IFAD is there, even in the remote villages of Orissa

Women from a remote village in Orissa State, India. ©IFAD
By Antonella Cordone

ORISSA, India – Greetings from Orissa, where the Joint Supervision Mission for the Orissa Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme (OTELP) is finalizing its work.

This IFAD-funded project started in 2009 in seven districts in Orissa, and is being implemented in about 1,000 remote villages. These are conflict areas where the opposition Naxal movement is strong, but the project has not been threatened, as this is a project of and by the people. The communities that OTELP supports are composed mainly of tribal peoples: Soura, LanjaSoura, Konda, Kutia Kondha, Paraja, Bonda, Bhumija and Koya. Through various land reforms, they have lost their forest lands – their natural habitat and resources – and, as consequence, have been impoverished.

This IFAD-funded project with the Government of Orissa is not only reaching very remote areas to improve the livelihoods of the poor tribal peoples; it is also reaching out to the poorest and most vulnerable, including the landless and widows. Some 30,000 landless people have been identified in the project area, and about 15,000 pattas (land titles) have been secured so far in approximately 450 villages.

Rights of access
Land titles traditionally have been assigned to the head of the family, hence to men, but the project detected this inequality and adjusted its approach to include both the wife and husband in each title certificate. Single women and widows, too, are now receiving title to their plots of land.

Village women in Orissa. ©IFAD
Central to identity of indigenous and tribal peoples is their relationship to ancestral territories and resources, which form the basis of their livelihoods. To support that relationship, OTELP is helping tribal peoples secure their rights of access to communal forest land through the Forest Right Act.

The process of applying for access to forest land in this area is quite cumbersome and time-consuming, particularly for the majority of tribal people who are illiterate. Non-governmental organizations that are implementing the project provide legal support to villagers as they apply to use and manage forest resources in ancestral territories from which they have been alienated for so long.

Duti’s story
Many aspects of OTELP’s work are illustrated by the experience of Duti, a young man in the project area.

When he was a boy, Duti’s otherwise normal life took a different turn when he suddenly lost his father. His mother, a housewife, was forced to become a daily wage labourer to feed her children. Without a title to the land on which they resided, Duti’s mother, now 60, recalls living in fear and uncertainty. “Every night if there was a commotion outside, I used to think: Where shall I go with these kids if I am asked to vacate?” she says.

Duti and his family outside their home. ©IFAD
In time, Duti joined his mother as wage labourer while transitioning from childhood to youth. Later on, he married, and his mother took ill. With an ailing mother and a pregnant wife, what he earned could hardly give them two square meals a day.

‘Now we can plan for our future’ 
But a big change occurred in April 2012, when Duti and his wife Pulmi received a patta to homestead a small plot of land. The micro plot provided enough space to build a house, a kitchen garden for growing vegetables, and a backyard for poultry.

Duti’s family has expanded their daily menu – with rice, dal and vegetables, eggs and occasionally even mushrooms. With a roof over his head, Duti now has access to electricity from a solar panel provided through a government convergence scheme. In addition, the patta has helped him get a certificate that enabled his five-year-old son to receive free education in the government primary school.

“I never imagined that we would ever have a plot of our own,” says an Duti’s mother, clearly elated.

“Earlier, we used to live for a day,” Duti adds. “Now we can plan for our future.”

Thanks to the great OTELP team for their warm hospitality during our stay.