Written by Head of Programmes – Suddhaka.
In October I had the chance to visit the newly established Karuna livelihoods project in Odisha. The project covers 15 villages in the remote forested hill district of Daringbadi, sometimes known as the Kashmir of Odisha because of its natural beauty.
The area is populated by people from the Kui Tribe who have lived in these Hills for many centuries making their livelihoods from the collection of non-timber forest products, including siali leaves which they use to make into biodegradable plates. In 2014 many of the Tribal families were supported to get ownership of their own farming land through the Forest Land Rights Act and are using that land to grow turmeric and other crops.
My colleague Keval and I visited three of the local villages, meeting groups of Tribal people and learning more about how the project is supporting them to get better prices for their produce.
Before the project started many Tribal people had fallen into severe debt with local money lenders, who would lend them money at high interest rates and demand payment in under-priced turmeric. The Tribal farmers would have no choice but to sell their produce at rock bottom prices to the money lenders, who are known ironically as “saviours”. To supplement their income the women make leaf plates, but selling them at the local markets means they get a very low price for their products.
The project which started just over a year ago, helps Tribal people form self help groups, and farmer/producer groups so they can become less dependent on money lenders and start to market their own products for a fair price.
I spoke to a woman called Melisi Pradan who explained the change the project is helping to bring about.
“We’re fed up of being cheated by the money lenders. We want to become financially independent and make sure we get a fair price for our work. When people come from the outside we learn new skills and new information that will help us get a better price for our crops. Our self help group means we no longer have to go to the money lenders when we need cash, we can do the things we need to do with our own money. Getting extra income will mean better food and education for our children.
If the whole village works together we can break out of debt and take control of the development of our own community. “