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Drought, Dignity And Development: Field Findings

By Dr. Gadadhara Mohapatra

05 August, 2012
Countercurrents.org

Context

In many parts of the world, hunger is pervasive and chronic; persisting even when weather is good and global agricultural production is adequate. Those who are undernourished in normal times are overwhelmingly the poor in the developing market economies of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Near East. For these people hunger is fundamentally a reflection of poverty embedded in unequal distributions of wealth, income and also occurred due to drought, famine in the particular area. The attainment of food security therefore involves eliminating current hunger and reducing the risks of future hunger. Hunger has chronic and seasonal dimensions. Chronic hunger is a consequence of diets persistently inadequate in terms of quantity and/or quality. Poor people suffer from chronic hunger because of their very low income and in turn inability to buy food even for survival. Seasonal hunger is related to cycles of food growing and harvesting. This is prevalent in rural areas because of the seasonal nature of agricultural activities and in urban areas because of the casual labour, e.g., there is less work for casual construction work during the rainy season. This type of hunger exists when a person is unable to get work for the entire year.

Study Area and People

This study was undertaken in the month of January-February 2012, interviewed the Kondhs (Dangaria and Kutia) tribal groups and other forest dwellers in Niyamgiri hills of Lanjigarh block in Kalahandi district. Seven tribal villages were selected from Lanjigarh block of Kalahandi district with different agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions. Thus, the villages selected were Kenduguda, Rengopali, Bandhuguda, Trilochanpur, Khemundipaddar, Phuldumer and Palberi. Out of 182 households, 105 households were surveyed through formal and informal interviews. Social composition of these seven villages shows that there are 100 per cent tribal households in Palberi, Phuldumer, Khemundipaddar which is situated at the high altitude of the Niyamgiri hills. Whereas, villages under Trilochanpur has mixed kind of households from Dangaria Kond (PTGs), Domb (SCs), Goud or Sundhi from other backward classes (OBCs). However, the Dangaria Kondhs are claimed to be the original inhabitants of these region, whereas the people belonging to Dombs, Goud and Sundhi have mostly migrated from the plain areas and settled in this area over a period of time.

Development Challenges

Landlessness, marginal and small land holdings and lack of irrigation facility in the sample villages are the major cause of food insecurity. A major portion of the sample households were in food stress for 3 to 5 months in a year. Dongaria Kondh face acute shortage of food in the post-sowing monsoon period (July-September) and again around March when the kharif harvest has been exhausted. In such situations, consumption of mango kernels is the usual practice to compensate the staple food shortage. It is being used after a series of cleaning procedures to get rid of toxicity, which is added to the mandia preparation in place of rice. They were also taking local alternative non-food varieties like wild tubers, leaves, mushrooms, tamarind seed powder that contribute as rainy foods since generations as coping measures. Moreover, the powder from the pith of sago palm is being used commonly. In the past, they were able to cover most of the shortfall with foods gathered from the forests. Due to depletion of forest resources and aggressive mining activities, the livelihood base is shrinking and compels them to depend upon purchased foods to meet the food deficit. The government schemes such as the targeted PDS, special schemes under food safety net and rural development schemes like SGRY, MGNREGS, and OTELP have limited impact on poverty and food security in this region.

Coping Strategies

Consumption of the people varies significantly between normal year and the crisis period. The sources of food in these villages are own production, purchase, nature (forest), help from individuals and organizations. For example, in Phuldumer, Palberi and Khemundipaddar village during crisis period they depend on wild tubers, wild leafy vagetables and poor quality of rice. Similarly, villagers collect mahua flowers and tubers for their own consumption. Maternal buffering is common across all the regions. This is the practice of a mother deliberately limiting her own intake in order to ensure children get sufficient food. Agriculture and shifting cultivation provides the primary source of food in the period August–January, as harvesting of the first period. Starting in the month of November, a large portion of the income generated from the sale of agricultural produce is also used to repay food grain and cash loans taken up earlier in the year. From mid-January and until May-June, the forests provide a secondary source of food. Sal seeds and tendu and palas leaves are also collected from forests since they fetch good prices in the open market. Another common coping strategy is distress sale or mortgage of assets – draught animals, cows, goats, poultry, cheap ornaments, kitchen utensils, etc. – during severe drought years. In hopeless situation, the only possible option or the strategies during both drought and non-drought years is migration which is more seasonal in nature.

Despite rapid economic growth in the past two decades, this area is unlikely to meet the first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of cutting the proportion of hungry people by half. The study explored the tribal households face acute shortage of food in the post-sowing monsoon period (July-September) and again around March when the kharif harvest has been exhausted. Malnutrition is fairly common, especially debilitating young children and women in their physical condition and lowering resistance to disease. Therefore, a multi-pronged approach for sustainable livelihood coupled with improvement in the literacy levels would certainly lead to social development and dignity.

Dr. Gadadhara Mohapatra is an Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Tripura Central University, Agartala. Email: mohapatrajnu@gmail.com




 

 


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