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By Mattia Prayer Galetti

Tumudibandha is a tribal dominated block (revenue administered demarcation) in the district of Kandhamal in Odisha. The villages in this block are remote and scattered with malnutrition, starvation deaths, distress migration, high mortality and nutrition related health hazards dominating the situation. The villages where OTELP was working had taken up an integrated approach to managing their natural resources with much effectiveness that lead them to having two to three crops a year with the introduction of tuber crops, banana and pulses to supplement their diets and income. The promotion of Non Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) and its value addition was an important intervention for these forest dwellers.

However with the intervention of the project, the remote and scattered primitive tribal group (PTGs) communities found that they had NTFP surplus but no market support to provide them with viable solutions which increased the interference of the middle men. With lack of knowledge of weighing systems and external markets due to their remoteness, the communities were forced to sell their produce to the middle men at throw away rates. One of the first things the project did was to install a weighing machine in each of the micro watershed, an area that covers about 4 small villages, and taught the people how to use it. The project then took the expertise of a resource organisation called MART who specialises in rural marketing solutions, to develop the concept of a collective market for these remote tribal communities. On a priority basis, the communities were sensitised on the advantages of collectivisation of products and its impact on marketing. There were a number of interface meetings held with the traders and the communities. The community people were taken on several exposure visits to the markets to understand quality aspects of products, grading of traders, fixing of prices etc. The inter faces helped the community to understand the demands of the traders in terms of quality and quantity while the traders shared insights on how the community can increase the prices on their produce through little value additions. Once, being totally convinced, the community decided to go into collective marketing and it was the women Self Help Groups (SHGs) who took a lead role in collectivisation of the produce and for the management of the sales. Several Marketing Cadres were identified among the youth in the village who supported the community with market information and to help them get better deals.

The idea of collectivisation has spread to the neighbouring villages which are not under the operational area of the project thus causing a major shift in the traditional life of the vulnerable communities across the block. Distress migration has stalled in these villages under OTELP and school retention has improved. What is even more important and empowering is the ability of these tribal communities to negotiate with the traders and outsiders for their community development. Now the community say that after a decade of hopelessness, they have a sense of security. There is no longer a need to worry about the next meal.