In the hamlet of Kharibandh in Ganjam, a coastal district in Odisha, 13 households of the Sabar tribal community each received title to 400 square metres (0.1 acres) of government land two years ago. The families had lived in Kharibandh for three generations, but had no legal right to the land.
Today, Rabibari Sabar, a 51-year-old widow, pedals vigorously on a foot pump to pipe pond water into her plot of seasonal vegetables interspersed with coconut and papaya trees. As well as feeding her family, she earned 1,500 rupees ($30) last year selling tubers and spinach from her homestead farm to neighboring villagers.
“Simply owning legal documents to the property has brought about amazing motivation and socio-economic transformation,” says Nakula Sarbar, who works with Landesa, a non-governmental organisation based in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. “What was grazing ground and paddy-threshing yard has now been converted into a virtual lifeline during the frequent crop failures.”
Landesa helped tribal families in Kharibandh apply for their plots under the Orissa government’s Vasundhara scheme for distributing land to landless rural families. Tribal people make up about 22 percent of the state’s population, nearly three times the national average.
More than four out of five of Odisha’s inhabitants live in rural areas, with the majority earning a livelihood from small-scale agriculture.