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Food Security : Four Major Steps
by P V Satheesh with inputs from Jagannadha Reddy and Jayappa

A look back at the DDS work with the women and agriculture gives us a clear indication on the direction we have moved in to ensure food security for the poor and the dalits. The major steps have been as follows:

STEP I : Towards Household Food Security

This programme has addressed household food security of dalits by encouraging them to work collectively on their marginalised lands towards its incremental upgradation. Through this programme about 4000 members of the DDS women's sanghams have improved their own patches of degraded lands [about 10000 acres] gifted to them by the government as a part of its land reforms programmes through efforts like bunding, trenching, top-soil addition etc. This has made them improve their crop production by over 300 per cent. Lands which hardly grew 20-30 kg of sorghum per acre today grow about 100-120 kgs. This has ensured an amount of foodgrain security for their households.

STEP II : Food Security for the Community of the Dispossessed
(Land Lease)

This effort addressed the Food Security needs of the dalit community as a community of the dispossessed.

Under this programme the sangham women worked as collective cultivators and took large chunks of land on lease from those land owners who were unable to utilise their land for food production. On an average each sangham woman who was a member of her sangham's land lease group worked on the leased in land for four to five days a season and in return earned enough foodcrop to last her family for one month. This was an additional food grain security for her family. An addition of about 60-80 kgs per capita.

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STEP III : Alternative Public Distribution System
(Community Grain Fund)

From individual household and community of the dispossessed, this programme moved forward to look at the food security of the entire village community. An effort to realise the concept of regional self-reliance on food, which is one of the basic tenets of the Permaculture philosophy which the Society has been following since a decade. The details of the programme have already been provided above.

STEP IV : Critical Control over Germplasm
(Community Gene Fund)

The final step in the Food Security programme has been the Community Gene Fund programme which has been described above. Through this act the women have reestablished their control the most critical link in the food chain : the seeds. It has transformed their status in the community from the people who go begging the upper caste homes for seeds to the people to whom the rest of the village community goes to ask for seeds which they have lost.

All these programmes and their organic integration of food security, gender and indigenous knowledge have encouraged us to move in this direction in all DDS villages and sanghams and wrap up this programme as the building of a self-managed, self-sustaining community food security system.

In a series of extensive PRAs conducted three times at each of our 75 sanghams, we have been able to identify the needs of each of our sangham members in terms of investment on her own land and in terms of group investments. By March 1998, this picture will become far more clear. Then we would like to make a proper document of our collective assessment of the sangham needs for the next three years.

Community Gene Fund

But this extensive exercise has already given us sufficient indications of what should our programmes be in 1998. On the basis of these indicators, we would like to allocate our budget on food security programmes as follows:

Over the last couple of years, the Deccan Development Society has sharpened its focus on food security. Its major programmes have tried to address this issue clearly. During the last three years the Society initiated three major programmes, which have won national and international attention:

Community Grain Fund Programme (Alternative Public Distribution System)
Community Gene Fund Programme (Traditional Seed Banking programme)

The COMMUNITY GRAIN FUND programme was intended to rejuvenate the marginalised lands in the villages where DDS works and through that offer a new coarse grain based PDS which is community -managed. The prototype developed in DDS now offers a fascinating new model for all the rainfed, degraded lands in the country. This programme was supported by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.

Some important gains made in the project are given below

  • Through this alternative PDS the women brought over 1000 hectares of fallows under the plough. They produced an extra 800,000 kilograms of sorghum in their villages in the very first year of the project. This meant that they were able to produce nearly three million extra meals in 30 villages. Or 1000 extra meals per family.
  • The fodder provided by the newly cultivated fields sustained over 6000 heads of cattle in 30 villages. Finally and more importantly in each village 2500 extra wages were created. 500 towards ploughing, sowing and manuring and 2000 wages in weeding. In all 75000 extra wages were earned in 30 villages.
  • That the management of such a complex task was possible for groups of dalit women who are poor, illiterate and marginalised and have never been allowed to manage anything in their lives is the most emphatic socio-political statement the women are making.
  • If their experiment is allowed to succeed, the women of the Deccan Development Society will have established the first decentralised Public Distribution System in the country. One with a local production, local storage and local distribution model. One that is better suited to their local dryland conditions.

The COMMUNITY GENE FUND programme has tried to restore the critical control over seeds in the hands of the rural women in general and dalit women in particular. This programme has laid heavy emphasis on biodiversity in agriculture and recovery of traditional landraces [crop varieties]. Within a span of two years about 500 women who participated in this programme have recovered over 50 traditional landraces and have set up banks of traditional seeds in 30 villages.

Some of the major gains made in this programme are :


  • Crop varieties have increased. Over 60 varieties have been under active cultivation now as against 25-30 varieties when we began the programme in 1996. Diverse cropping which was becoming an exception, has started becoming a rule.
  • Extremely marginal lands have become productive. Lands which used to produce crops worth Rs.250-300 per acre have started producing crops worth over Rs.4000.
  • Seeds that can crop about 1000 Ha have been stored in villages within a span of two years and three cropping seasons.
  • Safe food and a variety of options are on the women's menu. A much changed circumstance than before. Forgotten foods from the past like Korra, Aargulu, Bailodlu are in the kitchen. More pulses add protein, more vegetables add vitamins have become available.
  • A rethinking on the harmful effects of the new agricultural practices has started. Tractor ploughing is no more the dream in many minds. Bullocks have come back to occupy the centre stage. { Deep plough through tractor upturns the fine and fertile top soil and brings up the hard subsoil while our own shallow ploughing through bullocks keeps the fine soil on the upper layers itself }
  • Many people have started approaching the sangham women for seeds. This process helps make people move away from the organised, externally controlled market and helps a self reliant seed economy.


  • The project has tried to combine three marginalisations and through that combination itself is trying to effect a new synergy which has already started paying off.
    • Marginalised lands have found new value because of the upgradation of their productivity through manuring and tending
    • Marginalised crops have started moving centre stage defining new relationships with people. Low-status foods which have greater nutritional value but due to market and media manipulation have receded to the background are gaining new strength and are in the process of becoming Status foods.
    • Pricing policies for these foods among the sangham women has liberated them from the market perceptions. This has the beginning of a new market for the poor.
    • Marginalised people, the dalit women, have found a new status as seed providers, not receivers.
  • In the process of growing mainly food crops, women have regained control of family farming economic processes. The cash crop was the domain of the men who went to market to sell them. Food crop is the domain of the women. They get back to the centre of decision making.
  • Agricultural processes have become internalised. No external input is being sought and obtained. There is an internal cycle of inputs which is being restored.
  • Seed control returning to women means the reestablishment of their intellectual leadership in the community. Seed keeping is not just a physical activity. It is an intellectual activity and forms the fulcrum of farming processes.
  • For Dalit women, it is a process of struggling out of their triple jeopardy. From the position of being dalit, poor and women, they are now managers of germplasm for the community. The upper caste rich men are coming to them seeking seeds: a position which has an extraordinary historical significance.
  • This is also a process of strengthening the community against the new seed colonialism replete with TRIPS and IPR regime which are going to manifest themselves very heavily on the food and farming scene. The fact that poor women are fortressing themselves and their communities through their own control of seeds is the first victory in this long struggle.
  • Viewed from a simple economic angle also the programme has great significance. Farms which earned hardly Rs.300 a season have started earning Rs.2500 now.
  • Cultivation costs have come down. Self mulching crops like Niger, Little Millet and Horsegram which do not demand weeding are an integral part of this farming practice. Therefore they cut down the costs significantly.
  • The possibility of making these lands into seed farms [ of course, with a different definition of seed farm ] is being discussed. If the cultural considerations of the women does not reject this notion, the possibility that the present earning might go up to Rs.4000 per acre cannot be ruled out. This is an earning which the best of the modern practices cannot achieve. [ The best that dryland hybrid monocrops can achieve is about 15 quintals per acre. Their market rate never crosses Rs.200-Rs.250. Therefore the gross earning is no more than 3000-3750. The input cost however consumes half of this profit. The farmer is left with a net income of around Rs.2000 or less. But he has to pay for his fodder, fuel and pulses which are not part of his farming process]
  • There is no buying and selling as yet in this process. We do not envisage this would happen soon. But if the internal markets of the sanghams is established ultimately, such a process can add an additional Rs.1000 per acre for the produce grown as seed.[In the villages borrower of seeds returns twice the quantity after the harvest.. Therefore if you are a seed grower, you automatically stand the chance of gaining twice the income you make as a grain grower].

Total Impact

The land base in their villages is constantly improving and widening. With the strong establishment of an internal input cycle, the programme has ensured its own sustainability. By focussing and concentrating on soil growth through mulching and earthworks and enhancement of the fertility through regular application of farmyard manure etc. the effort has insured the lands against erosion and degradation.

A cumulative impact of all these efforts can be seen in the fact that no member of DDS sanghams need to suffer hunger since her own access to food has multiplied at least four times. In times of distress she can bank upon the grain support that these programmes can bring together.