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An Equitable and Just Food System for Santhal Pargana

Addressing the multi-dimensional causes of low agricultural productivity and the root causes of poverty.

Photo of Nivedita Narain
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

PRADAN

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Large NGO (over 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

The project builds on a collaboration between PRADAN and SINCHAN, a social enterprise that supports youth clubs of santhali men and women in the Santhal Parganas. We also envisage a collaboration with Gram Vaani, a social enterprise in the region, who will bring in their digital mobile app to reach project lessons to a wider community than those directly engaged with us. We have conducted a stakeholder analysis, and envisage bringing in experts in each of these subject areas from Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, Odisha, Cambridge University, and University of East Anglia in the UK, who have ongoing research projects in this area.We also would collaborate with MS Swaminathan research foundation to introduce new seed production processes. Finally PRADAN would collaborate with the governments of Jharkhand and Bihar on program design, implementation, and management.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

PRADAN.net

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 10+ years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

New Delhi

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

India

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The vision is for Santhal Pargana, which is a region of India combining districts from the states of Jharkhand and Bihar.

What country is your selected Place located in?

India

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

PRADAN has been working in this location for thirty-two years and has established very deep and trusted relationships with communities, local and state governance structures, and the ecosystem of civil society organizations, companies, and social safety net programs  in the region.

PRADAN is extremely intentional with how it builds solidarity with the communities it serves. The first year for PRADAN professionals is a apprenticeship where they live in a rural farming community, gaining deep insights into the lives and work of people PRADAN aims to serve and building trusted relationships with community members. The apprenticeship program has been widely hailed as one of India’s most successful training programs for leaders at both the grassroots and in public and social institutions nation-wide, and is core to PRADAN’s theory of change. 

 The apprenticeship program sets the tone for PRADAN’s relationship with the communities they work in, and Santhal Pargana is the perfect example. PRADAN believes that everyone, no matter how poor, has the ability to drive change in their own life. Our development professionals work in true solidarity with communities to achieve change, but are not the change agents themselves. PRADAN understands that change is often generational, or longer, and has committed to long-term programs that are dynamic based on both the expressed desires of the community, and best practices in agriculture and development. PRADAN first established a program in Gooda District in Santhal Pargana in 1988 with a project on Sero-culture livelihoods. Women’s self-help groups were formed in 1990, as mechanisms of mutual support and collective savings, and these have flourished into vibrant federations of women who are driving systemic change in their lives and communities.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Santhal Pargana region is incredibly diverse, both in terms of ecosystems and the people who inhabit them. Tribal and scheduled caste communities – historically some of India’s most socially and economically marginalized citizens –make up more than 85% of the population, and the dearth of infrastructure and facilities is evidence of the millennia of structural violence against minorities. More than 50% of the total households live below the poverty line. 

Roughly 90% of the region is rural, comprised of small villages of eighty to one hundred households, and basic amenities such as clean water, electricity, health facilities, and transport services are absent or unreliable. Villages are often delineated by caste, creating small, heterogeneous communities that share language and social traditions. While this creates separation between the poorest and most marginalized, it also cultivates social unity that can help accelerate processes of collective action. Gender inequity persists in the region, and impacts educational, health, and economic outcomes across the region. While the average literacy rate of the is ~60%, the literacy rate of women is 44%. More than seventy percent of women suffer from anaemia, which impacts farm productivity, and the wellbeing of both women and their children. 

Santhal Pargana is made up of subsistence-farming communities; more than 70% of the population Santhal Pargana directly depends on agriculture or allied activities for their livelihood, with the majority of smallholder farmers owning less than a hectare of land and relying on traditional practices such as rain-fed agriculture and mono-cropping of paddy. Food insecurity is the norm; subsistence farming provides food for just two-thirds of the year on average, and undernutrition is pervasive. Nearly 40% of children are stunted, and more than half are underweight. 

While the traditional tribal governance system is still active in Santhal Pargana, it has lost its prominence over time and been replaced by the Panchayati Raj Institution (PRI), which is the village-level governance and administrative system that exists throughout India. The PRI is tasked with coordinating and implementing development schemes, including agriculture, health, sanitation, and economic development programs. There are significant gaps in the PRI system, and leadership in poor and tribal villages are often unsupported compared to wealthier communities. Participation from women in the region is often non-existent and requires intentional and long-term support to ensure all voices are heard. 

 Despite these challenges, Santhal Pargana has abundance of natural resources, including large tracts of uplands, forest and good levels of rainfall. The upland tract has a hilly backbone running from the north to south, tapering out to lowland plains. The Ganges river creates the Eastern boundary of the region, and creates numerous tributaries that flow through the hills and forests. This land has significant untapped agricultural potential; PRADAN’s evidence shows that a three-fold improvement in yield is possible. 

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

19000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

10750000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Santhal Pargana’s food system faces challenges in production, consumption, and governance; these difficulties may be exacerbated in 2050 by climate change, environmental degradation, and changes in the social and cultural aspects of food systems that govern what and how people eat.

The communities of Santhal Pargana are smallholder, subsistence farmers who suffer from low yield and stagnating production due to variable land quality, lack of irrigation facilities, limited penetration of technologies, poor knowledge of improved practices, and lack of credit facilities. Environmental degradation is accelerating, driven by low investment, eroding forest cover, poor animal husbandry practices, and traditional mono-cropping. Nearly all agriculture remains monsoon dependent, creating weather-dependent vulnerabilities. Santhal Pargana receives an average of 1250mm annual rainfall, but the distribution is increasingly non-uniform and uncertain, making agricultural activities and yield less predictable and reliable. 

Subsistence agriculture does not provide adequate food security; about half of the grains and pulses needed on an annual basis. Purchasing power remains extremely low (40,000 INR/year on average) because alternative livelihood opportunities for these communities are very limited. Seasonal migration to West Bengal is extremely common, further depleting the resources available to drive the local economy. 

There are significant gaps in knowledge of modern agriculture practices, poor access to quality inputs and technology, and a dearth of market linkages for farmers, particularly women. The government safety-net programs that support nutrition, public health, and agriculture inputs in remote areas are prone to leakages and often fail to meet the needs of people most in need. 

While food availability and production challenges are a growing challenge – access to diverse and healthy food provides formidable obstacles as well. Consumption has shifted in recent years – away from traditional nutrition-rich millets, cereals and pulses because of pervasive monoculture practices of growing a uniform crop. This erosion of culture of practices around food has resulted theloss of diverse dietary practices, traditional knowledge, biodiversity and natural resources. Women and girls across caste and class actively perform household and agricultural labour, but eat last in the household and suffer nutritional consequences including low BMI, and anaemia. 

Current social and environmental trends will exacerbate challenges in production and inequities in access and consumption by 2050 unless meaningful interventions are made. Production will continue to grow more variable as the monsoon season grow more erratic, leading to extended food insecurity and a narrowing basket of crops that can be grown. Socially, the villages of Santhal Pargana have remained divided by tribe, class, caste, and gender for millennia, and these divisions govern food access and security. Overcoming these social divisions will take both sustained investment in social programs and collective action from the communities themselves. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

PRADAN’S vision is that all people, no matter how poor, have the capacities and support to drive social, economic and political change. PRADAN uses a holistic  approach, simultaneously addressing both the root causes of poverty and the multi-dimensional causes of low agricultural productivity to build the individual agency, food security, and a sustainable livelihoods are essential foundations for social and economic development. We believe that Santhal Pargana’s natural resources, when used effectively, can provide the food and livelihoods needed to end systemic marginalization of poor communities, and sustainable livelihood development can help protect against the weather shocks that are becoming more common with climate change.  

Practically speaking, PRADAN focuses on both the root causes of social marginalization through the formation and nurturing of women’s self-help groups (SHGs), and agriculture and natural resource management programs that improve yield, protect biodiversity, and provide the sustainable nutrition for year-round food security. We’ve found in our 35+ years of operation that communities learn best through experience; our focus is on how to build a livelihood and to access the information needed to engage effectively with government authorities, established development schemes and other people in power. 

In Santha Pargana, PRADAN has organized SHGs at the village level, and supported a federated structure that helps expand organically and share best practices. SHGs federations are involved in nurturing their respective clusters and primary groups. These bodies have proven systems of facilitating bank linkage, internal monitoring and support, and organizing collective action for livelihoods. 

PRADAN has developed good livelihood programs that serve as prototypes in agriculture food crop, cash crops, forest based livelihoods, livestock rearing, and social enterprises. Promotion of improved agriculture is one of the major livelihoods interventions envisioned for the Santha pargana, and include  food crop cultivation for food sufficiency and in cash crop for cash income. The emphasis will be on enhancing Paddy productivity through Improved and Systematic Rice intensification (SRI) method, leading to an increase in productivity from 2 MT per hectare to 4.5 to 5 tons per hectare. The other crop, maize, cultivation with hybrid seeds, line sowing, optimum fertilizer doses, pest management will increase yield from 1.5 tons per hectares to 3.5-5 tons per hectares. Cash crops investments will include high-value crops such as pulses, oil seeds and vegetables, and will include market-access programs to ensure a high return.  Support for improved agricultural practices are provided by community resource persons who have been trained in dissemination skills that improve uptake of new practices. 

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Santha Pargana will be full of vibrant villages where both men and women can have the agency to pursue farm-based livelihoods, shield their families from economic shocks, and provide sustainable nutrition that is the basis for broader health and well-being. 

Improvements in agricultural productivity, matched with improvements in purchasing power, will lead to asignificant reduction in the gap of production and consumption. Food sufficiency will be achieved across the year, reducing seasonal nutrition shocks and diminishing reliance on foraged food and government supplies. 

Improved agricultural practices will lead to positive improvements in the local ecosystems – sustained forest cover and improved soil quality will allow for more diverse crops and reduce vulnerabilities related to mono-cropping, including climate and disease. This will be achieved by improving access to high-quality farmer support services, improved inputs, and access to modern agricultural technology. A sustainable ecosystems approach will be promoted to uphold systematic farm to plate goal, eating a seasonal and diverse diet. Traditional food crops, including pulses, cereals, and millets, will be protected and promoted, and dependency on public delivery systems will decline. 

There will be a change in culture of food systems; food will not be perceived in isolation, but as an integral part of the culture of the region. Communities themselves will work together to generate an map their higher aspirations for food systems, and be given the tools and support to achieve these visions. 

PRADAN will work closely with communities and partners to track impact, disseminate learnings, and replicate successes in other geographies. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

We see our place and people as an integral part of the dominant food and agricultural system in which we live, work and eat. In 2020, this food system is highly energy and capital intensive, globally integrated and economically consolidated.  It has contributed to environmental degradation, exacerbated economic distress for small family farmers and processors, and community residents have inadequate access to healthy food. In wealthier societies, too, poorer people have become passive recipients of a rather homogenous distribution of nutrients and good quality food is mostly a luxury. On the other hand, our place and people still face unacceptably high rates of basic food and nutrition insecurity. Serious environmental threats abound, including climate change and an alarming loss of agro-biodiversity. Socio-economic and political issues mediate access (within and among communities and families) to technologies, to information and to resources. Our vision 2050 incorporates productive farming, healthy eating, sustainable distribution and building local a vibrant local food economy for Santhal Parana: one which engages everyone who has a stake in the system—from farming families to policymakers, from our people and place to the a global network of local ‘sustainable food communities’.

So how do we see the Santhal Pargana in 2050?  

By 2050, agricultural practices will be such that they encourage household-based production that caters to family needs, as also produces surplus for the market. Large tracts of fallow land are converted to orchards, grain baskets and vegetables patches.  Groundwater, residual moisture and water husbandry and conservation practices have led to enhanced carrying capacity of these uplands, and their worth has increased. Male and female farmers work side by side to create prosperity for their families and for their local area.  These environment-sensitive approaches support nutritious diets and culture-specific food preferences. These practices are supported by  local ‘sustanaible food communities’ that comprise networks of farmers’ collectives, youth clubs, women’s groups  and a variety of local institutions and civic action groups. These communities amplify the voice of the ‘have-nots’ (and not only the voices of the  ‘haves’) to establish and support sustainable livelihoods for their members, on and off farm. They access traditional and modern knowledge, bringing these together to ensure food and nutrition security, health and well-being for all members of the household regardless of age and gender. In 2050 farmers’ and consumers’ would act collectively to access information and engage effectively with public and private stakeholder groups and systems.  They would influence and shape local government policies including those related to public rations, agriculture extension services, child care and school midday meal services etc. 

By 2050 our place and people would be one of many local ‘sustainable food communities’ across the country, and maybe the world—nurturing, supporting and promoting regenerative and nourishing food systems. As a part of a larger interdependent ecosystem of local food systems and communities, Santhal Paranga would be recognized as a pioneer in this field,  and would be a contributor to policy  and broader decision making networks.  In 2020 decisions about food systems are often taken by forces outside the community, increasing their reliance on a very expensive model of food which is unaffordable, setting standards that are unattainable. By 2050, there would have been a global and radical transformation in the practices, perspectives and policies that govern how food is produced, processed, traded and consumed. People of Santhal Pargana, especially the ‘sustainable food communities’ would exercise choice and be active players shaping larger market patterns consumption patterns and dietary diversity.   The renewed global food systems would respect local food culture, as these erstwhile ‘islands’ would be large and prosperous enough to support and shape network of local markets with free flow of goods, services, knowledge and people and respectful engagement across the network of local communities. 

2050 will also see a shift is practices towards ecologically sensitive agricultural practices. The improved practices will adopt Integrated natural resource management which would promote conscious use of resources, planned husbandry, and preservation of forest cover. 

We intend in this project to introduce an integrated monitoring, evaluation and learning system. the evaluation will be conducted by a third party, with a baseline and end line study.  The monitoring system will be based on PRADAN's Community Data CollectorSystem, with digitised live data collection. A power point is attached.The learning system will involve workshops with farmers, self help groups and their collectives, and with PRADAN staff and government staff and other NGO collaborators. This will enable shifts in the system as we learn from our experience.


How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Photo of Trupti Jain
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hi Nivedita:
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