Reaching the Unreached
Assuring Food Security in Muniguda
A Land Unknown
Muniguda, located in the district of Rayagada, Odisha, is spread out over a wide geographical area with numerous scattered habitations with small concentrations of people. The district is home to a number of Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs). The population density is only 116 people per sq. km and in 90% of the villages the population numbers less than 500. The region is endemic to malaria.
There are a few community based organizations that function in the area, although they are not actively involved in community outreach activities. The Vana Surakshya Samiti (VSS) at Ladiponga Village seeks to promote afforestation and improve the livelihood of the tribal people in the region through the produce available in the forest. Each village also has a Women Self Help Group (WSHG).
The main focus of local leaders is on securing welfare and financial benefits from different government departments, and they are not fully aware of their rights or entitlements. Their approach to the government functionaries is one of subordination and subservience, viewing welfare schemes as gifts from the government and not as their right.
Agriculture is the main source of income, however water availability is an issue. The only source of water for agriculture is currently rain water, given the dysfunctional nature of Water Associations and the lack of proper irrigation systems. Since the monsoons are annual and often unpredictable, Muniguda goes through a severe dry spell during the summer, and even drinking water becomes scarce. People grow their food in their farms and backyards, and collect food from the forest and water bodies nearby. However, the shrinking forest diversity due to plantations of eucalyptus, teak, cashew etc have led to a trend of decline in their food sources.
Water scarcity, food scarcity leading to malnutrition, and economic hardship plague the residents of Muniguda. There are also very few people in the villages who are literate, making it difficult for them to access resources and avail of services. Traditional knowledge systems concerning organic farming, uncultivated foods, and soil conservation are hard to sustain due to the lack of resources, proper irrigation system, and health facilities.
The Challenges We Faced
- Given the scattered nature of the habitations, it was difficult to provide essential services. Mobilising the local Adivasi and PTGs to demand essential services from their local representatives was also difficult.
- Identifying competent and committed field functionaries who understood that the work proposed by BA was different from the routine developmental activities undertaken in the area
- Extreme drought caused by delayed monsoons led to distress migration.
- Adapting the training methodology to address a largely non-literate population with a high percentage of people who were essentially oral-knowledge based. The lack of exposure to the outside world also needed to be considered, therefore training sessions had to involve themes that could be stated in a simple, yet comprehensive manner.
Interestingly, in some of the villages that BA chose to focus on, a concept similar to that of the Koodam already existed, called the Kutumba. It is a traditional institution of the Kondh community where collective decisions are made in terms of village governance, community issues, water and forest conservation etc.
Our Work in Muniguda
Reviving a lost identity
Barefoot began work with 46 villages out of 412 in the area, made up only of SC communities.
Barefoot conducted monthly meetings with the villagers, to bring to light the issues surrounding their dire circumstances. We encouraged them to reflect upon their traditional methods of community consensus decision making.
Initially, there were challenges in aligning the people to the principles of the erstwhile Kutumba. While previous generations remembered the true function of the institution, younger generations had never seen the community decision making body function in any other respect apart from religious festivals. These common meetings brought old experiences face to face with new perspectives, and sparked much debate. One member related, “We felt that all the problems in our community are our problem, whether they be personal or common. When outsiders entered our village, everyone gradually practices the begging occupation through different governmental and non-governmental schemes.”
The practice of depending upon far away government officials to take care of community problems was questioned repeatedly by members of the community. When questioned as to how they wanted to move forward, the Kutumba was revived consciously and with the intent of furthering community development.
138 Change Agents were selected from among the members of all 46 villages, for a training programme. They reflected on the themes of leadership, roles and responsibilities as well as water and sanitation, food security, community mobilization, and conflict resolution.
Together with the Change Agents and the Kutumba, we were able to identify the issues and needs of the community, and create a plan of action for each of the villages.
The Fruit of Community Effort
Through the Kutumba, we were able to address the issue of women empowerment, and through the women, pay special focus to health and nutrition issues that affect Muniguda. Neo-natal deaths reduced gradually following a training in dry wrapping methods for newborns. Natural means of warding away mosquitoes, as well as the use of mosquito nets saw a decline in the percentage of people affected by malaria.
The issue of biodiversity was also addressed during the monthly meetings. Members became actively involved in forest protection, and began to form grain banks to avoid a dependency on outside seed providers. As a result, 512 families were assured food security through the year.
By training VLCAs on water tasting and creating awareness on prevention of water borne diseases, all villages began to use safe water and achieved 100% safe drinking water before summer and the rainy season. 72 defunct tube wells were repaired and Block Level Change Agents ensured 7 new tube wells were dug to provide drinking water to the villages. In three of the villages four defunct lift irrigation points and two canals were cleaned and repaired, irrigating 100 acres of land. A proposal was also submitted for new lift irrigation points in two villages and 46 new bore well points.
The Kutumba also proved a fruitful place to discuss the possibility of organic farming, with the result that 100% of the farmers began to use organic manure for all crops other than paddy cultivation. They were also supplied with quality vegetable seeds by the government and Tata Trust.
Community meetings were also organised with the women to gain more information on the foods they collected from the forest. These foods are very dear to Adivasi communities. They enable families to survive during the months of food shortage since they incur no household costs and require no money. They lend a sense of self-dependence, and therefore dignity and pride to the community. There is an enormous wealth of biological knowledge associated with these foods, and their importance is both nutritional and medicinal.
Barefoot aided the women in compiling a report on the UCFs, and also discussed how to go about repopulating forests to protect the biodiversity of the region. We made efforts to get more number of households covered under forest land patta, and in association with the Forest Department, mobilized the community to plant trees.