CREATE Food Security Project Report
The CREATE Food Security project working with and through farm community organizations to help poor farmers and landless farm laborers to improve their earning capacity and secure increased stability for their families. Global Ministries, One Great Hour of Sharing, Week of Compassion, and the Foods Resource Bank have provided funds for this multi-faceted program.
CREATE, the Center for Research, Education, Action, Training and Evaluation, is a partner of Global Ministries in India. CREATE is working to transform the economy of Thenkarai Panchayat, an agricultural area of six villages in India which are inhabited by poor farmers and landless laborers. By helping both the land-owning farmers and the landless laborers, CREATE is inviting all villagers to work together to improve the circumstances of all. This cooperation is happening through village associations to which all villagers belong and through which all assistance is managed.
The Food Security Program has several aims: (1) Helping small farmers by providing training for the farmers in organic farming methods, helping raise at least two dry crops during drought and lean periods by supplying water for fields, and helping keep farmers free from predatory lending; (2) Helping women to keep cows or be involved in small business ventures like making food preserves and selling snacks, making and selling steamed iddlies (traditional breakfast), and selling fermented breakfast cereal (wet flour) for those who would steam iddlies or make pan cakes at home; (3) Conducting awareness meetings on health, hygiene, nutrition, women’s rights; (4) Organizing special programs for children while monitoring the children’s growth and also ensuring that children are in school.
In Thenkarai Panchayat, small farmers and landless agricultural laborers live below the poverty line. Agricultural income is seasonal and pay is not high enough to set aside savings for off season times. Farmers and landless daily wage earners have to keep looking for manual labor opportunities elsewhere when there is agricultural income. The small farmers have an added problem of needing funds to buy seed, fertilizers, and to pay laborers at the beginning of the agricultural sowing/transplanting season. This forces them to borrow from money lenders at high rates of interest. If the yield is good, then they can repay the loan with interest (they often are charged 30 percent interest over the crop period of 110 days) and have a very small amount left which will still not be enough to take them through the lean period when the land will be fallow. However, if the yield is less than anticipated, then the problem is compounded. Often farmers who produce good quality foods such as rice cannot keep any for their own families but instead must sell it all to repay the money lender.
To address these issues, the Thenkarai Food Security program has made interest-free revolving loans available to the small farmers in the area. The farmers are organized into associations in each of the villages. The revolving loan is rotated among members. This increases their earnings by the 30 percent that they would have otherwise paid the money lenders. An already difficult farming situation has been made even more challenging in recent years with drought followed by heavy flooding which washes away new plantings. Boreholes drilled through the work of CREATE have offset the drought problems to some extent, but it is clear that the growing of crops is being affected by ongoing climate change. Farmers are adjusting by changing the types of crops raised and the timing of plantings. This adjustment also provides more consistent work for agricultural laborers. Wells have helped sustain many farmers and additional wells have now been requested.
Farmers meetings provide regular opportunities for training. Part-time instructors teach farmers natural farming methods. They also arrange for soil testing of each individual farmer’s land and teach about the levels of nutrients in the soil and the optimum amount of fertilizer. The farmers also have taken exposure trips to successful and profitable organic farms.
The CREATE Cow project continues work as well. Some 250 milk cows have been given to 130 women in the villages of Thenkarai Panchayat. Many women’s lives have changed because they now have a regular monthly income. However, the project has not been without problems. A foot and mouth epidemic afflicted the area two years ago. Fortunately, the cows had been insured so when 12 cows died, they could be replaced. However, when calves died, there was not much to be done. In spite of all these situations, the dairy project was doing well. However, serious drought at the start of the past season made feed very limited. As a result, quite a few women sold their cows and, therefore, their source of income. CREATE has encouraged them to deposit part of the sale money into their own association account for the future. Nearly $85,000 US has been invested in this venture.
An offshoot of the Cow project is a Vermiculture project. In Melamattaian village, three women are regularly employed and three men have occasional work in this project, which uses worms to create compost which helps enrich the soil. The worm compost is then sold to farmers at very low cost. In addition to selling the compost, the project also sells excess worms as they reproduce. The income from the project covers the expenses.
Another success story is the Thenkarai Self Help Women’s Association. There are 120 members in the association, which has a revolving fund in which women may invest and which can be borrowed from by women, similar to the fund mentioned above for farmers. The money can be invested in small business ventures such as selling pasteurized milk, making and selling snacks to local shops, and making breakfast cereal flour and iddlies to sell. One association group also has begun working together to make pickles. Through such ventures, the women have doubled the value of the revolving fund.
In summary, CREATE has helped with the wells, cows, and labor opportunities. CREATE has helped 110 farmers out of their indebtedness to the money lenders. CREATE is grateful to all who have contributed toward offering these services to a group of poor farmers, farm labor, and their families.