Migrant workers on a construction site in New Delhi on Jan. 28. Caritas is helping farmers avoid becoming migrants with a new agriculture program. (ucanews.com photo)
Mass migration from India's villages to major cities has challenged church workers to help people find farming methods to end their hunger and earn a better living.
In several northern Indian villages, Caritas India has started the Agrarian Prosperity Program (APP) to provide villagers with alternative sources of income and to check economic migration.
The APP started in 2011 in the villages of Jharkhand state in eastern India. It focuses on crop diversification and rotation to help villagers have an improved diet and food throughout the year.The program is active in 10 tribal villages of Gumla district in Jharkhand, a state considered to produce the majority of India's village migrants.
Official data shows India has 309 million internal migrants; most travel to cities in search of jobs, according to 2007-2008 statistics from the National Sample Survey Office.
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At least 5 million people migrated to cities from Jharkhand in search of better jobs between 2001 and 2011.
Caritas introduced farmers to new techniques such as organic farming, a system to preserve indigenous seeds besides intensifying activities to save water such as renovation and construction of check dams, ponds, tanks and wells.
They formed self-help groups and farmer clubs to empower women and build the capacity of farmers to create better livelihood opportunities. It also encouraged them toward animal husbandry and cultivating kitchen gardens to create food security and increase income.
Pradipta Kishore Chand, a Caritas officer, told ucanews.com that farmers are now producing food year-round. Earlier, they used to produce only paddy and had only 4-5 months of food security.
The second crop was a dream made possible with the help of district authorities and regional agricultural universities who helped provide knowledge and weather-friendly crops to improve village farming, he said.
Chand said the program's success can be gauged from results showing that out of 10 villages where it was implemented, migration has completely stopped in two: Orbenga and Kurum, and considerably reduced in others.
Farmer Goshnar Gudia from Orbenga village said, on his 1.2-hectare plot, he used to practice rain-fed agriculture and, during the off-season from November-April, he used to travel to cities to do odd jobs.
Gudia is now able to save money because he has been able to start growing vegetables, pulses and maize during the off-season to supplement his income.
"Farming was expensive as we used hybrid seeds and chemical pesticides. Now, we do organic farming and use indigenous seeds which is economical and provides profit," he said.
Balku Singh from Kurum village is in a similar situation. When his 1.5 hectares turned barren due to lack of water, he turned firewood seller or migrant worker and sustained himself on potatoes and rice. Now his annual income has doubled to some US$315.
"The objective of Caritas India is always reaching the unreached with development initiatives," said Frederick D'Souza, executive director of Caritas India.
He told ucanews.com that villages lacked gainful engagement but now people are engaged and cultivating multiple crops year-round along with having additional income."