One million Dalit women in Andhra Pradesh collectively farm

July 16, 2015

KEY FACTS:
1. "The government buys 3 to 5 acres of land for each collective farm and hands control of it to a group of five to 10 women, ...
2. Rayudu says the total number of women turning to collective farming exceeds 1 million.
3. Andhra Pradesh state, where 86 percent of Dalit people do not own any land,
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The government has invited thousands of Dalit women to take up collective farming to empower themselves economically. The women say the program also elevates their social status within their communities. Caste-baste discrimination is illegal in India but continues against Dalits. The program’s success in changing this in one state is prompting plans to expand it nationwide.

In India, 70 percent of Dalit people are landless, according to ActionAid, an international development organization that works to eliminate poverty.

 

The percentage is even higher in Andhra Pradesh state, where 86 percent of Dalit people do not own any land, says Mary Madiga, founder and president of Telengana Mahila Samakhya, an all-Dalit women’s organization in Hyderabad, the state capital, that fights for Dalit women’s political and social rights.

 

“Dalits are considered inferior to people born in higher castes,” she says. “So, they do not want the Dalits to have equal rights because it would put them in equal position in the society.”

 

But the list of landless Dalit women overcoming poverty and finding economic independence through collective farming is incredibly long, says D.V. Rayudu, director of Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture, the government program that provides this collective farming opportunity.

 

Rayudu says the total number of women turning to collective farming exceeds 1 million. The majority of them are from marginalized communities in Andhra Pradesh, currently the only state where the initiative is offered.

 

He says the program started in 2004 to help eliminate poverty. But it has also succeeded in providing better nutrition to women while helping them to find dignity and economic independence.

 

“We especially targeted Dalit and tribal families because most of them live below the poverty line,” Rayudu says.

 

“So, we started to set up all-women’s self-help groups in villages. In each village, the SHG identifies the poorest of the families and selects the women members for collective farming.”

 

The government buys 3 to 5 acres of land for each collective farm and hands control of it to a group of five to 10 women,

 

Rayudu says. The women are free to use the produce they grow to sell or to consume. Once they generate enough income, they pay the government back for the land.

 

The program also provides the women with training in organic and multicrop farming. The government and local self-help groups offer microloans to the women to buy materials such as seeds.

 

“The idea is to help them overcome poverty, grow their own food at a low cost and get better nutrition,” Rayudu says.

 

For Dalit women like Begary, the biggest benefit of the program has been a dramatic change in social and economic status.

 

At the personal level, they have shifted from being homemakers and dependent on their husbands to being the main providers for their families, she says. In the community, they are no longer seen as poor untouchables who work on others’ farms, but as farmers with their own land.

 

“Though earlier we did everything that we do now – tilling, seeding, weeding and cropping – we were invisible earlier,” says Anjamma, 36, a Dalit farmer who does not use a surname. “We begged for work. We also got less than the standard wages. But now, we are noticed.”

 

Susheela Yadaiah of Kambalapalli, a village in southern India, is a Dalit woman who runs an organic pesticide shop.

 

The Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture program trained Yadaiah to make the pesticide, which collective farmers buy from her.

 

She says that owning a business has improved her economic standing as well as has brought her more respect in her community.

 

“Do you notice how our house is at the back of the village?” she asks. “That is because the best spots in villages are always taken by the people of the higher castes.”

 

But since she started selling the pesticide, Yadaiah says government officials and people of higher castes have visited her home.

 

“We are no longer ignored,” she says. “I even have bought a color TV, which you could only see in higher-caste people’s homes.”

 

"India’s Dalit women empowered by collective farming," Women News Network, May 27, 2014, accessed May 31, 2014, http://womennewsnetwork.net/2014/05/27/indias-dalit-women-empowered-by-c....

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