THE official starvation toll: 35. The unofficial figures stand at 200—and rising. It is statistics like these that have spurred the residents of Kashipur in Rayagada (Orissa) to take matters into their own hands. To feed themselves. And they seem to be succeeding. Supported by the troika of Agragame, a local NGO, UNICEF and the state pan-chayati raj department, the Orissa Household Food Security Project (OHFS) aims to "break this vicious cycle of drought, debt and death".
Project director Achyut Das says the thrust is to ensure sufficient food in the lean period—by creating grain banks. During the harvesting season, each family with land under cultivation contributes a fixed amount of grain to the bank. Which can be borrowed at a rate of interest determined by the community.
The effect has been miraculous; nobody goes hungry. Then there are loan schemes such as in Halin Sahi, where the Majhis, a community of bonded labourers, have purchased land for farming on a community basis. Says Ghasiram, a bonded labourer for almost all of his 40 years, today the local PDS dealer: "We are free. Free from hunger and free from the sahukars." And the movement is spreading with districts of Koraput, Bolangir, Kalahandi and Rayagada covered by the scheme.