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At a time when the entire forcus is on private control and takeover of traditional resources and the crop seeds, traditionally marginalised dalit women in Andhra Pradesh, India, have set up community grain and seed banks to gain control over their land as well as their lives. Facilitated by the Deccan Development Society (DDS), the revival of the traditionally-known seed banks has brought the power and control back into the hands of the dalit women. This is perhaps the only way to wrest control of the seed and the accompany intellectual capital that belongs to the community, and to the society. Taking back the control of the seed means taking control of the entire food chain. We would like you to share with the world such great success stories. We need to know of such classic tales of human ingenuity, of the will of the people to retain control over their own resources, and thereby over their own destiny. Along with this report, we are also providing you a related article by Devinder Sharma, entitled "Grain banks: the way to food security", which was published sometimes back by The Times of India, New Delhi. ------------------------------------------- 1. SEED BANKS TO THE RESCUE Upper-class men buying seeds from Dalit women! Members of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), an organisation that aims to empower women and reverse ecological degradation in rural areas, accomplished this first in Zaheerabad, Andhra Pradesh. By growing mainly food crops and gaining control over seed banks, these women have achieved 'intellectual leadership' in their villages. Zaheerabad is a semi-arid region, drought-prone and with a plummeting water table. Increasing amounts of agricultural land are turning fallow and untenable. The DDS is trying to reverse this process through activities like community grain, green and gene funds and village medicinal commons. DDS is also regenerating local health systems. DDS works through Sanghams, which are village-level groups of poor women, mostly Dalits, who suffered substantial losses while buying and selling in the mainstream market. Through the Sanghams, the women form markets of their own, with prices fixed according to their own needs and priorities. Coarse millets, which are sold at rock-bottom prices in the mainstream market, get a higher price here. Farmer's produce also has an assured buying. Through the community grain fund programme, which aims to rejuvenate marginalised lands, the women brought 1,000 hectares of fallow land under cultivation. They produced an extra 8,00,000 kgs of sorghum in the very first year of the project. This meant nearly 3 million extra meals in 30 villages or 1,000 extra meals per family. The extra fodder from the fields fed 6,000 cattle in 30 villages. In each village 2,500 extra wages were created, thus creating 75,000 wages in 30 villages. The community gene fund programme emphasises biodiversity in agriculture and the restoration of traditional crop varieties. Marginal lands that used to produce crops worth Rs 250-300 per acre are now producing crops worth Rs 4,000 per acre. A seed bank to crop 4,000 hectares of land has been built up in four years. Traditional crops and agricultural methods are being promoted. Tractors, which bring up the hard and infertile subsoil while ploughing, are being discarded in favour of bullocks. In two years, 500 women have recovered 50 traditional crop varieties and set up banks for traditional seeds in 30 villages. The fact that poor, illiterate and marginalised women are managing such a complex system is an achievement in itself. Source:

------------------------------------------ 2. Grain Banks: The Way to Food Security By Devinder Sharma At a time when the BJP-led coalition and mainline economists are grappling to work out a plausible and effective system of food distribution among millions of rural poor languishing below the poverty line, a series of traditional grain banks spread out in the heart of the perennially drought, poverty and hunger-stricken belt of dryland India, shows the way to food security. That the answer to the intricately complex, economically unsound and politically sensitive issue of public distribution rests with the poorest of the poor is a tribute to human ingenuity, cooperation and traditional knowledge. Economists may not acknowledge it for it does not fall within the accepted parameters of a neo-classic paradigm, bureaucrats may turn it down for it has no provisions of kickbacks and underhand deals and the politicians may spurn it as it comes without any assurance of additional votes. And yet, what began as a humble experiment in few of the starvation hit villages of Bolangir district in Orissa or in Kodagu district of Karnataka is perhaps the only viable path for the nation to wriggle out of the growing threat from food insecurity. More so at a time when successive governments have failed to arrive at a consensus on effectively targetting the public distribution system to reach the needy and the poorest of the poor. For several years now, the exclusion of the well-to-do beneficiaries, including income tax payers, from the provisions of the PDS have been resisted by all political parties, irrespective of their ideological leanings. And yet, it had to be implemented because the World Bank and IMF were pushing for it. In any case, the World Trade Organisation clearly asks for the dismantling of the PDS. While the debate goes on, Bolangir and Kodagu have, however, demonstrated that the real beneficiaries, the poor in the villages, are not dependent upon food doles. Such a system of sharing the benefits of the harvest with the village community also exist in several other parts of the country. Starvation and hunger no longer stalks a cluster of 20 villages, about 150 kms away from Bolangir town. At a time when recurring drought has brought acute misery and suffering for tens of thousand people in the district, and with the latest controversy shrouding the starvation deaths and sale of children from western Orissa showing no signs of healing, hundreds of families in and around Sundhi munda village have built a food insurance system that keeps sure hunger and death at bay. That the food security system has successfully withstood varying degrees of natural calamities and has, in fact, grown and multiplied clearly demonstrates its social relevance and effectiveness. It all began in 1990-91, when a social activist Bansi Dhar Behera, coordinator of the Anchalika Jana Sewa Anusthan in Sundhi munda village, was looking for a permanent solution to mitigate human suffering arising from the non-availability of foodgrains, especially at times of distress. His appeal to fellow villagers to donate surplus paddy and rice after the harvest so as to build a grain reserve brought in 22 quintals of paddy. In all, 150 families from eight villages, almost all of them marginal farmers, responded to his call. The village grain bank was thus formed. The grain bank became a pivot of food security. Farmers have since then deposited their 'surplus' produce with the bank after each paddy harvest. They withdraw an equal quantity of paddy at the time of need without having to pay any interest. For others, who are landless or do not have any 'surplus' for the grain bank, borrowing paddy at the time of distress is a routine. But at the time of harvest, the grains borrowed have to be returned with half a bucket of paddy as interest. For those, who cannot repay the foodgrain loan, the village samaj decides whether the loan can be waived or not. For the villagers, the grain bank was an escape from the clutches of the money-lenders, who often gave foodgrains to the needy to be returned in double the quantity received, and that too within three months. Sometimes, depending upon the immediate requirement of the participating villages, the beneficiaries are asked to contribute by way of human labour. In village Batharla, a community temple and a grain store house was constructed by the beneficiaries. Their wages were paid in kind from the interest (surplus grain) that builds up over the years. In Banjupadhar village, a traditional water harvesting tank was rejuvenated for which the society distributed 16 quintals of paddy as wages. The grain bank, in other words, is also being utilised for 'food for work' programmes, all depending upon the need of the village community. In five years, the grain bank had grown in size and volume. In 1996, the society received and disbursed 220 quintals of paddy. A year later, in 1997, it got back 253 quintals. In all, the number of people donating to the grain bank had grown by almost ten times, with a thousand families depositing paddy this year. The number of beneficiaries too increased over the years reaching 1,066 families this year, in the 20 participating villages. More than the numbers what is important is to understand that these families have perfected a social model that gives them the freedom from hunger. The ten grain banks in Kodagu district are, however, registered under the Cooperative Act. Successfully in operation for over 30 years now, these grain banks also work on the same principle. After every paddy harvest, each member brings not less than 100 kg of paddy as their contribution to the grain bank. And during the lean months of December-January, paddy can be borrowed as loan by members. The loan is normally repaid after the next harvest with an interest of 12 per cent in terms of paddy. After the harvesting season ends, the left over paddy stocks are sold in the market. Consequently, members receive dividend varying between 10 to 20 per cent of the total share capital. Such is the underlying spirit of cooperation that like in Bolangir, each member in Kodangu district also deposits about five to ten kg of paddy every year towards what is called as the 'death fund'. The basic idea being that at times of bereavement, the village community comes to the rescue of the family in mourning. It is invariably because of the strong community ties in the villages that the grains banks have succeeded. Also, because these grain banks have remained outside the gambit of government interference. Its replication, therefore, has to be through the panchayats and the grassroot NGOs or perhaps an amalgamation of both.: