It was late afternoon in West Keshordoba village, the winter sun struggling to radiate the remaining heat with all its might. Sitting on a concrete approach road outside her house, Jerima Ekka, with her youngest son, was trying to make the best use of the dying warmth of the sun.
Seeing visitors approach, she rushed to lead them to her house, through an open courtyard so spotlessly clean that stepping on it might evoke a feeling of guilt. But that is how Jerima likes to keep her house, resting on a micro-plot of land located on the plains of Darjeeling district in West Bengal, India. Land that she calls her own.
“I received the land title and record of my rights to the land from the government about one and a half years ago,” she said, producing the documents from a plastic file. Jerima lives with her two sons and her husband, Deepak, a day laborer. It’s difficult for the couple to make ends meet on a meagre income. Their plot of land, however, is a big relief.
Life is improving for the dwellers in the hamlet after receiving secure rights to the land, thanks to a government program supported by Landesa. Jerima and 41 other families in her village have received their own micro-plot of land, agricultural training, and vegetable seeds for cultivation in their gardens.
“They gave us tomato, chili, bitter gourd, and gourd seeds last year,” said Jerima. Produce from the garden helps feed her family.
“We have also learned to do grafting,” she added, a technique for plant reproduction, courtesy of a Landesa initiative.
This year, Jerima with the help of her husband applied her farming skills to cultivate maize in her mother-in-law’s field, since she does not have enough space for this in her house.
“Maize is profitable,” said Jerima, noting it can fetch 9 rupees per kilogram. She hopes to collect almost 1,000 kilograms at harvest time, valued at 9,000 rupees (approximately $140) – a huge windfall in a place where many people live on less than $2 per day.
Like many other micro-plot holders, Jerima also received 20 chicks from the government, along with chicken feed. These chickens sell at a price of more than 250 rupees per kilogram once grown, while eggs can cost up to 72 rupees per dozen at the market.
Jerima also rears pigs, explaining that she’ll sell one next week for 6,000 rupees (about $90).
“The additional income from this micro-plot will help me to take care of my family in a better way,” Jerima said. “Today I can better feed my children better and ensure a better education for them also.
“This land actually solved many of my problems,” she continued. “Today, I have both the hope and the capacity to make my dreams come true.”