Towards Food Security

Families in a tiny village Ursai were so poor that they could not afford two squares of meals throughout the year. The land in the village is rocky and soil shallow. On top of this, there was no irrigation facilities. As a result, the villagers practised rain-fed agriculture. On the demand of the villagers, Sarvodaya Sewa Ashram initiated soil and water conservation efforts in the village. The results were astonishing. Today Ursai village is a model and people from other villages throng to the village to see the transformation. The story of this wonderful transformation follows.

Ursai is a small revenue village with just 39 households and located about 2 km away from the SSA's Bargarh Project Office. The villagers practised rain-fed agriculture on poor quality rocky land. Productivity was so low that the villagers could not grow sufficient food to beat their hunger. For half the year, the men used to migrate to distant places in search of employment. Lack of adequate food and nutrition left the villagers open to a host of diseases. Under these circumstances no one had time to think of education and this worsened the situation. The villagers had very little contact with the civil society and the Government.

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One educated youth from the village Ram Badan came in contact with SSA. He persuaded the organisation to carry out a survey in the area. The organisation responded with a participatory rural appraisal exercise and a baseline survey. They led to identification of the following problems:

  • Lack of water and irrigation facilities
  • Lack of adequate water in the existing resources
  • Difficulty in cultivation owing to free grazing non-mulch cattle
  • Infertile and rocky land, unfit for agriculture
  • Exploitation and untimely and low wages in stone crushing units and mines
  • Lack of drinking water
  • Lack of electricity

The demands emerging from the community were:

  • Renovation and deepening of existing wells
  • Training in soil and moisture conservation, land leveling and bunding
  • Training and financial support for cultivation of vegetables and fruits
  • Partial support for stone fencing

Based on the availability of land, living standard, social standing and similarity of problems faced, 15 families of traditional potters were selected and a self help group called 'Jalnidhi', literally meaning water resource, was formed during the latter part of 2003. The group members started saving activity with Rs 10 as contribution per family. Side by side, a young local student was provided training and guidance in writing minutes, maintenance of ledger and passbooks, etc. These are statutory requirements for the functioning of SHGs.

Since the first demand was construction of well, technical support was sought from AFPRO (Action for Food Production) to locate the source of water where a well could be constructed. Relying more on native wisdom, the place was eventually identified and the members dug the well. Today there exists a well 40 feet deep and 27 feet in diameter with standing water of 30 feet. It is a permanent well lined with stones bound with cement.

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By the time the well was ready, the villagers had already sown rain crops (paddy and groundnut) since water was available because of good rains. Before the sowing of winter crops SSA provided a loan of Rs 5,000 to each SHG member to cultivate vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage and tomatoes. But the members went ahead and also sowed chilies, potatoes, sweet potatoes and onion.

Sharing water from the well for irrigation was, however, still a problem. The SHG took the mantle of managing water distribution and framed rules in their wisdom. The SHG members also decided to cultivate the fields on rotational basis so as to increase the productivity. The farmers with low quality land are cultivating land of farmers having good quality of land and also receive their share of the produce. The other members of the families try to improve the quality of land.

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Impact

  1. The members have become emboldened and have gained their self-esteem. They now have confidence to tackle the forces that exploit them.
  2. The people are taking three crops of grains, pulses, vegetables and oilseeds a year. They are enjoying food security throughout the year.
  3. Adequate food and more balanced diets have created a sense of well-being among the members, health wise.
  4. All the members now work in their own fields and do not go to other areas in search of employment.
  5. With mutual help as the foundation of the group and affinity as the basis of coming together, the SHG has developed into a forum for collective learning, inter-agency dialogue and cooperation.
  6. The surplus vegetables are being sold in the market and marketing has become an income generation activity for the group.
  7. Micro credit has been formalised as the most effective credit delivery mechanism, while it has brought a mere increase in their standard of living and improvement in the quality of life.
  8. The children of the members have started going to primary school and high school too.
  9. The activity has had a spread effect. Other farmers in adjoining areas have renovated the damaged wells, deepened it and have started cultivating the vegetables.