and permaculture approaches, combined with seed preservation and the distribution of seedlings of various fruits and vegetables.
Monsoon is the real Minister of Agriculture of India as it controls the course of farming. This year, a late and insufficient monsoon has created difficulties for the kitchen gardens of the villagers. Instead of the usual two and half months of rain, the region received only 15 days. The women still managed to plant their saplings but the harvest was small. New water-use efficiency techniques for vegetable cultivation have been introduced through our training programmes and next year, biochar techniques will also be taught to keep up the moisture in the soil when there is no rain.
The constant change in the environment of our partners in the Global South creates an imperative for constant learning. However, learning is an organic, internal process and ultimately our role can only be to support the emergence of a locally adapted learning response.
Gaia Education is one voice amongst thousands calling and acting for climate justice. We join in solidarity with the women of Odisha who, in the face of looming crisis, are tackling climate change in their own dignified manner.
In Odisha 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture. Although endowed with rich natural resources, 66.2% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Thousands of tribal villages around the state are currently in danger of losing their ecological viability. Koraput District in particular was traditionally abundant but has become marginal due to the intrusion of cash crops and genetically modiﬁed seeds. Traditional varieties of millet, yam and tuber crops are gradually disappearing. Sustainable indigenous lifestyles and cultural values are being lost in the process.
This project works to reverse this process. Developed by Gaia Education, THREAD and the women’s confederation Orissa Nari Samaj (ONS), the project works with 750 tribal families to increase food security, build social cohesion and address the deeper structural changes needed to tackle the root causes of poverty. The ONS network reports that overworked tribal women and girls of the region perform much of the agricultural labour and all of the domestic duties. After extensive discussions, the Koraput communities were selected as the most vulnerable in the region, demonstrating high levels of food insecurity and poor nutritional intake, and low levels of skill development, combined with a great aspiration for transformation.
Villagers are developing their own kitchen gardens, which will continue to grow after project completion.
Through integrated sustainable farming practices and agroecological approaches, the project is improving the health of soil, diversifying crops and enhancing the villagers’ livelihoods and well-being. The heart of the project is the campaign, Grow Your Own Food, to counteract so-called ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ (CSA) techniques. CSA encourages the use of modiﬁed seeds, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, as well as high-risk technologies such as synthetic biology, nanotechnology and geoengineering. This imposition of new biotechnology has been particularly damaging for farmers in Odisha. The Grow Your Own Food campaign has two key components: a community learning element incorporating ecovillage approaches, combined with seed preservation and the distribution of seedlings of various fruits and vegetables.
The campaign is continually developing new climate-resilient agricultural approaches rooted in traditional ways of growing food. Drought-tolerant plants combined with mulching, fortified composting, vermiculture and vermi-composting, herbal pesticides and green manures have improved the productivity of soil and the nutritional value of meals. Members of the tribal communities also participate in annual ecovillage design courses which incorporate locally relevant components of sustainable food production, including mixed cropping, nitrogen fixation, biofertiliser preparation and seed-bank development. Villagers are developing their own kitchen gardens, which will continue to grow after project completion. Tribal women attend seminars to enhance their skills in leadership, mediation and advocacy as important elements for peace-building, conflict resolution and sustained social-ecological resilience.
Participatory methods are empowering villagers to take action for sustainable development through locally adapted responses to changing environments.
High yields in participating villages were the result of community engagement, access to water and new skills acquired through agroecological capacity-building activities. Villagers who experienced success in the first year by earning supplemental income through the sale of surplus produce encouraged and influenced fellow community members in subsequent years. The project reached a total of 750 tribal families over two and a half years. In 2015, a late and insufficient monsoon impacted the kitchen gardens’ activities. Instead of the usual two-and-a-half months of rain, the region received only 15 days.
The women still managed to plant their saplings but the harvest suffered the impact of water shortage. As a consequence, new water-use efficiency techniques for vegetable cultivation were introduced through the training programmes, and biochar techniques were incorporated to maintain soil moisture when rain is insufficient.
The continually changing environment of Odisha creates an imperative for ongoing learning through participatory methods which empower villages to take action for sustainable development through well-informed, locally adapted responses as sources of creativity and innovation.
Year 1 Milestones
Transition Training And Ecovillage Design Training
42 Community, NGO and university student leaders took part in Transition Training and EDE Training with 77 villagers attended the Ecological dimension at Jinjira village. These practical sessions have created a lasting impact on the village.
Grow Your Own Food Project
The first 250 families received seedlings as part of the new Grow Your Own Food project. Seedlings of banana, papaya, eggplant, drumstick, multi vitamin, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, puthina, spinach and turnip have been distributed.
Year 2 Milestones
More participants undertake training
The second Ecovillage Design Education, combined with the Transition Training course, was delivered to 33 community leaders, students and government staff of ICDS projects (Anganwadi workers), and was facilitated by three THREAD resource persons. During the EDE course, practical sessions were conducted in three villages, Dongapaiguda, Birlaput and Semiliguda, where villagers were involved and benefited from the course directly. 54 villagers participated in the six days village programme where demonstration of different kinds of manure, soil enhancement techniques and water conservation were experientially learned.
Distribution of Seedlings
A further 250 families benefited from the Grow Your Own Food Project with seedlings of banana, papaya, eggplant, drumstick, multi vitamin, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, mint, turnip, chilli, squash, Punjabi Palak (spinach), nukul, Kerala greens, Poi and seeds of vegetable creeper plants.
All the gardens now have the placard ‘Grow Your Own Food’ in place to popularise and replicate the approaches of other villages.
Preliminary harvest data May – October 2015 In Laxmipur, Sradha Samaj, Semiliguda village ‐ Radha Jani sold papayas weighing approximately 17 kilograms, worth Rs.1500 after consumption.
Indigenous EDE participants conducted poster demonstrations on peak oil with the title ‘No diesel and no petrol after 2020’. This caught the interest of people and media and the Grow Your Own Food Congress gathered 54 tribal and Dalith organisations, strengthening the partnership within and between the federation of women’s organisations.
Connecting with SDGs
The second year activities incorporated a festival of best agroecological practices from the villages where the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were introduced to the tribal women. They were able to associate each one of the Goals to their reality and the SDG event was the first such outreach programme held in the region.
Year 3 Milestones
Another 250 families engage in the Grow Your Own Food Project, totalling 750 families over the three years.
A manual on organic manure-making has been translated into Orya and distributed to the villagers as a reference guide.
The average supplementary income, after consumption, was found to be in the range of 6,000 to 9,000 Rupees.
Decreased water use
New grass-roots techniques for enrichment of the soil and growing drought-tolerant vegetables have been adopted.
All gardens have the ‘Grow Your Own Food’ placard and beneficiaries have led the way in demonstrating techniques and have become the advocates for the project on market days.