Case studies

Securing land to erase poverty

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Lachhaman Singh, aged 60, struggled to make ends meet farming his small landholding in Jodajam village, eastern India, and was slipping beneath the poverty line. However, supported by PACS and its partner THREAD, he secured more land under the Forest Rights Act and was able to exploit the many horticultural and agricultural schemes available to him, to achieve financial security.

Risks for small landholders

When a person is denied the right to a better life, he will seize any opportunity available to him. This, and the adage ‘age is not a barrier’ has been proven by the achievements of 60-year old Lachhaman Singh from Jodajam village in the Sarasakana block of Mayurbhanj district of Odisha in eastern India. 

Belonging to a Scheduled Caste (SC) community, Lachhaman’s ancestors farmed vast tracts of the local area, but with every generation, the landholdings grew smaller, leaving Lachhaman heir to a mere acre-and-a-half. Farmers in the area are at the mercy of the weather – rain may be scarce – and without substantial holdings, farming is a risky business. 

Small landholders tend to hire themselves out as labourers and collect forest produce to boost their earnings. Lachhaman explains: ‘I worked as a labourer in the electricity department for over seven years before being laid off and returning to my village. The small number of manual labour assignments and the little harvest I managed to get out of my small land holding failed to keep my family above the poverty line.’ 

Securing land rights and exploiting agriculture schemes

It was at this point that the PACS team intervened in the gram panchayat (village meeting). PACS’ CSO partner THREAD, and network partner Nari Tejaswini Samaj, organised a number of programmes to raise awareness around rights to forest land, in which Lachhaman participated. PACS field staff supported the villagers in forming a committee and in applying for land under the provisions of the Forest Right Act. Four years later, in 2012, a number of villagers received titles to land allotted under the act, and Lachhaman became the owner of 2.60 acres of forest land. 

Further meetings informed him of the many horticulture and agriculture schemes available to him. THREAD Project Coordinator Santosh Dora says: ‘We could see that he was very interested in agricultural methods, so we decided to provide him with technical support in vermin composting and tagged his family with the Horticulture Mission’s Biju Krushak Vikash Yozana (BKVY; irrigation scheme). The horticultural department sponsored him on an exposure visit to Maharashtra to learn more about organic farming and the preparation of organic manure and pesticides.’

Empowerment and personal development

An empowered Lachhaman has since established two vermin compost units, a lift irrigation point under the subsidised bore-well scheme through BKVY, and has planted a number of hybrid crops available via the horticulture department. Starting with a few vegetables and fruits, Lachhaman has, over the years, added other crops to his repertoire. Last year, his earnings from his banana and mango crops amounted to 10,000 rupees. This is in addition to the lemons, guavas, drumsticks, turmeric, ginger and other products he cultivates on his small farm. He says: ‘I definitely acknowledge the support I received from THREAD. But I also say that a person has to fight for himself and learn from his mistakes. Only then can he be successful. I lost money, attended meetings, repeatedly visited government officials and only then did I receive my dues from different schemes.’

With financial security comes personal development and Lachhaman can now sign his name and speak a few words of English. People from nearby villages, and government officers, visit his fields to learn his methods. He is a member of the Forest Rights Act Committee and an active member of the labour committee that monitors MGNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work every year doing unskilled manual labour). 

This has been made possible thanks to the initial timely help he gleaned from meetings organised by THREAD. ‘The district collector and district agriculture department are referring to me as a successful farmer in the district,’ he says. ‘They now send officials to visit my farm. Thank you THREAD for your support at the right time.’   

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