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Empowering vulnerable peasant communities

A PROJECT supported by international agencies to address social imbalances in Sindh has helped improve the livelihood of families of poor peasants and other rural households, in areas covered by the programme.

According to the evaluation report, the project has initiated written tenancy agreements between landlords/owners and haris that is a step forward in protecting the rights of the tenants.

Under the just-completed three-year ‘Livelihood Restoration and Protection and Sustainable Empowerment of Vulnerable Peasant Communities in Sindh’ jointly sponsored by Food and Agriculture Organisation, International Labour Organisation and UN women social uplift programme in Dadu and Mirpurkhas districts, 1200 men and 1214 women farmers signed land tenancy agreements with their landlords.

The outcome can be best described in the words of haris in one village, “our lives have changed from making do, to one of prosperity, where we can begin to think of new opportunities”. They also explained that “the real way that we have changed and gained benefits, is through learning to plan and work together in various ways.”

The project was engaged in the formulation of the Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013 to ensure the haris were specifically included as workers. This may open the door for better legal status for them and formation of their unions

In its ground breaking initiative to mitigate oppressive tenancy conditions, the project applied the Sindh Tenancy Agree­ment (STA) 1950 but reached the conclusion: as most haris are sharecroppers, a suitable contract law may be more helpful.

The project was engaged in the formulation of the Sindh Industrial Relations Act 2013 (SIRA) to ensure the haris were specifically included as workers. This may open the door for better legal status and formation of their unions. This law could have profound deep implications for haris.

The project reached all 120 target villages across Mirpurkhas and Dadu districts. Based on a number of assumptions the project beneficiaries were estimated at 11,013 rural families (93pc) including 7,530 hari families (85pc).

The project was designed to benefit the livelihood of some 11,800 rural families in targeted villages located in the command areas of the Daulat Pur Minor-Jamrao and Gorki Minor- Mithrao Canal of Mirpurkhas District and ‘tail-end’ of the command area of ‘Rice Canal’ of Dadu District.

An estimated 64,000 haris and 22,000 non-haris have benefited from the project’s overall social empowerment and capacity building interventions, under its programme ‘to empower peasant organisations, farmers bodies, farmers and women groups to enhance their natural resource base while strengthening their resilience to future shocks’.

Nearly 8,000 farmer families have improved access to irrigation water, 2,400 farmer families and small holders have adopted conservation agriculture technology and practices.

Almost 1000 entrepreneurial men and women farmers increased their income by setting up forty ‘producer marketing groups’, while 1,500 home-based women farmers diversified their food baskets through ‘integrated homestead gardening’ packages.

The project was launched in the wake of the super-floods of 2010 and 2011 which severely affected 970,000 households in Sindh and resulted in agricultural losses estimated at $23bn.

The agriculture interventions ( including irrigation rehabilitation coupled with improved practices) raised crop yields by 50-100pc from previous much lower levels. Off-farm activities, such as vocational training, has seen over 90pc of the graduates earning income from their new skills, while micro-finance has been more effective in supporting off-farm and value-adding activities.

The activities addressing the entren­ched social imbalances have similarly been notable. Women have achieved national identity registration, and begun to access health and social security. They have started to participate in activities previously not open to them; traveling to markets, bargaining collectively to gain higher prices (30pc) and participating in village committees.

The evaluation report says such changes are transformational as they allow the farmers to think about what else they might do and adopted viable farm practices.

By: Amin Ahmed

Source: Dawn

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