Showing posts with label Tribal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tribal. Show all posts

July 18, 2018

Araku Valley takes baby steps to address maternal health

An initiative to reach healthcare services to pregnant women and new mothers in the underdeveloped Araku Valley, bordering Odisha's Koraput district, has seen a measure of success in tribal communities ruled by superstition and regressive practices

In a lively anganwadi or daycare center in Godiguda village, an auxiliary nurse midwife (ANM) conducting health check up of over 10 women, some pregnant and others lactating, reflected the changing scenario in maternal and child health in the Araku Valley of Andhra Pradesh.

Traditionally, delivery cases handled by a dhai, elderly women from the village or the community, being the practice, and pregnant women visiting a medical or a doctor considered an act against norm, pregnant mothers had to submit themselves to their fate despite high rate of maternal and neonatal mortality in the valley, Malati (35), who has decided to go for an institutional delivery for her sixth child, told

Since undergoing family planning surgery, using contraceptives and an abortion by choice are all considered sins against humanity, multiple pregnancies up to five-six children is quite common across the valley inhabited mostly by tribal people.

To add to the plight of women were the rough terrain and lack of communication facilities to reach the government primary and community health centers in times of urgency.

Awareness the key

“In a predominantly tribal society ruled by stigma and superstitions, influencing behavior to make these women folks attend regular health check up during pregnancy and opt for institutional delivery was a herculean task,” Pramila, a girl from the Araku Valley who works as ANM in the Asara tribal health project of Piramal Swasthya, told

Piramal Swasthya works in coordination with the government system to make health services available to tribal communities, particularly pregnant and lactating mothers and their newborns, in times of need. “Despite being from the local communities, we were threatened initially by a few male members for misleading the pregnant women by suggesting them to go for medical check-up and institutional delivery,” Pramila said.

If the mothers and their newborns were to be saved, bringing awareness on maternal and child health, possible complications during pregnancy and benefits of institutional delivery were essential. This idea drove Pramila and her colleagues like P. Padma to reach out to people, trace pregnant mothers and motivate them as well as other family members, such as the husband and elderly members, to avail health services for a safe delivery.

Now, most of the pregnant women like Malati of Godiguda and Vasanta (35) of Muliagalagu are not only coming for health checkup and consuming iron folic tablets as well as other nutrient supplementations, but also have decided to go for institutional delivery. “Earlier, we were unaware of the benefits of institutional delivery,” Vasanta said.

Making services accessible

However, accessing public health facilities was an issue for most hamlets. One had to walk miles through rough terrain to reach a paved road and get an ambulance to a health center. The time required to reach a hospital always remained crucial to pregnant mothers.

In order to make the facility reach people in need, a mobile hospital service with all facilities to handle a delivery case has been started under the Asara project. “Many pregnant mothers from remote hamlets who were at the last stage have delivered their babies in the mobile hospital vans,” T. Swarnalatha, program manager of the project, told

While the ANMs visit every hamlet to attend the pregnant mothers, the telemedicine centers with necessary equipment, nurses and a doctor work as the points for periodical health checkup, necessary treatment and expert consultation through teleconferencing. Mothers diagnosed with diseases that need further treatment are referred to government health care centers or district hospitals.

“Most mothers come with anemia and diseases like malaria and hypertension,” said medical doctor Sanmukha Reddy of Dumbriguda telemedicine center.

Nutrition-related challenges

As is the case with tribal communities of India, “anemia is most common among pregnant mothers and children of the Araku valley,” nutritionist Sweta Kuralla of Nandivalasa nutrition hub, a center under the Gosthani project to deal with nutrition-related issues, told

About 88.9% of adolescent girls are anemic, 17.8% being severely anemic. Highest prevalence was seen in the age group of 12-13 and 14-15 years that is 85% and 86.5% respectively, says a study on anemia among adolescent girls in the tribal areas of Visakhapatnam district in Andhra Pradesh.

According to National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), 60% of women in Andhra Pradesh have anemia. Malnutrition being particularly common in the younger age groups of the scheduled tribes, 59% of children between the ages of 6 and 59 months are anemic. Girls are more likely than boys to have anemia.

While tribal mothers have high rates of anemia, and girl children receive less than the desired nutritional intake. All told, the whole tribal community is deficient in adequate food intake, says a report on reproductive health status, issues and concerns of tribal women.

Nutrition hubs

The nutrition hubs work to address the issue of undernourishment among pregnant women and children. Apart from advising them to take iron folic acid tablets during pregnancy, as provided by the government, “mothers are told to consume variety of vegetables, leaves and ragi in different forms for adequate micro-nutrient supplementation,” Kuralla said. “The nutrition hub trains the community on how to grow leaves and vegetables and prepare different types of foods for better nutrition.”

After years of efforts, “during pregnancy, women are now taking iron folic tablets,” Golleri Lakshmi, the accredited social health activist (ASHA) at Godiguda village, told

However, there are many issues to be overcome for sustainability of the changes that have come after the interventions.

Child marriage

The primary social issue in the valley is child marriage. As per NFHS-4 data, in rural Visakhapatnam, 34% of women between 20-24 years of age married before 18, and at least 10.5% of women between15-19 years of age have either become pregnant or become new mothers.

The scale of child marriage and early motherhood could be higher in tribal population. At least three in every five marriages involve brides below 18 years of age. “Normally girls in the communities marry after 14 years of age,” B. Abhiman, a political worker in Araku valley, told

It is established that girls aged 15-19 are twice as likely to die in childbirth than women in their 20s, and girls under 18 face a higher risk of pregnancy-related injuries such as fistula. Infants born to early adolescent mothers have a three-fold higher risk of post-neonatal death compared with adult mothers, studies found.

Need for education

Promotion of education among girls of tribal communities can address the issue and minimize the risk of child marriage and early pregnancy, says UN report, The Girl Child. In Visakhapatnam, female literacy in the tribal population has remained 34.67% only, according to the statistical abstract of Andhra Pradesh government. Rate of girls completing 10 or 12 years of education is abysmally low.

In regard to nutritional status of newborns, it is believed that the newborn must not be fed with the first milk of the mother, which deprives the child from highly nutritious colostrum and the antibodies the first milk contains. Apart from this, the tribal people of the valley do not consume cow milk, believing that it’s for the calves only.

Encouraging outcomes

Changing customary and normative beliefs and practices take time, said Vishal Phanse, Chief Executive Officer of Piramal Swasthya. “However, through the interventions so far in coherence with the government and district administration and by making use of technology for social good and development in public health sector, maternal mortality rate in all registered cases in the valley has come down to zero,” Phanse told

This is despite the fact that Visakhapatnam district has a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 115 per 100,000 registered live births. “Our focus is now on improving the status of health of adolescent girls,” he added.

Once restricted to their communities, pregnant tribal women are now showing interest in medical check-up, taking medicines and nutritional supplements, and in institutional delivery for their own safety and the health of the child, Vasanta, a pregnant mother of Muliaguda village said.

“Covering 181 villages under the Asara project, we deal with 250-300 cases of pregnant mothers almost every time,” said T. Swarnalatha, the program manager.

Changing scenario

Overall, the scenario is changing. Women have understood the benefits of modern healthcare facilities. As the women and others in the communities are changing their minds, the government mechanism has also become active to respond to health related issues of women, B. Abhiman said.

“Tribal women in the valley have become conscious about their health during pregnancy, a safe delivery and the health of their babies,” Sanmukha Reddy said.

Other than the issues like child marriage, education of girls and normative beliefs left to be addressed through a holistic approach to make the impacts sustainable, results of intervention in the arena of maternal health and nutrition in Araku valley, on the northern edges of Andhra Pradesh bordering Odisha's Koraput district, have no doubt made it a model for wider replication across tribal India.

This report first appeared at the VillageSquare on July 16, 2018.

November 04, 2016

Indigenous farmers are developing climate resilient agriculture

To face the challenges of climate change, indigenous farmers in India are innovating traditions: developing climate resilient agriculture to feed their families

KBK is the short form referring to the region comprising the Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput districts of India’s eastern state of Odisha. News on acute poverty leading to child-selling and starvation deaths in the region prompted Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to visit these districts in the 1980s and inaugurate several poverty alleviation schemes. None of them, however, have performed well.

With deforestation and climate change making agriculture difficult and threatening the future of food safety, many farmers have quit farming to migrate as daily wage labourers. But the tribal communities of the KBK region have responded to the challenge by developing innovative climate-resilient farming to achieve food security and guarantee income while allowing the ecosystem to rejuvenate.

Shifting cultivation, the main culprit

The region, now divided into eight districts, has a tropical geography and is inhabited by several indigenous communities. Shifting cultivation is the traditional agrarian practice. Under this system each family selects a patch of land on a hill, prepares it for cultivation using the slash and burn method (where the existing plants and shrubs are cut and the patch set on fire to burn the remnants), then abandons it after two-three years to shift onto another patch.

As shifting cultivation areas have expanded with population growth, this has led to deforestation and soil erosion, reducing the fallow cycle and causing significant damages to the ecosystem. Mining, industrialisation and other development activities have worsened the situation.

The brunt of climate change

“Seasonal cycle and rainfall patterns are disturbed now,” according to Jaimatee Majhi, resident of hillside village Dandabad in Rayagada district, commenting the effects of climate change in the area. “It’s either scanty leading to dry-spell or extreme rainfall causing flash floods. Agriculture faces the brunt and we lose”.

The rain-fed crop season has been reduced to three months from the usual five as the monsoon arrives late and departs early almost regularly. Saving crops from extreme weather events and natural calamities remains the big challenge farmers say.

Hunger and migration: the social fallout

“Food production being badly affected, hunger is now commonplace, forcing some to live on the brink of starvation and encouraging distress migration,” says Vidhya Das of Agragamee, a non-profit working for development of tribal and backward communities.

“Male members migrate as wage labourers. So female folk look after agriculture now,” Majal Galar, a tribal woman of Koraput, explains. To bring families together, the challenge for these women is to change farming practices, making it viable again.

Climate resilient agriculture, bringing the change

They started with restructuring the upland into family farms and creating a living fence integrating fodder and firewood plants to protect them from open grazing. Subsistence crops like arhar (pigeon peas) and maize began to be cultivated simultaneously with seasonal crops. Income generating trees such as mangoes, guavas, litchis, lemons and jackfruits were added to the farms to fetch income after four or five years. To stop erosion and allow the soil to rejuvenate, the following methods were used: no tilling, no weeding, no inorganic fertilisers or chemical pesticides. This minimised investment and brought down input costs.

The mulch of vegetative waste covering the sown area decomposed into compost to boost fertility of the soil and help it retain moisture at subsurface level to support plant growth for longer periods.

Reaping fruit

Having followed these practices for the last four years, farmers have brought remarkable changes in their lives. Once unable to buy pulses and vegetables, Atvari Majhi of Durukhal village now grows millets, pulses and vegetables on her farm to fulfil the nutritional needs of her family. Amika Chalan of Maligaon also generates good income by selling the surplus.

These innovations have changed the status of agriculture to a viable economic activity. The decreasing popularity of shifting cultivation has made space for the regeneration of lost forests. It also shows that eco-friendly agriculture can end poverty and bring sustainable development in communities.

This report first appeared on November 2, 2016, at the LifeGate.

September 09, 2012

Conflict results in displacement of Tribal families in Koraput

While movements by tribal people to restore their rights over the land and forest are taking up to extremist ideologies, the tribal people not accepting to such ideas are becoming the worst victims of the conflict and such extremist movements.

Jambuli Maleka, a woman leader of Bandhugaon block of Odisha’s Koraput district and the Naib-Sarpanch (vice-Sarpanch) of Kumbarput Grampanchayat, was a peace loving woman and always wanted to lead development and live with her community. But destiny had something else to offer.
The supporters of the movement led by Nachika Linga, a radical tribal youth heading the Chasi Mulia Adivasi sangh (CMAS), came to the village Kopakhal and asked the villagers to join their organisation and the movement to ensure rights of tribal people on the land and the forest, as claimed by the CMAS and its leader Nachika Linga. The denial of the villagers made their life horrible with atrocious behaviour and continuous torture by CMAS Members.
“The Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh members came and forced our villagers to join them. When villagers denied, they forced me to tell the villagers to join because I was the Village leader. As I denied, they started beating me and other villagers and threatened us to kill if we do not join them. They tortured our people from time to time as well. So, we opted to leave the place and came here,” said Jambuli Maleka who is now living in a slum in the outskirts of Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha province.
Not only Jambuli, at least 7 tribal families from the same village had to leave their villages and live like refugee in an urban slum after hiding in the forests for about three months.
“These families came here because of atrocious behaviour and torture by one Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh who forced these people to join their movement. As these people denied to join them, the supporters of the movement started torturing these people. They stopped the government rice, old-age pension, electricity and everything to trouble these people. Not only that, people were also beaten to get bed ridden for a week or so and were not allowed to be taken to hospitals,” said Ananta Pal, a social activist who arranged shelter for these tribal families in distress.
The issue has come to the notice of their representative Jhina Hikaka, the legislator who himself had been the victim of abduction by the Maoist extremists operating in the provincial borders of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
‘This issue is there since long. Some have gone to Andhra Pradesh, some are in Koraput. These people have come to Bhubaneswar. I know this and I have talked to the Chief Secretary to sort their problems out’, said the legislator.
However, the legislator has no other way but to try to sort out the issues of these people through administrative interference as because he is not visiting his constituency since the mishap with him for security reasons.
In such a situation, these people displaced by conflict and the movement, that claims to be working for protecting the rights of the tribal people, don’t see a quick end to their plight but to accept and adapt to the harshness of life.
It exemplifies how the growing conflict in the tribal populated forest regions of India has displaced many of the tribal families and converted them into its refugee. While movements by tribal people to restore their rights over the land and forest are taking up to extremist ideologies, the tribal people not accepting to such ideas are becoming the worst victims of the conflict and such extremist movements.
The report was published on September 5, 2012, at the HotnHitNews.

August 22, 2012

Climate change badly affects agriculture, threatens food security in Odisha

Climate change has made the agrarian communities living in coastal, tropical and sub-tropical regions of Odisha its worst victims. The change in the time and amount of rain during the cropping seasons has badly hit the agriculture making it an unviable livelihood option. As a result, the communities’ vulnerability to livelihood loss and food insecurity has increased and Youth of the communities are now forced to migrate as labourers.
From coastal to its tropical regions, people of Odisha living on agriculture, fishing and on the forest produces are now encountering severe livelihood issues as impacts of climate change.
At least six villages Villages around Keluni river mouth, such as Tandahar, Chhenu, Udayakani, Kalamakani, Katakana and Kaanarapur, are threatened in coastal district of Puri because of rapid erosion of the coast combined with a disturbed rain cycle, frequent low pressures and high tidal Waves of Bay of Bengal. 15 km in the north of Chandrabhaga coast near Konark, villages like ‘Chhenu’ and ‘Udaykani’ have already been shifted at least twice in last three decades leaving their first villages about two and half Kilometres in the Bay of Bengal.
Over last 30 years, the sea has engrossed over two miles into the land area that was once hosting villages, community amenities like schools, farmland and grazing land. Now the villages in their recent locations are again facing the danger of submergence.
All six villages are placed between the Bay of Bengal and river Kadua – both meeting at the Keluni mouth. Since the super cyclone of 1999, over 250 families living in the villages live a life of panic fearing tidal waves from the Bay of Bengal and flood water from Kadua River. The villagers also get equally panicked with every sign of a low pressure. It’s not the rainy season only, but the summer is also equally unsympathetic to these villagers. When people start to boil in the temperature and humid, the usual south wind of the summer carries sand particles from the shore and gathers it on the agricultural lands and houses.
‘With coastal climate changing faster since 1980s, we have been living a life of vulnerability. As low pressures become more frequent and intense and the rain pattern gone abnormal and unpredictable, we have lost our basic livelihood source – Agriculture’, said Gandharba Kandoi of Udaykani village in Astaranga Block of Puri district adding, ‘we are experiencing extreme weather conditions through the years.
Extreme weather condition through the year across the coastal Odisha has placed agriculture at the highest vulnerability resulting in loss of livelihood and food insecurity for two major coastal communities like the agrarian and fishing segments of coastal population. While tidal waves flood the farmlands and destroy the crop by increasing salinity of soil and water, extreme heat condition in the harvest time causes severe damage to the one-time paddy cultivation of the farmers who are completely dependent on the crop for their daily basic food requirement of ‘Rice’. On the other side, the fishermen are more often alerted not to venture into the sea for fishing because of low pressure that have become more frequent and intense during last few decades. However, majority of the fishing community is banned to do fishing in the sea from October to April every year as it is the season of mating and nesting of Olive Ridley Sea turtles.
‘The saline water has been our biggest enemy. It damages our crop regularly. As there is no alternate livelihood option available at this place, we are forced to starve only’, said Dhabaleswar Pradhan, a farmer from Chhenu village.
Realising that agriculture has no more remained viable and it’s a trauma gripped life most of the year, many families have shifted to distant places leaving the village, their home land and agricultural land. In their struggle for a standard livelihood, most of them have also landed up in different other states as migrant labourers.
‘Now, almost 50% of youth from each of the villages have migrated out of State as labourers. Even though the old parents need the young members of the family to remain with them, they have no other option but to sacrifice their choice’, says Harihar Jena, a local social worker.
Not only the coastal Odisha, but climate change has also made the agrarian tribal communities living in tropical and sub-tropical regions of Odisha its worst victims. The change in the time and amount of rain during the cropping seasons has badly hit the agriculture practiced by the tribal people like ‘Sumani Jhodia’ who lost her crops last year because of scanty rain during the crop time.
‘There was dry spell in upland paddy fields. Low lands with some irrigation facilities could harvest a little only. So, upland farmers faced a total loss of crop because of scanty rain and dry spell thereof’, said Sumani Jhodia, a Tribal leader and Farmer from Kashipur of Rayagada district.
Deforestation and industrialisation in the name of development has largely impacted the tropical climate across the state. Apart from agriculture, forests have also not remained reliable to the tribal communities and other forest dwellers who mostly live on collecting roots, stems, fruits and other forest produces.
Observing that the climate changed rapidly since the Vedanta Aluminium plant was established on the foot of Niyamgiri hill range, tribal community leader Kumti Majhi said, ‘Earlier there was so much of rain that we couldn’t even come out during down pouring. Now, we believe, because of this industrialisation, the forest does not produce fruits and stems as earlier and the amount of rain has become less as well.’
Social and developmental activists working with the tribal communities of Kalahandi district also believe that industrialisation, leading to deforestation, pollution and unusual carbon emission, has largely impacted the tropical climate resulting in less rain and epidemics since last few years.
‘Ultimately, this destroys the livelihood of the tribal and other deprived communities. For last 5-6 years, we are seeing that the rainfall pattern is being affected due to huge industrialisation in this area. Every alternate year, we are having cholera as epidemic. The rainfall is drastically reduced’, said Dillip Kumar Das, a Developmental Activist heading ‘Antodaya’ – an NGO working mainly in Kalahandi district.
While the amount of rain has come down in the forests and periphery villages, the tribal communities are also experiencing extreme weather conditions in different seasons. When less rain hits agriculture, extreme rainy days further harm it by causing soil erosion in the forests.
The situation is further worse in places of huge mining activities like ‘Barbil’ in Keonjhar district where people are almost forced to abandon agriculture against their will and join as mining labourers. ‘We wanted to continue with agriculture. But the flush water from the hills in the rainy seasons and the mineral dust in the summer seasons have been fatal to our agriculture. So, most of the tribal people have now left their land unutilised and opted to work in the mines or the railway siding sites’, said Bhagaban Chatamba, a tribal leader and former Sarpanch of Serenda. Major companies like Aditya Birla’s Essel Mining and MESCO Steel are involved in mining of iron ore near the village of Bhagaban.
Deforestation and excessive mining activities have their toll on the local climate as well. ‘The rainy season has shifted. Now the rains occur about two months later than usual and the season has been limited to a few days of intense rain or scanty rain harming the agriculture either way’, said Abhay Kumar Mishra, an employee with Adivasi Vikash Samiti, a welfare NGO run by Padmashree Tulasi Munda. ‘Extreme weather added with pollution due to mining has also made people vulnerable to health hazards like Asthma and Malaria’, added Mishra.
Asked about the impacts of climate change on agriculture in most parts of Odisha, an Agronomist with Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Hemant Kumar Sahu said, ‘Due to climate change our agriculture is suffering the most. We are now training the farmer to go for crop diversification - the crops that can sustain this climate change’.
Following the advice of scientists and various policy advocates, ‘many farmers living in the Sea-side villages of Astaranga have opted to raise betel vines instead of doing usual paddy cultivation. Yes, they are earning better these days. But even for their basic need of rice, they are now dependent on the local market as the 25 Kilogram of rice provided by the government at a price of Rs.2 per kilo to each family doesn’t meet their need. Not only that, they are not even growing black and white grams and other pulses during the non-paddy season. So the profit coming from the betel vines are going to the market for other food materials which the people used to grow in their fields earlier! Yet, they are unable to meet the food demands because prices are touching the sky’, says Konark based Social Activist N A Shah Ansari who heads the NGO ‘Young India’ and runs Odisha’s first Community Radio Station ‘Radio Namaskar’.
As it seems, instead of dealing with the issues of the farmers, both coastal and tribal, more sensibly by taking the communities into confidence and picking clues from their traditional knowledge, the government policies rather promote mono-crop cultivation and commercialisation of agriculture. This not only deprives the tribal farmers from growing variety of crops to meet their food needs, but also leave a majority of tribal agricultural labourers unemployed as commercial agriculture requires less labour.
However, Developmental Policy Analysts believe that the communities have their own clues to deal with the issues. But the problem is that their knowledge is never taken into count by our scientific community working in the area which results in a wide policy gap. Seeing a possibility in the blending of imported knowledge system with local knowledge, Vidhya Das, a known Developmental Policy Analyst from Agragami – an NGO working with tribal communities of Raygada and Koraput district – says, ‘Look at the traditional knowledge system and also try to combine more ecologically sound practices, which is the cutting edge technology now. There is conservation agriculture, which is known to sequester carbon into the soil and cut down carbon emissions; there is agro-ecology which is being practised and there are papers and papers being written and Latin America has huge projects on agro-ecology. The Sweden farmers are showing the way for this kind of agriculture. And, if you import that knowledge system and try to combine it with local knowledge, definitely agriculture and the livelihood systems of the tribals will thrive’.
When rising temperature and change in the sea behaviour thereof has impacted agriculture across coastal Odisha badly, increasing human activities and industrialisation in tropical and forest regions have become reasons of climate change and destruction of agriculture practised by tribal communities. Even though some policies have come up in the last years, they grossly failed in addressing the issues due to lack of knowledge about the local situations that differ from place to place. This is why, instead of resolving the issues, such insensitive policies by the government to deal with climate change are badly affecting agriculture not only in the state of Odisha but across the eastern Indian coasts and terrains and pushing the agrarian and tribal communities to food insecurity and, thus, acute livelihood shortage.
The article was first published on August 22, 2012 at HotnHitNews.