A couple’s efforts to make a drough-prone area in Rajasthan child labor free proved to be a milestone victory. Farmers started growing turmeric, in the couple struggled to make the area child labor free.
Dungarpur, in Rajasthan, is one of the most beautiful places in India. But, like other parts of the desert state, Dungarpur is also prone to droughts. Devilal Vyas and his wife Ramila joined hands in 2004 for 102 villages in Dungarpur to become free of child labour. That proved to be a turning point in Dungarpur’s history. Devila is an agro-economist by trade, and Ramila, a housewife. They both formed Jan Shiksha Evam Vikas Sangathan (JSVS), an NGO dedicated to improving people’s lives. They established a project called ‘Mahi Haldi’ through the NGO to bring about a turmeric revolution. They were also able to persuade over 2,500 farmers to make the transition.
Children from low-income households in Dungarpur travelled to Gujarat in the early 2000s to labour in cotton fields because the BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton plant requires delicate fingers for pollination.
The pair, in collaboration with UNICEF and local government agencies, found and rescued 4,200 trafficked children from a neighbouring state.
This win, however, came at a cost. It resulted in widespread adoption of cotton farming in tribally controlled regions.
The labourers, who had moved to Gujarat with their children, used their newly gained knowledge and experience to establish cotton crops on their little plots of land.
Cotton farming yields better profits, but it is a water-intensive crop that requires a large amount of chemical fertiliser to prevent pest assaults. Cotton producers in a dry environment like Rajasthan quickly become indebted in order to pay input expenditures. Cotton not only depleted their cash, but it was also bad for the environment.
Excessive indebtedness, farmer suicides, crop loss, and low land fertility ensued in the years that followed.
To address these issues, the Vyas, who have worked in the social sector since 1975, chose to substitute cotton with turmeric.
Devilal explains why they picked up turmeric, saying, “Many families grow turmeric in their backyards for self-consumption, so increasing the production would be simple. Second, the spice has low input costs, excellent yields, and uses less water.”
He continues, “The mammoth challenge was assisting farmers in transitioning from chemical to organic farming.” It can take months or even years to recover from an addiction, and our lands would be barren without chemicals.”
More farmers became part of the movement, as it spread quickly. As farmers plant turmeric, leaving a vacant space in between, they switched to intercropping methods. This allowed them to plant spices and vegetables in between rows of turmeric. This helped the farmers to ensure extra income and a backup if any of the crops failed.
One of the farmers say she can save more with the extra income which she will use for her children’s education.
With 2,500 farmers practising mixed cropping, with turmeric as the primary crop, JSVS’ annual production exceeds 50 tonnes, which is sold in Udaipur, Jaipur, Ajmer, and portions of Maharashtra. The product is sold to 3,500 Self-Help Groups (SHG), which resell it to customers through local grocery stores.
The decision to sell it locally rather than through large spice companies was purposeful, according to Ramila, who adds, “Local people get organic turmeric at inexpensive rates because buying from stores is not an option.” Due to this everyone is included and SHG members are empowered financially.”