The Juang community, an Austroasiatic ethnic group, exclusively inhabits the Gonasika hills in the Keonjhar district of Odisha. Notably, some Juangs migrated to the plains of Dhenkanal district during the late 19th-century Bhuiyan revolt.
As per the 2011 census, the Juang population stands at approximately 50,000. Linguistically, they converse in the Juang language, a member of the Munda family within the Austroasiatic languages.
Exploring the Juang Tribe
Cultural Identity and Origin
Recognized as a Scheduled Tribe by the Indian government, the Juang community firmly disassociates itself from historical ties with other ethnic groups, emphasizing their status as the original inhabitants. According to their oral tradition, the Gonasika Hills near Keonjhar are their primordial homeland.
Evolution of Livelihood and Customs
Initially reliant on hunting, gathering, and limited cultivation, the declaration of their forests as reserves during the British colonial era prompted a shift in traditional customs. Adapting to these changes, the Juang people showcased expertise in basket-weaving, exchanging their products with neighboring caste villages for essentials like salt, oil, and food.
Traditional Lifestyle and Celebrations
Traditional Juang huts, measuring 6 by 8 feet, featured distinctive compartments. The Majang, a separate hut, served as a guest-house and communal assembly area for boys. The Juang folk dance, characterized by lively imitations of birds and animals, accompanied various celebrations. Notable festivals include Pusha Purnima, Amba Nuakhia, Pirha Puja, Akhaya Trutiya, Asarhi, and Gahma.
Clothing and Rituals
Historically known as Patuas or “leaf-wearers,” Juang women adorned leaf girdles, while men wore small loincloths. Legend has it that the river goddess mandated the wearing of leaves under the threat of death if the custom was forsaken. The Juang arsenal comprised bows, arrows, and slings fashioned from cord.
Spiritual Beliefs and Practices
The Juang’s indigenous religion incorporates beliefs in forest spirits, with sacrificial offerings during adversity and harvests. Rituals include burning the dead and dispersing ashes into running streams. The sanctity of Juang oaths is emphasized when taken on an ant-hill or a tiger-skin.
Table of Contents
Overview of Food Security in Keonjhar District, Odisha
District Demographics and Development Indices
Keonjhar, situated in Odisha, stands as one of the most economically challenged districts in India. Ranked 11th in the District Human Development Index (HDI) of 2004, it comprises a total population of 15.73 lakhs (2011 Census). The district’s social landscape is characterized by a high Scheduled Tribe (ST) population of 28.65% and a Scheduled Caste (SC) population of 17.67%. Concerningly, the child sex ratio has seen a decline from 984 girls per 1,000 boys in 2001 to 947 in 2011.
Literacy and Mortality Rates: With a literacy rate of 60.2%, Keonjhar faces substantial educational challenges. The district reports a high Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) of 59 child deaths per 1,000 live births (2011-12), surpassing the national average of 44. The Maternal Mortality Ratio (MMR) at 24 per 1,000 persons is also above the state average.
Climatic Conditions and Agricultural Dependence
Extreme Climate and Agriculture: Keonjhar experiences an extreme climate, with temperatures ranging from a scorching 45+ degrees Celsius to a chilly 4 degrees Celsius. The district heavily relies on agriculture, with the economy predominantly agriculture-based. However, natural calamities such as recurrent droughts, floods (resulting from deforestation), heatwaves, and epidemics (Malaria, Cholera, Diarrhoea) pose significant threats.
Rainfall Challenges and Drought Vulnerability
Rainfall and Drought Concerns: Despite an average annual rainfall of 1378.20 mm, the district faces challenges in harvesting rainwater effectively due to silted tanks. A slight rainfall shortfall triggers droughts, leading to crop failures. This vulnerability is compounded by inadequate infrastructure for water management.
Socioeconomic Disparities and Food Insecurity
BPL Census and Nutritional Deficiencies: The 1997 Below Poverty Line (BPL) Census highlighted significant disparities, with 34.02% ST households, 23.39% SC households, 41.51% households of agricultural laborers, and 43.54% households of small and marginal farmers. Food insecurity in Keonjhar is primarily linked to economic access, with approximately 60% of children experiencing nutritional deficiencies.
Housing and Food Insecurity: A closer analysis of households with food shortages reveals a correlation with housing conditions. Those residing in no houses or only kutcha houses experience varying degrees of food insecurity. This emphasizes the intricate link between shelter and food accessibility in the region.
In conclusion, the macro-level food security situation in Keonjhar District is multifaceted, encompassing demographic challenges, climatic vulnerabilities, and socioeconomic disparities. Addressing these interconnected issues is crucial for sustainable development and improved food security in the district.
Land Ownership Dynamics and Agricultural Practices in Keonjhar District
Unique Terrain and Land Distribution
Undulating Terrain and Land Composition: Keonjhar district boasts highly undulating terrain, primarily consisting of uplands with limited low lands found along rivers and streams.
Land Ownership Demographics: A field assessment reveals that marginal and small holdings dominate the landscape, constituting 68% of total land holdings. Medium and large holdings make up 10%, while 22% of the population is landless. The increase in population and family size has further fragmented land holdings.
Average Holding Size and Labor Constraints: The average holding size ranges between 0.8 to 1.2 acres, including cases of encroachment. Farmers with large land holdings often leave substantial portions barren due to labor shortages.
Rainfed Agriculture and Subsistence Farming
Rainfed Agriculture and Market Participation: Keonjhar relies predominantly on rainfed agriculture, with subsistence farming as the prevailing practice. Only a small portion (10-20%) of paddy or millet produce is sold in local markets.
Cropping Pattern: The cropping pattern follows the cultivation of cereals and millets during the Kharif season, succeeded by pulses and vegetables in the Rabi season. The absence of assured irrigation facilities like canals or lift irrigation systems adds to the reliance on rainfed methods.
Shifting Cultivation and Challenges
Shifting Cultivation Landscape: A significant portion of communities practices shifting cultivation on hill slopes, especially those without land ownership. However, 10-15% of households lack access to land even for shifting cultivation. Landowners in valleys also engage in shifting cultivation on slopes, where the infertile land, eroded and strewn with rocks and stones, results in low productivity.
Cultivation Methods: Two primary cultivation methods prevail—shifting cultivation (slash and burn) and cultivation in valleys (lowland, medium, and uplands). Paddy dominates lowlands, while minor millets are cultivated on medium and uplands. These food crops hold paramount importance for tribal communities.
Crop Diversity and Importance
Major Crops and Tribal Agriculture: The crops grown encompass cereals (rice, ragi, maize, and millets), vegetables (brinjal, tomato, okra, radish, cabbage, greens, pumpkin, roots, and tubers), pulses (pigeon pea, green gram, black gram, rice bean, chickpea, field pea, cowpea, beans), and oilseeds (groundnut, sunflower, sesame).
In summary, the agricultural landscape in Keonjhar is shaped by unique topography, diverse land ownership patterns, and the challenges of rainfed cultivation, impacting the livelihoods and food security of the predominantly tribal communities in the region.
Cropping Patterns and Agricultural Dynamics in Keonjhar
Dominance of Kharif Season
Primary Growing Season: In Keonjhar, the Kharif season takes precedence as the primary growing season. Paddy and Minor Millets (Ragi, Kangu, Kosala, Suan) are cultivated during this period.
Diverse Cropping Patterns
Typical Cropping Pattern: The traditional cropping pattern in the region involves a mix of crops throughout the seasons, showcasing the versatility of agricultural practices:
- Shifting cultivation on hill slopes during Kharif season.
- Paddy followed by pulses during Rabi season.
- Paddy or Ragi followed by pulses or oilseeds, and sometimes vegetables.
- Intercropping of Paddy, Pulses, and Vegetables.
Challenges and Vulnerabilities
Climate-Induced Risks: Farming households encounter frequent crop losses due to various climate-related factors, including erratic rainfall, flash floods, prolonged dry spells, drought-like conditions, and pest attacks. The majority of cultivated areas are unirrigated, relying heavily on rain for successful harvests.
Indigenous Pest Control Methods: Tribal farmers, practicing sustainable agriculture, refrain from using chemical plant protection. Instead, they employ indigenous methods to control insect pests, pathogens, and noxious weeds.
Agricultural Livelihoods and Labor Intensity
Dynamic Nature of Agriculture: Agriculture in Keonjhar serves as a significant source of employment for households. Livelihoods are not solely dependent on agriculture, and men and women are both actively engaged in farming activities. Rice and vegetable cultivation, known for their labor-intensive nature, contribute significantly to employment.
Annual Work Commitment: On average, tribal communities engage in agricultural activities for 70-80 days each year. This dynamic participation reflects the seasonal nature of farming in the region.
Dependency on Forest Resources
Forest Dependency and NTFP Collection: A majority of tribal households depend on the forest for 2-3 months annually. This dependency involves the collection of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs) for subsistence food needs, medicinal purposes, and income generation through the sale of NTFPs.
Land Rights and Challenges
Forest Rights Claims: Since 2016, tribal communities have been filing Individual Forest Rights (IFR) claims under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006. However, the process has been slow, and only a few applicants have received land titles to date.
Community Forest Rights (CFR): Applications for Community Forest Rights (CFR) have also been submitted, reflecting the community’s endeavor to secure their rights over forest resources.
In summary, Keonjhar’s agricultural landscape is characterized by diverse cropping patterns, climate-induced challenges, sustainable practices, and a dynamic engagement of households in farming activities. Forest dependency adds another layer to the multifaceted livelihoods of tribal communities in the region.
Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) and its Crucial Role in Household Food Security
Economic Impact and Income Redistribution
Lifeline for the Poorest: Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) stands as a lifeline for the rural poor, especially the most economically disadvantaged sections. Its significance lies in its positive income redistribution effect, providing an independent income source to the poorest households.
Gender Dynamics: Notably, women play a substantial role in earning NTFP income, contributing to economic activities. However, challenges arise in terms of economic equity, as women often have limited control over how this income is utilized.
Social and Economic Equity
Support for Vulnerable Groups: NTFPs play a crucial role in enhancing economic equity, particularly for vulnerable sections like widows and elderly individuals without familial support. For them, NTFP collection becomes a significant, if not the sole, income source.
Cultural and Non-Economic Values
Cultural Significance: Beyond economic considerations, NTFPs hold profound non-economic value for forest dwellers. Many of these products, though not reaching the market, hold immense local importance, contributing minimally processed items to daily life.
Socio-Cultural Bond: NTFPs are deeply interwoven with the socio-cultural fabric of tribal communities, symbolizing a profound connection with the forest and its offerings. This connection goes beyond economic transactions, defining the relationship between communities and their natural environment.
Food Security and Traditional Dependency
Critical Role in Food Security: Especially crucial during periods of unpredictable agricultural yields, NTFPs serve as vital resources for ensuring food security. In times of seasonal scarcity, these products become indispensable, addressing both household nutritional and medicinal needs.
Traditional Forest Dependency: Despite limited alternative resources, tribal communities continue to rely on traditional forest dependency. Non-timber forest products cater to various subsistence needs and offer an opportunity for earning cash incomes.
Mahua Flower and Traditional Practices
Cultural Practices and Mahua Flower: Mahua flower, a significant part of the local seasonal diet, embodies traditional dietary practices. Its consumption, storage, and exchange for essential commodities like salt, potatoes, or onions reflect a cultural and economic exchange.
Barter System and Threats: The barter system persists, with forest products sold to local middlemen at low rates. The limited market opportunities, occurring once a week, further shape the dynamics of this traditional exchange. However, there’s a perceived threat to traditional rights, particularly concerning Mahua flower use.
In conclusion, NTFPs play a multifaceted role in the lives of tribal communities in Keonjhar, serving as an economic lifeline, contributing to cultural practices, and ensuring food security. Despite challenges, these products remain integral to the intricate relationship between communities and their natural surroundings.
Impact of Deforestation on Non-Timber Forest Produces (NTFPs) and Gender Dynamics
Deforestation and Decrease in NTFPs
Decade-Long Decline: Over the past decade, both districts have witnessed an alarming increase in deforestation, driven by human interference, mining activities, commercial plantations, and the presence of paper mills. This has resulted in a notable reduction in the availability of various Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFPs).
Mahua Trees Depletion: The depletion of Mahua trees, in particular, is a cause for concern, with villagers reporting a steady decrease in the availability of NTFPs like Kendu, Mahua flowers and fruits, tamarind, mangoes, etc. The rich land-owning class, resorting to collecting from agricultural fields and encroached forests, tends to gather more Mahua flowers and fruits compared to other categories.
Impact on Poor and Landless Communities
Social and Economic Disparities: Deforestation has exacerbated the gap between the poor and the land-owning class. While Mahua trees are scarce in forests, the rich, who have access to alternative collection sources, continue to gather more Mahua flowers and fruits. In contrast, the poor, especially landless communities, dependent on NTFPs for sustenance, face challenges in collecting and selling as much as they did in the past.
Gender Dynamics in NTFP Collection
Primary Role of Women: NTFP collection is primarily the domain of women, who are also responsible for basic processing such as drying, decorticating Mahua seeds, de-shelling and de-seeding tamarind, leaf plate making, and broom making.
Income Control and Gender Disparities: While income from NTFPs tends to be controlled more by men within the existing social setup, women have a greater role in processing and basic management. Greater control by men often leads to non-productive or counterproductive use of income. Conversely, increased control by women generally results in better income management for essential family needs.
Market Dynamics and Women’s Control: The final control over income from NTFPs depends significantly on their marketing. Specific marketing arrangements can empower women with greater control over income, although not surpassing the degree of control enjoyed by men.
In summary, deforestation has not only led to a decline in NTFP availability but has also deepened social and economic disparities. Women’s pivotal role in NTFP collection and processing underscores the need to address gender dynamics in income control and market access for a more equitable and sustainable future.
Economic Dynamics: Barter vs. Sale, Livestock, and Animal Husbandry
Barter Sale Dynamics
Exploitation and Control: Barter sales often lead to exploitation in terms of product pricing. However, it grants greater control to women over income, as consumables are brought into the household instead of cash. Intra-household equity is typically higher when consumables are used, making barter advantageous for women in terms of increased control.
Small-Scale Sale/Barters: Women exercise greater control during small-scale sales or barters, especially when purchasing consumables from local shops. This dynamic contrasts with bulk sales, which usually bring in cash income and increased control for men.
Sale Location and Women’s Control: Sale at one’s doorstep or to local middlemen (Kutchias) allows women to be involved in the process, enhancing their control over the sale proceeds. In contrast, sales at distant markets disadvantage women, as men typically handle the transportation and selling processes.
Impact of Governmental Restrictions on Mahua Flowers
Monetization Challenges: Government restrictions on Mahua flower storage force people to sell a significant portion of their produce, including for cash, during the Mahua season. This adversely affects the control women have over Non-Timber Forest Product (NTFP) income. Changing consumption patterns favoring cereals over forest produce contribute to a monetization process that is unfavorable to women.
Animal Husbandry and Livelihood
Livestock as a Major Livelihood Source: For tribal communities, animal husbandry, particularly rearing cows, goats, and sheep, constitutes a major source of livelihood. While cows and chicks are kept for household purposes, goats and sheep are primarily raised for the market.
Selling Livestock in Distress: In times of difficulty or cash emergencies, families sell their livestock at distress prices either to middlemen, in local markets, or within the community. Meat from goats and chickens is consumed occasionally during festivals and events, contributing to household income.
Challenges in Animal Husbandry
Low Income and Recurring Diseases: Livestock income remains low due to the recurrence of diseases, leading to high mortality and morbidity rates. Poor shelter conditions, lack of access to services like vaccination, and inadequate disease management contribute to the challenges faced in animal husbandry.
Poultry Challenges: Poultry birds, owned by almost all families in small numbers, are primarily kept for income during emergencies. Frequent diseases and limited awareness of disease management contribute to high mortality rates.
Role of Goats: Goats are crucial in providing immediate cash for poor households during periods of need. They are abundant in villages and serve as a valuable asset for the community.
Cultural Factors and Cows: Cows, although available in villages, are not milked due to cultural factors. Instead, they are primarily used as draught cattle, and their dung is utilized as manure in farmlands.
In conclusion, the economic dynamics of barter versus sale, the impact of governmental restrictions on NTFPs, and the challenges in animal husbandry collectively shape the livelihoods of tribal communities in complex ways, influencing gender dynamics, income control, and sustainability.
Household Food Security and Gender Dynamics in Tribal Communities
Dietary Patterns and Challenges
Carbohydrate-Rich Diet: The community diet is predominantly carbohydrate-rich, lacking diversity and essential nutrients such as vitamins and proteins. Meals often consist of insufficient quantities of vegetables and pulses, with rice, salt, tamarind water, and millet being major components. The lack of affordability for nutritious food and low awareness of alternative sources contribute to this dietary pattern.
Dependency on Forest Resources: Communities heavily rely on collecting vegetables from the forest, especially green leafy vegetables. However, with decreasing trees, the availability of fruits, leafy vegetables, and tubers in the forests has diminished, impacting dietary diversity at the household level.
Institutional Weakness and Lack of Awareness
Weak Village Level Institutions: Village-level institutions like Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Youth Clubs, Women’s Groups, Children’s Groups, and Janch Committees are weak or non-existent. Women’s SHGs, where present, often function below par, with many being defunct in the study villages.
Gender Roles and Decision-Making in Farming
Male Dominance in Agricultural Decisions: Men predominantly make decisions related to farming, including crop cultivation, accessing credit, and the sale of produce. Collective decisions involving both men and women are less common but do occur, especially regarding crop cultivation.
Women’s Role in NTFP: Women play a crucial role in the collection, processing, and sale of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP). NTFP-based income holds significance for poorer households, with women being the primary practitioners. NTFP income has a direct impact on women’s economic empowerment, often putting income directly into their hands.
Intra-Household Distribution of Work
Gender Disparities in Domestic Work: Except for fuelwood collection, women of all age groups perform the majority of domestic work, while male members contribute significantly less to domestic chores. Intra-household distribution of domestic work reflects traditional gender roles, with women shouldering the bulk of responsibilities.
Women’s Engagement in Agriculture: Women actively participate in agriculture activities, including transplanting, weeding, and seed storage. In shifting cultivation activities, tribal women play pivotal roles. Despite being engaged in multiple tasks, women’s contributions extend beyond housekeeping to tending fields, rearing animals, and selling produce.
Impact of Natural Resource Degradation on Women
Increased Workload for Women: Degradation of natural resources disproportionately affects women, who spend more time and effort on activities such as grazing animals and fetching drinking water due to the drying up of nearby water sources. Migration among men increases the workload on women, who must manage farming, livestock responsibilities, household chores, and child care.
Loss of NTFP Income: Decreasing availability of Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) results in women losing income, impacting their financial autonomy and contributing to economic vulnerabilities.
In conclusion, the intricate web of gender dynamics in tribal communities influences dietary patterns, economic activities, decision-making in farming, and the overall well-being of women. Addressing these dynamics is essential for promoting gender equity and sustainable development in these communities.
Food Scarce Periods (Hunger Months)
- Landlessness and Small Holdings: Landlessness, marginal and small land holdings, and lack of irrigation facilities contribute significantly to food insecurity in the sample villages.
- Food Insecurity Duration: A major portion of sample households faces food stress for 3 to 5 months in a year. In Keonjhar district, the food scarce months are reported from September to January.
- Dietary Patterns During Scarcity: Poor tribal households mostly consume water rice/Pokhal bhat with salt and green chilies during scarcity. Vegetables and dal (lentils) are often missing from their daily diets.
- Food Insecurity Experience Scale (FIES): Around every eighth household experiences severe food insecurity and hunger. Common indicators include worries about having enough food, inability to eat healthy food, and spending the whole day without eating due to a lack of money.
- Coping Mechanisms: Skipping meals is a frequently used coping mechanism during food insecurity. Consumption of two meals a day is more common than the recommended three ‘square meals.’
Community Coping Mechanisms During Food Scare Periods/Months
- Vulnerable Groups: Women (especially single women and widows), the elderly, people with disabilities, and children are identified as the most vulnerable groups facing extreme/chronic hunger and food insecurity.
- Dependency on PDS and ICDS: Rations from the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) become crucial for obtaining and providing food. Tribal communities heavily depend on local forests for their day-to-day needs, collecting forest produce for consumption and sale.
- Coping Strategies Include:
- Consuming less food and less variety.
- Skipping meals during the night.
- Taking credit/loans.
- Distress migration in search of employment.
- Dependence on free food, relief, and cash benefits from the government and NGOs.
- Migration Trends: Able-bodied individuals, mainly males aged 20 to 45, seasonally migrate from the study area. Migration occurs between the Non-Timber Forest Produce (NTFP) and agricultural seasons.
- Gender Composition: Migration is dominated by individual males, and a large majority of migrant workers find employment as unskilled construction workers.
- Migration Periods: Peaks during March-July (NTFP season), June-July (agricultural activities), and December (harvesting). The hardest periods are July-August to November-December when migration rates increase, particularly during periods of drought.
- Impact on Families: Migrant families, especially women, endure double workloads and face challenges in accessing government welfare schemes and maintaining relationships with local administrations and Panchayats in the absence of the male head of the household.
- Income Sources: The average income of tribal households ranges from INR 10,000 to INR 30,000 per year. Primary income sources include agriculture, casual labor, and remittances from migrants.
The findings highlight the interconnected challenges of food scarcity, coping mechanisms, and distress migration within tribal communities, emphasizing the need for holistic and sustainable interventions.
Support for Livestock and Animal Husbandry
- Vaccination and Health Camps: Regular vaccination camps for livestock, along with health check-ups, can be organized to prevent diseases and improve the overall health of animals.
- Training on Livestock Management: Training programs on improved livestock management practices, including disease prevention and control, can be conducted for livestock owners.
- Promotion of Poultry Farming: Support for small-scale poultry farming can be provided, including the distribution of poultry birds, training on poultry management, and disease control measures.
- Enhancing Milk Production: Initiatives to promote milk production, including training on proper dairy farming practices and the distribution of improved cattle breeds, can be implemented.
Food Security and Agricultural Diversification
- Promotion of Nutrient-Rich Crops: Encourage the cultivation of nutrient-rich crops, diversifying beyond traditional crops, to enhance dietary diversity and improve nutrition.
- Fish Farming: Support for fish farming activities, including construction of fish ponds, distribution of fingerlings, and training on fishery management, can be provided to communities.
- Community Grain Banks: Establishing community grain banks to ensure food security during lean periods by storing surplus grains and distributing them when needed.
Strengthening Community Resilience
- Climate-Resilient Agriculture Training: Conduct training programs on climate-resilient agriculture practices, emphasizing water conservation, soil health, and sustainable farming techniques.
- Community-Based Disaster Preparedness: Build community capacity for disaster preparedness and response, including developing early warning systems and organizing mock drills.
- Access to Government Schemes: Facilitate access to government development schemes and programs, ensuring that communities are aware of and able to benefit from available resources.
- Networking and Federating Groups: Facilitate the networking and federation of women’s groups, youth farmer groups, and other community-based organizations at the Gram Panchayat and Block levels.
Monitoring and Evaluation
- Regular Impact Assessment: Implement a robust monitoring and evaluation system to assess the impact of interventions, ensuring continuous learning and improvement.
- Feedback Mechanism: Establish a feedback mechanism involving the local community to gather insights, assess the effectiveness of interventions, and make necessary adjustments.
- Knowledge Sharing: Organize regular knowledge-sharing sessions, workshops, and exposure visits to share best practices, experiences, and lessons learned.
The proposed interventions focus on creating sustainable livelihoods, enhancing agricultural practices, promoting community resilience, and ensuring food security. A holistic approach that addresses social, economic, and environmental aspects is crucial for the well-being of tribal communities in the region. Community participation, capacity-building, and leveraging local resources will be key elements in the successful implementation of the proposed initiatives.