Agragamee is a group of committed activists and thinkers working with marginalized and underprivileged communities in the tribal districts of Orissa,in India. Our efforts at initiating a people-centred development have combined an issue-based approach with programmes for socio-economic development.

Successes and failures

Several villages have taken up this idea, and capitalised on it. The villages like Siriguda in Kashipur Panchayat, Haliasahi in Mandibisi Panchayat, Durkhal in Chandragiri Panchayat, Maikanch in Maimanch Panchayat have been able to mobilise borrowing, check default and build up substantial surpluses, which can see them through a year or two of drought. In the village of Dhurkhal, this was facilitated by helping the villagers to construct a small check dam, which ensured perennial irrigation for the fields.
The most outstanding example is perhaps that of Hailiasahi. This is a hamlet of Mandibisi village. Each and every family here was bonded to the local zamindar (landlord), or the brahmins (priests) of the village. The terms of bondage were inhuman and compelling. The 16 tribal families in this hamlet could not even claim ownership over their llpmestead land. Agragamee intervened, in 1982, in this village to help the members access the government programme of rehabilitation of bonded labourers, along with providing them employment for a short period
A primary non-formal education centre was started, and the children supported a programme of goat rearing. The villagers, who were earning about Rs.30 a year, were able to get Rs 6 a day, which was the minimum wage rate at that time. The people saved the money. They also were able to save grain, which they cultivated on the hill-slopes in shifting cultivation areas. Combined with hard work, the people were able to throw off the shackles of bondage completely, and build up enough capital to buy a plot of land from the zamindar himself.
They, now, have their own homesteads as also a good piece of land for cultivation. More savings helped them buy another three hectares (7.5 acres) of land. The village continued saving in the grain bank. Now, the hamlet of Haliasahi is able to dictate terms to the villagers of Mandibist with a substantial savings of more that 100 quintals of grain in their bdnk. They now have a surplus, which they also lend to other tribal villages, which do not have the success of Haliasahi.
Across the State, in different tribal districts, including Phiringia in Phulbani, Thakurmunda and Sukruli in Mayurbhanj, Tentulikhunti in Nabrangpur, Chitrkonda in Malkangiri, tribal communities have been encouraged to start grain banks with their own initiative. These grain banks have been established to provide the villages with security during the worst periods of food shortage, and also free themselves from the clutches of the moneylender.
Agragamee’s pioneering efforts in helping the marginalized communities develop alternate saving strategies gained much recognition, and in 1993, the UNICEF supported Agragamee for taking up a programme of Food Security in Kashipur block of Rayagada district and Dasmantpur block of Koraput district. The extensive coverage of this programme over the two blocks helped establish grain banks in 700 villages, with the wholehearted support from the community. Out of this, grain banks in 500 villages are functioning successfully, and have made substantial contributions in helping the tribal community climb out of the debt trap. Agragamee’s model of grain bank has gained wide recognization and is being taken up for replication by Government as well as other development agencies.

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