Bahraich villagers team up for food security on a rainy day
Faced with the influx of jobless migrants returning home and the fear that the government and NGOs may stop assistance once the pandemic subsides and the lockdown ends, villagers in Bahraich have devised their own survival strategy. They have formed grain banks (which run without any government intervention) to help sustain the needy on a rainy day.
Dwarika Prasad, 45, of Kailashnagar village in Bahraich district has donated 20 kg wheat out of the total harvest of over one quintal from his one bigha landholding to the village grain bank.
He and several other villagers of more than five dozen villages of the district have been contributing regularly to the grain bank (anaj bank) set up in each village to help the poor and needy, specially post the Covid lockdown, as villagers think assistance may not come their way then.
When the government imposed the lockdown, a number of migrant workers returned to their villages, feeling they would at least get two meals a day.
“We saw our people coming back with a sense of insecurity and fear, whether or not they would be able to go back and start life again. They were happy that they were with their family now,” said Geeta Prasad of Kailash Nagar, also a member of the anaj bank of his village.
He said the question of their livelihood prodded him and several others to thrash out a solution that could provide relief in the grey days. “The government is taking care of the basic need of food right now but once the lockdown is over, the government will stop the assistance. What will the poor families do then? A month later the monsoon will arrive and no one will be able to harvest crops or get any work anywhere easily. Post the lockdown, the situation may become grimmer,” said Prasad, adding, “We had to think about the future.”
An NGO Dehat, which is active in Bahraich, came up with the idea of anaj bank. “When we came to know about their worries, we suggested running it like a bank. Food will be given to a needy person and he will be asked to donate the grain back during winter crop harvesting,” said coordinator of Dehat Jitendra Chaturvedi. He said committees had been formed in 61 villages of the district and around 106 quintals of wheat had been deposited in the bank.
Pawan Yadav of Chalwa village said, “Initially villagers did not buy this idea but gradually they understood the concept. We are reaching out to farmers who can afford to donate 10 kg of wheat from their farm. Every village has a committee and every donation is accounted for.”
“During rainy days, we have planned to give the grain from our bank to the needy, with an optional rider that he or she would return the same amount of paddy in the winter. We won’t force them to return it but this is an effort to keep this bank alive. Village committee will take a final call on the waiver,” said Karan Kumar Upadhyay of Jamaniya village of Bahraich.
Phulwa, a 59-year-old woman of Lohara village said, “My son worked in Delhi as a daily wager but now he is back with his family.” The woman who has a small landholding of almost a bigha, said, “The monsoon will arrive next month and floods will hit the village. Our landholding is small and that too without any produce. So the anaj bank is a great help to me and several other families like us.”
The land will remain unused, especially in villages which are usually hit by floods in the rainy season. “They will sow paddy and harvest it in December and January,” said Devesh Awasthi, a local youth activist.
He said, “All the NGOs and government agencies are providing all kinds of help these days but it won’t last long.
Many people do not have land; some have empty land due to other reasons.
What will they do after the government stops assisting and social organizations also stop their activities?”
Village head of Kailash Nagar Ramesh Kumar said, “Villagers are excited about the grain bank and those in need have high hopes. Actually this is a transparent model. Those who donate grain can actually see where the grain has been used. There is no interference of the government. This is an effort of the villagers for the villagers.”