Vegetable instead of rats

Dignified livelihood for latrine sweepers and rat catchers through vegetable cultivation and bamboo processing

Subject:
Livelihood, environment, food security

Location:
District West-Champaran, state Bihar, India

Duration:
01.01.2021 to 31.12.2021

Targeted group reached:
120 families from Musahar and Dom communities

Challenges

West Champaran is one of the poorest districts of Bihar, with almost 77 % of the people living under poverty (2004/2005). The Nautan and Lauriya blocks of West Champaran are home to a large number of Musahar (also pejoratively called “rat-eaters”) and Dom (referred to as “latrine sweepers”).The latrine cleaners remove human excrements by hand from the dry latrines and sewers. Traditionally, they are forced by circumstances into menial tasks and do not have many opportunities for development.

Although Dalits have faced generations of discrimination based on their origin and so-called “untouchability”, Dalits who are ‘better-off’ have discriminated against Musahar and Dom in the same way. The power relations within these castes reproduce a hierarchy in the production and service system and determines their access to resources and economic opportunities. For this reason, the Musahar and Dom are disadvantaged compared to other sub-castes who have been able to benefit from government programmes and other socio-economic benefits. This has resulted in the persistence of illiteracy, malnutrition, high susceptibility to disease, poverty migration, unstable income, indebtedness, low self-esteem, unemployment, lack of trust and discord within these communities.

Photo: Training course

Photo: Craftsmanship of bamboo

Project goals

This project aims to improve the socio-economic conditions of 120 families from Musahar and Dom communities in the West Champaran district of Bihar. Through agricultural activities and smallscale handicraft work, they can be financially secure and independent. The project trains the communities so that they can set up self-managed organisations and empowers them to live a life free from discrimination.

Improved socio-economic conditions can help them mitigate future hardships such as the regular floods, droughts and disease outbreaks. Families who were dependent on daily wages or even debt bondage at times can now be more financially secure through vegetable cultivation, goat husbandry and the production of bamboo products.

Main activities

Project activities will enhance the entrepreneurial skills of these communities in vegetable production, bamboo production and goat rearing, as well as strengthen their capacity through training, meetings, field visits, sharing of best practices and communication with each other. The project will enable a positive change in their livelihoods by creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. They will be able to send their children to school and make a dignified living. In the long term, this will help them gain respect and integrate into mainstream society.

Story from the field

Motilal Manjhi’s Inspiring Story of Change

Motilal Manjhi is 50 years old and lives in Seripar Tola Musahari village, which is located in Nautan block of West Champaran district in the North-Eastern state of Bihar, India. He does not own land and lives on public property. He is married and has six sons and five daughters. Three sons and three daughters are already married and living with their own families. Thus, he is responsible for providing for his wife as well as the three sons and two daughters who still live with them at home. The family belongs to the Musahar community. Motilal and his wife work as daily wage labourers on a nearby plot of land owned by a big farmer.

“One day, the team from Phia Foundation came to our village. They invited us and other Musahar families to a meeting. They said that the meeting would provide information about how to become financially independent and live a life with dignity and freedom from discrimination.

I was curious, because actually my wife and I have always dreamed of a better life than the one we have as daily wage labourers. To be dependent on landowners and never know what the next days will be like constantly worried us. We could never be sure if we would have work and earn some money to buy food and clothes for ourselves and the children. So I went to the meeting.

The team said: We will teach you how to grow vegetables, process bamboo and rear goats. They emphasised that women should also learn alongside men. The project aimed to free us from dependence on big farmers or landowners and to earn our own living. They explained various project details to us and even spoke to us in our local dialect so that we could understand them better.

They described the advantages of growing vegetables and showed us with the help of pictures how profitable it could be. We were to get seeds that were especially suited for this purpose. Experts were to teach us the techniques that are important for cultivation in regular training sessions.

I said to them: But how are we going to grow vegetables? We don't even own a plot of land for it. Many resonated the same dilemma. The project team suggested renting land from landowners, since many such lands are available in the area. And for those of us who did not have the opportunity to rent a land, or who could not grow vegetables for other reasons, for example, due to health or physical problems, they promised that they would provide improved seeds for a small kitchen garden. We were all supposed to think about whether we wanted to take part in this project or not. Another meeting was planned to take place four days later.

My wife and I, were determined to join this project. Before the four days were over, I had leased a small piece of land from a landlord. 19 families came forward to the next meeting. They wanted to try it out at least until the first harvest and learn about the new cultivation techniques.

And so we started to prepare the land for the first sowing with support of our whole family. Once ready, we received seeds from the Phia Foundation team for okra pods, different kinds of pumpkins, spinach and radish. In the training sessions, we learned everything we needed to know about the cultivation process. We were taught how to make our own fertiliser and organic pesticide from plants as well as the frequency with which we should use it so that everything can grow well. We tried very hard to do everything right.

Now the seeds have started to germinate and the first leaves can be spotted. We are very happy that we made this decision. It is the first time we have sown vegetables ourselves. Every morning, the children look forward to see if the plants have grown a bit. And my wife and I hope that in a few weeks we will be able to savour the first fruits and maybe even sell them.”

 

Story Update

May 2021: The first fruits can be harvested soon:

Blossoms and young fruit (visible on the left) of the sponge gourd, which, like our zucchini, is used for preparing vegetable meals. If harvested when the fruit is already turning yellow and getting brown spots, it can be used to make natural sponges.

The fruits of bitter gourd are also prepared as a vegetable. To reduce the bitter substances, the seeds are removed and the fruit, cut into thin slices, is rubbed with salt. It is also used in ayurvedic cooking and is considered a real super food. Many different health effects are known, including as a tea for prevention of type 2 diabetes.

The peeled ridge gourds are often prepared as curry dishes. From the hard peels, which are rich in vitamins, you can make chutney. Because they are very rich in fibre, they are also used in diet dishes for weight loss.

The Mexican plateau or the Andes are assumed to be the area of origin of the fig-leaf gourd (other common names are Malabar gourd, black seed squash and cidra). In the 16th or 17th century, this pumpkin species was introduced to India, among other places. The unripe fruits are prepared as vegetable dishes. The flesh of the ripe fruit can be used to make sweets, soft drinks or alcoholic beverages. The fig-leaf gourd is also used as a grafting rootstock of, for example, cucumbers. This makes the cucumber plant more resistant to cold and protects it from fusarium wilt and black root rot.

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