Case studies

Livelihood options for farmers

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Farmer Hala Behera and his wife Kuni struggled to make a living from their two acres of land, or to find local jobs paying at least the minimum wage. Neither they, nor their fellow villagers in Karalakupa in the Kalahandi District of Odisha in eastern India, understood the benefits of the MGNREGA scheme, which guarantees rural households upto 100 days of paid work every year doing unskilled manual labour. However, a campaign by PACS and partner Jana Sahajya, allowed them to know their rights and encouraged them to apply for work under the scheme, boosting their earnings, opening up new opportunities and improving their status in the local community.

Hala Behera cultivates corn on his land.

Job shortages and distress migration

Karalakupa village lies 10km from the block headquarters of Lanjigarh in the Kalahandi district of Odisha. People from the Kondha and Saura tribe make up the majority of the population that comprises of general, Other Backward Classes (OBC), Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities. 

Hala Behera, a 45 year-old marginal farmer from the OBC community, lives in the village with his wife Kuni and their two children. They prefer to take on paid work, earning a daily wage rather than tilling their own two acres of land.

‘Due to the lack of irrigation facilities we depend on the sporadic rain to grow crops and agriculture is not a viable alternative,’ explains Hala. However, he adds that ‘there is a shortage of jobs and people who provide employment usually pay us very little. Most of us migrate to Kerala, Gujarat or Chhattisgarh in search of alternative livelihood options’.

For farmers such as Hala, there is no assurance that they will be able to find work and when they do, they are paid Rs. 100 each for a day’s labour; this is well below the minimum rate set by the government and amounts to exploitation. 

The benefits of MGNREGA

The launch of MGNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work every year doing unskilled manual labour, in 2005, did little to alleviate the villagers’ misery as none of them knew how to apply for a job card, how to demand work, how to get wages paid, or about any of the other benefits available under the law. Besides, Hala Behera adds, the common feeling among villagers was ‘why should we undertake government work when we do not get our wages on time? A lot of people in our village do not go for MGNREGA work because they are afraid that they will not be paid,’ he says. 

In 2011, the PACS programme was introduced in the area. Partner CSO Jana Sahajya , conducted a number of gram panchayat (village council)-level meetings to raise awareness of various issues affecting local people.  

Hala Behera shows his MGNREGA job card that enabled him to access work under the scheme.

Mohammad Anayat, project coordinator for Jana Sahajya, says: ‘During our first meeting in the village, we found villagers were completely ignorant about the benefits of MGNREGA and no-one had applied under it, even though they could not find work elsewhere. We decided to utilise MGNREGA as a way out of the multiple problems of discrimination, exploitation, unemployment, inequitable distribution of resources and no assurance of regular livelihood options. We worked out a campaign by which we could educate the villagers and capacitate them to avail the benefits of the work days and receive the additional bonuses available under the scheme.’ 

New opportunities and improved status

Hala Behera was involved in this campaign in 2013, and as a result, both he and his wife were able to take on an average of 80 days of work per year under MGNREGA. The family was also linked with the government’s animal husbandry department, which loaned them Rs. 40,000 to set up a poultry farm. With their earnings, the couple purchased a bull, and now also cultivate vegetables in their small landholding. Kuni has been appointed secretary of the self-help group (SHG) in the village, and the standing of the family has improved, lending them a respectable position in society.

Hala attests: ‘The Jana Sahajya team made job cards for my wife and me and enabled us go for MGNREGA work. We were able to get 80 days of work each. Along with the money we received as wages from the work, we were able to start a small poultry business. Today, I am the proud owner of a small poultry farm. All this was possible because of Jana Sahajya’s support.’

The family is an example of how the campaign has helped to reverse the deteriorating fortunes of local people. Anayat says: ‘We have achieved a 100% inclusion rate in MGNREGA work and in providing other linkages for this gram panchayat. Everyone is now assured of livelihood options in the villages and there is no distress migration or exploitation in this community.’  

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