It was a cloudy Sunday morning; just the perfect day for a drive through the hills. Lucky for me then that my visit to the Raigarh-based Janmitram Kalyan Samiti (JKS) was scheduled for the day.

Initially set up to enhance the livelihood of tribals as well as better manage natural resources in the area, the organization ventured into agriculture, health and skill development in the course of time too. JKS primarily works in northern parts of Chhattisgarh – an area that is dominated by scheduled castes and tribes. Pahadi Korvas, Uraon, Birhor, and Kanvar are chief primitive tribal groups. Traditionally dependent on the forest and farms for their ritual and economic livelihood, these tribes have become mainly settled agriculturalists in recent times.

Despite farming being their main source of livelihood, they have been unable to make it profitable – just about growing enough for self-consumption and survival. It is for this reason that JKS stepped into the scene. Founder Dr. Mukesh Goswami’s research background in natural resource management coupled with co-founder Manish Singh’s experience with the Forest Department has helped turn their almost-barren lands to profit-making ones.

From soil water conservation, to construction of wells near farmland, to provision of seeds and fertilizers — support is provided that makes farming a year-long rather than a four-month activity. We first popped into Yashoda Sao’s backyard to check on her newly constructed well. Besides saving time and effort of walking to the common village water source, the improved water quality and supply through the well provides enough urad dal to sell at the market too. Yashoda shared with us that thanks to her “bees haath” (village measurement, which works out to be approximately 25 feet) deep well, they get 80 quintals of dal (against 5-6 quintals from the un-irrigated patch, before construction of the well) from 1.5 acre backyard. At Rs. 450 a quintal, that brings a more-than-sufficient Rs. 30,000 per annum. What’s more, while the well stands in Yashoda’s backyard, 2 neighboring families are able to benefit from the same as well. It was the same story with Nilamber. Except that he grows Bitter Gourd (Karela) and Brinjal (Baigan) in addition to urad dal; bringing in enough food for his family of four.

Next, we literally trekked down to the fields of Vivekanda, Niranjan and Shoukilal. Walking through cow dung and streams, with cows and monkeys as co-travellers, we arrived at their paddy (rice or dhana in Hindi) fields. Like Yashoda’s family, their farming too had shifted from self-consumption to market-production mode. In Saraipali village, JKS has improved 16 acre of barren land into cultivable one, through bund formation. Creation of water sources has increased double cropped area too as an additional 10% of the area can now be cultivated. This has resulted in an increase of Rs. 5 lakhs per annum, for a group of 12 farmers.

After a quick pit stop for tea at another farmer, Khageshwar Waren’s house, then a photo-session at an artificial lake created by JKS’s soil conservation efforts, we drove back to Raigarh city. On the drive back, I couldn’t resist asking Manish why he quit his job at the Forest Department. After all, it was similar kind of work. To which he was quick to respond, “My work here isn’t only on paper.” Having walked through some of the fields that were green thanks to his teams efforts, I could vouch for that!

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