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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Deccan Development Society of Andhra Pradesh

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The Deccan Development Society is a non- government organization in Medak District of Andhra Pradesh of India. It is a grass root organization which is working in up to 100 villages with its women members numbering up to 5000 or more. Most of these women members belong to dalit community. 

The organization is projecting a working model for the people oriented participative development in the areas of food security, ecological agriculture, and alternate education. It is also trying to reverse the historical process of degradation of the environment and people's livelihood system in this region through a string of land related activities such as Perma-culture, Community Grain Bank, Community Gene Fund, Community Green Fund and Collective Cultivation through land Lease etc. These activities, along side taking on the role of Earth care is also resulting in Human Care, by giving the Women a new found dignity and profile in their village communities. The Society is trying to relocate the people's knowledge in the area of Health and Agriculture.


The International Development Research Centre adds -
The Deccan Development Society (DDS) works with sangams (voluntary associations) of poor village women, mostly dalit [low caste] agricultural laborers in 60 villages in the Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. The community gene bank project initiated by the Society and targeted at these dalit women farmers envisages the following:

1. To secure crop biodiversity in the area and ensure a safety net for women who are dependent on subsistence farming;
2. To establish in-situ rural gene banks
3. To empower the women to reclaim their unproductive lands;
4. To enable the women's groups to develop the skills and management capacity to grow local landraces as seed crop and start village-level seed banks;
5. To develop a seed distribution network for the local crop varieties and ensure large-scale re-emergence of these varieties;
6. To empower the women to develop into seed entrepreneurs and enter agribusiness.

The era of commercial seed business will give the women a chance to enter the market once they become good seed producers. DDS visualizes a new context in which organic (non-hybrid) agricultural products will be bought at a premium. This will certainly be to the advantage of the women who grow traditional crops using non-chemical farming practices.

The Community Gene Bank project of DDS 

Deccan Development Society (DDS) is a decade-old organization which works in the Medak District of Andhra Pradesh. Zaheerabad region, where the Society operates, has been listed as a DPAP district. The semi-arid tract runs through this region. People here have traditionally followed dryland farming.The Society has catalyzed the formation of sanghams (voluntary associations) of poor village women, mostly agricultural laborers, in 60 villages. These women manage on their own most of their credit needs, and manage programs of community health, environment conservation and regeneration and education.

The  group of women in 60 villages, who comprise the target groups/beneficiaries of the Community Genebank project, are mostly dalit [low caste]. By profession, they are mainly agriculturists and work as wage laborers for a major portion of their earnings. During the rest of the time, they cultivate the small patches of land owned by them, work as well-diggers and as labor in other construction works. As members of DDS sanghams, they are actively involved in collective cultivation of lands and have a high awareness of environment-friendly farming practices.

The Society pioneered and extended the concept of Permaculture among these groups over the last six years. Apart from the theoretical and technical issues that it advocates, the issue of ethical farming and regional self-sufficiency lies at the core of Permaculture. Years of experience of practicing it (and debating it) with women farmers have created a need for several initiatives that promote regional self-sufficiency.

Three main initiatives have been taken up by the Society to fulfill these objectives. They are: an Alternative Public Distribution System known as the Community Grain Fund; massive wasteland development; and the raising of traditional seeds and establishment of decentralized village-level seedbanks called the Community Gene Fund.

The Community Grain Fund operates on 3000 acres spread over 30 villages. The project involves reclaiming fallows through making them productive through the raising of sorghum. The investment made by the Society in rendering the land productive is repaid by the project-partner farmers in kind (a fixed quantity of sorghum every year for six years). This grain is stored in the village and for six months a year is sold to the poorest 100 families in the village at subsidized prices.

 The money accrued from the sales becomes a village fund for further investments in reclamation of fallows and also becomes a revolving Community Grain Fund. This ensures that the environmental hazards that fallows bring in their wake can be countered. In each village, at least 2000 additional wages are created every year1; the grain availability is increased by 25 per cent; and fodder production goes up by 20 percent. The poor do not need to migrate out of the village to fight their hunger. The Community Grain Fund also ensures the principles of local production, local distribution and local consumption-- as opposed to the dominant PDS system which promotes centralized production and centralized distribution systems.

If the Community Grain Fund is meant to tackle the problem of foodgrains, the Community Gene Fund is designed to answer the problem of seeds. The project proposes to identify 30 acres of land per village and start raising traditional crops for seed purposes. The lands are selected by the village sanghams along the following criteria:

•The poverty of the woman who owns the land and her commitment to grow the traditional crop;
•The suitability of the land to grow the traditional crop as seed.

Once the lands have been selected, an amount of Rs. 2500 will be made available to the farmer as input support to cover the expenses towards timely plowing, purchase and application of farmyard manure, timelyweeding and harvesting. This is a one-time investment and will be recovered in the form of seeds. The recovered seeds will be stored in the village to serve as an in situ genebank to help other farmers grow traditional crops. As with all programs of DDS, the Community Gene Fund program was a result of continuous dialogue between the DDS workers and the members of the women's sanghams.

DDS runs a health program which is completely based on local healing systems and local herbal and plant medicines. The regular interaction with our health workers and local healers has given us a clear insight into the richness of folk nutritional systems and the problems of the mainstream medical establishment. Such discussions have also revealed the strengths of traditional food and nutrition. With the disappearance of these foods a host of problems has arisen.

As a consequence of the deficiency of traditional food, the issues of nutrition and seeds started to be elaborated in our discussions. After additional participatory research assessments (PRAs) with health workers, healers and women farmers, it became clear that some steps needed to be taken. The result was theCommunity Gene Fund project.

The Community Genebank and the women

•Since much of the low-input farming is managed by women, the seed situation hits the women in a particularly harsh manner. Earlier, all the seeds needed for their farming were produced by them at their own farms. But with the growth of commercial agriculture, and with the entry of the transnational seed companies round the corner, poor women will have to go to the market every time they need to buy seeds. Hence their age-old self-reliance faces possible extinction.

•By being actual controllers of seeds, women do not have to be at the mercy of the outside seed market, which supplies what the manufacturer has made available and not necessarily what the people want. This situation is very apparent in dryland agriculture. As a consequence of such market forces, the women are currently forced to buy, against their will, hybrids and other high-input-demanding seeds-- in contrast to their own native seeds, which demand low-inputs.

•By becoming seed producers, women can get more income out of their lands than before. For example, if a woman earns Rs. 1000 per acre producing a normal crop like sorghum on her land, and if she engages in seed production, which is a specialized activity, she will earn Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2000, an increase of between 50 to 100 per cent over her normal income.

•The era of commercial seed business will also give women a chance to enter the market. once they become good seed producers. We also visualize a new context in which organic (non-hybrid) agricultural products will be bought at a premium. This will certainly be to the advantage of the women who can become seed entrepreneurs.

The project has just begun. The lands have been identified, the project partners have consented to start seed farms. Manure has been bought and applied onto these lands. We are sitting with our fingers crossed. We don't know how we will go. But any distance traversed is worth it--for the cause of biodiversity.
(Additional information has been added from www.idrc.ca)

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