Where Change Begins
Bali Sabar’s journey from unemployed youth to village savior began in a humble but powerful meeting.
It was at this meeting that officials from the Odisha state government with the assistance of Landesa arrived at a solution to the state’s chronic staffing shortages that had hampered their anti-poverty efforts.
Government studies had found that two million families in the state had absolutely no land or insecure rights to the land that they tilled. These poor families are among the poorest of the poor. Often, they live on the fringes of society, unable to send their children to government residential schools, and unable to participate fully in society by virtue of the fact that they have no title or proof of permanent residence. Finding and serving these families, who often live in remote hamlets far from main roads, was a herculean job that daunted state officials.
The solution involved training unemployed youth, like Sabar, in rural areas to help understaffed government departments identify the poor and landless in their communities and then assist the officials in moving these, often illiterate, families through the labor intensive process of obtaining a secure title to the land they till.
Sabar identified 11 families in his hamlet who, for generations, had been living on and farming government land. Unable to invest in the land to improve it because they lacked ownership rights, these families were the area’s poorest. Their children could not attend middle school because their families were unable to show proof of a permanent address, and the parents were unable to access a wealth of welfare program offered by the state – again because they lacked proof of a permanent address.
“Bali is debaduta (God’s emissary) for us,” said Gururbari, one of eleven women in his village who is now a proud landowner.
Sabar and the other youth who have been trained to act as Community Resource Persons (CRP), receive an honorarium for their service. The 27 CRPs trained thus far, have identified 1,270 families who are eligible to participate in the government program that allows them to take ownership of the government land they have been living on and farming for generations.
“I am thrilled to see women growing vegetables in their own plots with no need to buy them from the market,” said Sabar. “Nothing can be more satisfying than what I am doing.”
Odisha officials, in partnership with Landesa and a government affiliated project called the Odisha Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Program will be rolling out this program in 1042 rural villages with the goal of eliminating the landlessness which has trapped millions in Odisha alone in a generational cycle of extreme poverty.
The program is a good example of how Landesa works with governments to access the needs and challenges of both the poor and government officials and then develop programs that can help the government deliver secure land rights and related services to the poor—helping bring opportunity to the world’s poorest families.