Valiben Palas (58) from Raiyavan village in Dhanpur taluka of Dahod district was worried about her wheat and maize produce that she had harvested in March from 15 bighas of her land holding. Even as she explored distress sale in view of the prevailing uncertainty due to the lockdown, the widow farmer wondered where to store the produce and for how long.
Meanwhile, Shakuben Palas (32) from the same village — the sole provider for her three children — had run out of food supply. The Below Poverty Line (BPL) card holder, with her main source of income being a small land under her joint family’s name, also takes up seasonal migration to Saurashtra as an agricultural labourer.
The two women were relieved when Ahmedabad-based organisation Utthan — which has been working with marginalised communities in tribal and coastal districts of Gujarat since 1981 — intervened and reached out to 2,500 families living in abject poverty in Bhavnagar, Dahod, Panchmahals and Mahisagar districts, to provide them with ration and basic essentials like sanitary napkins.
“We decided that foodgrains for the 2,500 identified families will be purchased from the village community itself. We purchased from women farmers who otherwise would have resorted to sell their products at available rates in the close-by markets, due to their desperation to meet the cash crisis. The payment has been deposited in the women’s accounts, who may not own the land but put their blood and sweat in tilling ‘their’ land,” said Pallavi Sobti Rajpal from Utthan.
One of the sellers, Valiben Palas said, “I sold my wheat produce at Rs 19 per kg directly to the NGO. If I would sell it in the market — which was not possible due to the lockdown — it would fetch me Rs 20-22 per kg. But at the same time, I had to spend additional Rs 5 per kg on transportation and labour costs. Thus, I could not have asked for more…Our grains will help many in my own village, so this is a more valuable earning.”
Gitaben Boricha (40) from Akvada village, who is also the president of Samarthan Mahila Sangathan in Bhavnagar, is one of the co-ordinators who helped to identify the beneficiaries. She told The Indian Express, “We identified 27 families in our neighbourhood who are daily wagers, widows, handicapped and struggling for food. While the grains were procured from the village’s women farmers, items like oil, masala, tea and sugar were brought from shops in Bhavnagar town. With the help of the village women, we prepared kits without any difficulty except that we had to wait for two days for the packing material to arrive. Most importantly, women felt that they were saved from the drudgery of travelling and selling it in the market, in the midst of this gruelling lockdown period.”
Maksoodaben Madari (40) and 34 other women breadwinners in Mota Sarnaiya village in Mahisagar also received the relief kits. “In the month of Ramzan, this is like a blessing for our family,” Madari said.
“The relief provided by government will last for a week at most. The most vulnerable people are the ones who have fallen into this ‘gap’ (supply of relief versus total demand)…After a rough estimate of foodgrains required in a particular village was worked out, women farmers were approached and local leaders ensured a system where these relief packages were collected by identified families,” said Nafisa Barot from Utthan.
The organisation claims that a total of Rs 6.12 lakh was earned by these women framers. The grains weighing nearly 30,000 kg bought found way into 1,668 kits, each containing 10 kg wheat and 5-10 kg of bajra or maize, resulting in a 22% benefit for the women farmers.
“If the government buys all the stock at the local level and redistributes it to local communities…it will reduce the insecurity of timely availability of foodgrains and distress sale and energy consumed in transportation. By boosting the local economy and allowing farmers to timely invest for Kharif season, this model of people-to-people market is both environment and poor-friendly,” said Hemant Kumar Shah, Economics professor at HK Arts College in Ahmedabad, who is associated with the relief programme.