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Harvesting happiness from wastelands

With a little support from outside, tribal communities in Panposi village have turned their wastelands into productive assets. Trees raised on waste lands have not only increased their incomes, but also bound the communities together and to the village, arresting migration.

Cooperative members grade and pack mangoes
Cooperative members grade and pack mangoes

Panposi village in Jashipur block is one of the tribal dominated villages, largely dependent on paddy cultivation under rainfed conditions. Around 38% land in the village is unbounded uplands.Excepting for 10% of this land being used by farmers for cultivating upland paddy, the rest of the uplands have remained barren for years as it is not suitable to grow any food crop. Around 40-50 families have been regularly migrating to nearby towns in search of livelihood.

To arrest migration of farmers during periods of food scarcity and to improve their farm incomes, Dulal, an NGO with the support of NABARD, promoted ‘wadi’ model of development in this village. This was one of the 31 wadi projects in Orissa, promoted by NABARD.

While the core of the programme is “Wadi”, other development interventions are built around “Wadi”. Besides raising trees, there are other components of soil moisture conservation, access to irrigation by digging wells where feasible.

Women empowerment and health component have also found place. Now a component of food sovereignty is also added where in support is provided for conducting campaigns and rallies. Intercropping has been a part of wadi as there are enough spaces in between trees to grow other crops.

The beginning

Mangoes ready for harvest.
Mangoes ready for harvest.

In 2005, staff from Dulal visited the village and discussed with people whether any tree cultivation could be taken up. Initially, people were reluctant and were doubtful about the intention of outside people. They thought that in the name of development, people would grab their land. Almost more than a year went in convincing people to take up plantation.With frequent visits and discussions, farmers were convinced and were prepared to identify land for tree plantation. In 2007, 53 acres of land was identified to plant fruit trees.

Some people opposed but later joined others and in 2008, 62 acres of additional land was earmarked for plantation. In the subsequent years, another 15 acres was added in 2010 and 38 acres in 2011. In total, around 168 acres of wadi plantation can be seen now.

People’s institution called Udyan Vikas Samithi was formed with around 10-12 members to take care of the plantation. Around 14 UVS were formed with a village level committee consisting of President, Treasurer and a Secretary for each UVS.

Members met twice each month to plan and discuss action. All these 14 UVS were federated at the block as Amrapalli Self Help Cooperative.

Genesis of Amrapali Self Help Cooperative

“Wadi” in Gujarati means a ‘small orchard’ covering one or two acres. The ‘‘Wadi’’ as an effective tool for tribal development evolved gradually out of two decades of concerted efforts made by BAIF in Vansda (Gujarat). Two or more tree crops are selected in the ‘‘Wadi’’ model to minimize the climatic, biological and marketing risks. Tribal families having less than 5 acre land is given 1 acre wadi each for raising 60 fruit plants suitable to local area and 600 forestry plants on the boundary.

In 2009, the harvest from the first batch of trees started and around 400q of fruits were harvested. The UVS members started wondering how they would market, if the entire area under Badi, across 25 villages in the block, started yielding fruits.

In one of the block level meetings, the idea of forming cooperatives was mooted. With the help of Dulal, the members applied for forming a cooperative and the Amrapali Cooperative was formally registered in 2010. The cooperative had the responsibility of handling harvest from 200 acres. The cooperative has now members from 25 villages, each village represented by 1-2 people, based on the size of the village.

In 2010, in the very first year, it was a struggle to sell 40000kg of mango fruits. While they sold in nearby markets like Karanjia, Rairangpur, Baripada, Bhubaneswar, still they had to sell some portion through the middlemen too. Then NABARD came up with a support of providing a space for marketing. Under its Rural Mart initiative, a shop was set up in Jashipur town, and a staff was supported to take care of the produce and its marketing through the outlet. With the establishment of Rural Mart, middlemen totally disappeared. Again NABARD supported soft loan of Rs 15 lakh to procure all wadi products directly avoiding middlemen.

Yield assessment across villages is done during the fruiting season. The produce is collected and stored in a house in each village. Within 2-3 days, these fruits are collected and transported in cartons and kept in Jashipur Office or Rural Mart center. From there, the produce is taken to different markets and members share the responsibility. The cartons are transported by regular buses. After they are marketed, the amount is settled with the farmer members.

Positive results

Now the cooperative is on its own. The produce sold by this cooperative is in high demand as they are grown without using chemicals. Chemicals like Carbide are also not used for artificial ripening. The fruits are allowed to ripen naturally using some tree leaves. Similarly, cashew is also being marketed. It is being sent to Berhampur for processing. These are sold in fairs and in the Rural Mart. These are now being branded in the name of “Mayuri”. The average yield is 2 kg/plant and they get around Rs.400-600 per kg of cashew kernel.

Infact, Amrapali Cooperative also agreed to market 16 tons of mango produce harvested from the government owned orchards.

The produce sold by the cooperative is in high demand as they are grown without using chemicals. The fruits are allowed to ripen naturally using some tree leaves and chemicals like Carbide are also not used for artificial ripening

The harvest from these orchards came during May (being Dusheri, an early variety) thus avoiding competition to the Wadi harvest which came during June-July (late harvest variety).

Communities are selling many more items through the Rural Mart Centres. They are also doing small scale businesses like buying produce and selling them as wholesalers. Women from SHGs have been trained on processing foods like making cheese, paneer and pickles, which are also being sold in the store. They have also hired two staff to take care of the marketing in the mart.

Along with wadi, farmers have also improved their cropping systems. Intercropping in wadi as well as in the other crops like millet, maize, vegetables and pulses has become a regular practice. Intercropping with vegetables has helped in increasing income. One of the farmers who could gift gold ring from the money earned through intercrop said that “I had heard that soil gives gold. Only now I am seeing it happen”.

With groups and their regular meetings, members feel that Wadi has helped in bringing them together. Now, there are more meetings, more discussions, more awareness and more socialisation. They feel now they are meeting outsiders on a regular basis who visit their villages and interact with them.

The CEO of the cooperative said with pride, “When we started we had to go to Gujarat to learn these. But now, people are coming to our village to learn

Now there is no more migration. People are engaged all round the year. Trees have bound these people to their land.

Puspalata Pani

Executive Director, DULAL
Convent Road, Baripada P.O. Mayurbhanj District, Orissa – 757001, India.
Website: www.dulal.in
E-mail: dulalbaripada@yahoo.co.in