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Sanghams
Experiences, Expectations
by Jagannadha Reddy, Jayappa, Padma, Baliah and other Sangham staff
 

The Village sanghams, voluntary associations of the poor women, are the base of DDS. Most of these sanghams are basically formed by Dalit women but not to the exclusion of the poor women from a wide array of castes from Muslims to Gollas, Tenugus to Mangalis, Reddys to Sakalis. As years roll by, the Sanghams are truly acquiring a Bahujan character.

Today the Society works in 75 villages spread over four mandals in Medak District : Zaheerabad, Jharasangam, Raikode and Nyalkal. At present DDS sanghams are constituted by 40 sanghams which are 12-15 years old and 35 sanghams which are 1-5 year old.

The 15 long years of experiences range from working with government housing projects to eco employment to alternative PDS. Each one of them extremely significant in their focus and range. The DDS sanghams have ushered in certain models of sustainable development which have found national and international attention.

While the old DDS sanghams have shown unique ability to provide critical clues for land regeneration, ecological agriculture, community land ownership and cultivation, the new sanghams have been able to demonstrate collective leadership, creative financial management and putting gender issues on the forefront.

The new sanghams carry out their financial transactions themselves with an independent bank account of their own. Today these sanghams revolve around Rs.4000 to 6000 per member which is a combination of their savings (25 to 40%), DWCRA grant (25 to 35%), DDS matching grants (30%) and IRDP grants (10%). In the last three years these sanghams have been able to constantly increase the total money at their command through increased savings.

Year
Villages
Members
Savings
1996
20
812
Rs.3,50,488
1997
20
838
Rs.4,69,101
1998
20
930
Rs.6,50,353

The following are the figures for which the loans were paid among the members:

Outside Rs.30,09,810
Bank Rs.17,82,750
Total Rs.47,92,560

DDS has also supported the sangham members through a number of livestock and seed development programmes, land lease and such other programmes. However the disastrous chiaroscuro played by drought and untimely rains have brought unmitigated problems for the people in this region. Therefore the real growth of the sangham woman has been offset by the nature's unkindness.

However the Society has tried to create a series of new activities to strengthen the carrying capacity of the lands under the most adverse conditions as well as fortress people's strength to withstand the continuing adverse climatic conditions. They include eco-employment, alternative PDS and Community Gene Banks. [Please See separate article : Food Security : multiple steps}While these activities are going on, to increase the capacity of these sanghams several trainings and workshops have been held in the last three years. They include:

Theme
Participating Sanghams
Number of days of the Workshop
Number of Members participated
Sangham Norms
10
2
35
Book Keeping
30
2
60
Women in Agriculture
10
2
10
Reproductive Rights
10
3
40
Gender
30
3
60
Social Analysis of Income Generation
30
2
90
Literacy
30
3
150
Panchayati Raj
30
3
120

The new 30 sangams have been grouped into two separate formations. Each group has about 600 members and each member pays Rs.5/- per month to help the payment of staff salary etc. as a part of administration. The sustainability of these formations will be watched keenly by us for the coming years.

Legal Committee

The 30 sangams have selected one legal committee consisting of 5-6 articulate members. This committee accomplished a lot of important things like attending various cases like. child marriages, atrocities on women, eve teasing etc. The cases have been successfully dealt with the assistance of the local police. The following chart of the legal cases sorted out:

DWCRA Groups

The DDS sanghams have been able to mobilise government assistance through DWCRA programme. In 1995 and 1996 they reorganise themselves into 150 DWCRA groups with a sanction of Rs.15,000 per group for 60 DWCRA groups. 45 sanghams were able to get an increased assistance of Rs.25,000 each. So far the savings of the 150 groups combined has stood at Rs.5,25,000/-. The 150 groups have been able to revolve their funds in the following programmes:

35 Groups DWCRA Fund
18 Groups Land Lease
73 Groups Goat rearing
12 Groups Contracting fruit trees
10 Groups Seed bank
2 Groups Milk vending

Self Management

In a series of steps towards self management, DDS has begun to handover the project funds to the sanghams directly. In the Alternative PDS through Community Grain Fund programme all the investments are handled by a committee of five women managers of PDS in each village and the returns go into the village bank account managed by these women. In this process nearly Rs 70 lakhs has been handed over to the community for its management.

Similarly in the Community Gene Fund programme 60 women in 30 villages are the managers of a Fund of the size 18 lakh rupees. They directly administer the seed equivalent of this money by collecting the returned seeds from the farmers and maintaining a bank of traditional seeds in their villages.

In the Community Green Fund programme also the women now control vast stretches of common lands on which they have planted diverse tree species. Considering that the total plantation is of the order of 1000 hectares and each hectare is worth about one lakh rupees of usufruct, the women will be controlling approximately a crore rupees of money in two years time.


Through raising Village Medicinal Commons the community of health workers of DDS have created invaluable assets for their own communities. In 29 villages they have raised and regenerated rare medicinal plants and herbs over 100 acres. In monetary terms the cumulative value of this community asset could run into several lakh rupees. Besides this asset value, all the investment on the medicinal commons of Rs.2.5 lakhs has been put into a separate bank account which is administered by a team of two women health workers elected by the total community of health workers.

The dalit women of DDS have repeatedly shown that they are capable of handling the most complex of management of resources and finances. Therefore one feels extremely secure in gradually handing over the various facets of management of programmes and funds.

Sangham PRAs

The DDS staff took to a large PRA exercise to understand the expectations of these sanghams in 1998. The points that have emerged from this exercise has proved that the intensive food security measures which formed the focus of DDS efforts over the last decade and a half have proved to be extremely important and meet with the approval of the people. In fact, people are increasingly feeling the need to be more and more food secure and they are pointing to the need to strengthen this programme further.

The PRA exercises had been designed in such a manner that Sanghams plan for themeselves for the next phase of DDS budgeting. Each sangham did its planning through PRA in three segments:

  • Budgeting for improving natural resrouces
  • Budgeting for individual incomes
  • Budgeting for group actions


The Sangham PRAs as they are known by the DDS staff also made use of many new techniques in PRA. For example card mapping was used to map individual households in the sanghams. Each card was a complex instrument denoting the physical location of the house in the village, the type of the house (whether it is a thatched hut, tile or stone roofed etc.), the number of persons in the house, the livestock they own, the education of the children etc. People came up with amazing creativity in improvising and making their own contributions to the concept. For eg. the number of people in a household was intended to be indicated by sticking bindis the coloured round stickers which Indian women use on their foreheads. But when this plan went to people, they came up with a number of variations. Red for women they decided and black for men.(A pointer to colour psychology in gender we presume !). Larger bindis for adults and smaller ones for children. Then they organised the bindis on their house cards in an order which clearly indicated each nuclear family within the household. Neatly stuck bindis : a large red bindi next to a large black bindi followed by a series of small black and red binds told us the about the man and the woman and the number of girl and boy children they had in their nuclear family.

Similarly the children studying in the village were marked by sticking the bindis close to the family and those who were studying in government hostels away from the village figured in a corner of the card indicating the distance they had moved away from the family.

Now each village card has been neatly organised in a separate album. The set of albums gives us the current history of each sangham. This can be updated as and when a change occurs in the family, a new birth and a death, by adding or taking away a bindi. The fact that all these records are purely visual and can be maintained and updated by non-literate persons gives it an extraordinary enabling strength.

These exercises gave an unique opportunity for us to witness the levels of participation and sense of equity that characterise the sanghams. Each persons needs and abilities were clearly analysed and the way forward to that person was designed in a communal mode. Land management was discussed incisively and the amount of investment that lands, both personal and common, was finalised by the women who are all non literate. Most of all, these exercises gave an opportunity for the women of DDS sanghams to take a look at themselves in a collective manner and understand their own strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities.


Community Biodiversity Registers

As a commitment of DDS to the process of fighting the TRIPS through documentation of the people's knowledge of their natural resources, the DDS focussed on documenting the agricultural practices and knowledge of the people. The exercise was designed as a PRA in which the entire village community sits together and explains their diverse crops related the following parameters :

  • The crop varieties in their village
  • Soil type on which it is grown
  • The package of practices like the methods of ploughing, sowing, manuring weeding, harvesting etc.
  • Sowing calendar
  • Pest incidence and resistance
  • Drought resistance
  • Crop duration
  • Methods of storage
  • Medicinal and non medicinal uses
  • Recipes

At the end of these exercises we have a rich tapestry of the agricultural knowledge that lies within the community. We have documented this knowledge in nine villages viz., Humnapur, Boppanpalli, Khan Jamalpur, Hoti-B, Gangwar, Rechintal, Narsapur, Pastapur, Basantpur. We have a target of completing this exercise in all the 75 villages where we work. Once the process of putting this knowledge in the public domain is finalised, the DDS will take the second step towards insulating this fantastic knowledge base of the farmers in its villages from the onslaught of the patent regime.

Environmental Recognition

The members of DDS sanghams have been valiantly fighting the environmental degradation of their region through a series of initiatives like fallow reclamation, afforestation, retrieval of lost landraces, seedkeeping for the community etc. In order to recognise their contribution to the community, DDS has instituted annual environmental awards which are given away in a celebratory function held on June 5th, the World Environment Day.

Those women who have contributed most in the following areas are given a memento and a citation.

  • Nursery raising
  • Wasteland Development
  • Contribution to the Alternative PDS
  • Contribution to the Community Gene Fund
  • Varieties and quantity of a traditional rare seed saved
  • The best land lease operation

Such a recognition for the women at the village level has boosted their morale and commitment to contribute to the environmental enhancement process they are engaged in. This year the MLA of the region was himself present the award was indicator enough for the women that their efforts were being recognised by the State. In the tenuous relations that DDS has with the politicians this was a hopeful sign.

Eco Insurance

The Society took an important step in strengthening people's determination to continue with non chemical farming through the introduction of an eco insurance programme. Under this programme each member of DDS who owns a piece of land is entitled to an insurance of her crops against pest attack. Once germination takes place on her land she is allowed to speculate on the expected yields. The DDS staff working with the sangham and a team of experienced karyakartas triangulate the expectation of the farmer and they come to a reasonable understanding of what the crop could be.

The farmer then pays 10% of the yield forecast that she has made as her premium to the insurance. She receives an Insurance policy entitling her to the sum she has insured. The conditions are as follows:

  • They ensure diversity on their fields. Monocropping disentitles her from being insured.
  • She plants a variety of pest repellant plants and trap crops like marigold, castor, coriander etc at different strategic points on the field.
  • She physically picks pests on occurrance and destroys them in time.
  • If the pest population is high she sprays a couple of botanical pesticides like neem dicoction, chilli-garlic extract etc., all of which she can prepare herself.
  • She uses no chemical fertilisers or pesticides so that the soil health on her land is intact and is capable of fighting the pests.

In spite of all these measures if her crop is destroyed by pests, DDS will pay her the insured sum, to the extent of the crop damage. For eg. if the crop damage is 100% she gets the total insured amound. If it is 50% she gets 50% of the money and so on.

At the moment the insurance is restricted to the Chickpea crop which is one of the most important food/cash crops grown by the DDS sangham women. This crop is highly pest prone and attracts pesticide spray by farmers. If we are able to wean the farmers away from the pesticide treadmill, it will be a great lesson in ecological agriculture for the region. Already other farmers have started emulating the sangham women by resorting to physical picking of pests instead of using sprays. This is not only eco-friendly but also a generator of local wages for the poor women.

Non Pesticidal Management

To extend the non chemical forms of pest control, this year we started a NPM programme which is lead by one of the young boys who started his sustainable agriculture career in DDS. Perma Narsimlu, a graduate from the Pachasaale has taken on this operation. He has galvanised a group of 12 farmers in Pastapur village to come together for this operation.

In collaboration with the Centre for World Solidarity this programme is working on the management of pigeonpea (red gram) crops without using chemical pesticides. Helicoverpa armigera, the dreaded pest on pigeonpea is the largest crop destroyer and in retaliation farmers use heavy doses of pesticides. However the DDS farmers still retain a tradition of non - chemical control of this pest. The programme taken up by DDS has systematically documented these methods along with scientific documentation of the time of pest occurrance, the size of its population, the control measures to be adopted at each stage, the impact of the measures on the pest etc.

Using pheromone traps the monitoring is done at various stages.
This year the results have been very encouraging. With physical picking of the pests coupled with some botanical applications, the pest has been controlled almost 100%. If this trend continues DDS women can make a major contribution to the pest problem in this area.

To sum up, the sanghams have moved into a state wherein they are able to conceive and plan their programmes, administer them and the funds related to those programmes. They have exhibited deep concerns on the issues of ecology, sustainability, community control and shown that they can offer quality leadership in each of these areas. They have participated in national and international meetings in which their articulation of issues have earned them a lot of admiration. With each passing year these women are setting up for themselves a plateau higher than the previous one.

Various components of Sangham programme has been funded by EZE, Christian Aid, GTZ, SIDA and DRDA, Medak District.