Aditya Patnaik – dedicates his life to empower Lodha tribes of Odisha through agriculture

Dedicates his life to empower Lodha tribes of Odisha through agriculture

“Protect the forest, conserve the forest and use the forest judiciously for livelihood of Lodha tribal community is the main objective of our organization. We also work towards helping them attain food and cash security by adopting the farming practices most suitable for the available land and efficient use of water,” states Mr. Aditya Patnaik, founder, Antyodaya Chetana Mandal (ACM). It is located at Rangamatia village, Mayurbhanj district, Orissa.

Deeply inspired by Mahatma Gandhi ideology and close interaction with Vinoba Bhave for one year during his college days encouraged him to live life for others and he became a social worker. Since past 35 years he is working tirelessly for betterment of Lodha tribes. Mayurbhanj district is the largest district in Odisha having the population of 2.5 million out of which 63% are Lodha tribes.

Lodha tribe is one of the primitive communities of India. They are completely dependent on forest for their livelihood. However due to deforestation they came under the extremity of poverty that forced them into robbery and theft. Consequently they were assaulted tremendously by the police and local public. The entire community was in horrifying situation and needed a savior. Finally in the year 1982, Mr. Aditya Patnaik, started the sole journey to proffer dignified life to these tribal people through education and agriculture.

Mr. Patnaik had to face numerous problems but determined to help Lodha community he continued to spread awareness on education and encourage tribal to work in the fields and revive the forest. In the meantime he became the first Ashoka fellow in 1982 and used the prize money as working capital for this noble work. “It took a generation to bring out Lodha tribes from act of robbery as habit die hard as adults but children can be developed as responsible grown-ups through education inculcating moral values,” he says.

To begin with the program of life sustainability of tribes through agriculture, first and foremost ACM concentrated on land and water issues. As geographical location of Mayurbhanj district is hill and sloppy in nature, ACM helped the farmers level 4000 acres uneven land under its land reclamation program. “Second the most crucial project was to cope with water scarcity problems. To do so we built water harvesting structures, check dams, irrigation pond, wells and LI points etc in Kaptipada, Kotagarh, Rashgovindpur and Morada blocks. With land and water issues resolved, more than 5000+ farmers were able to utilize their farmland in best possible way,” informs Mr. Patnaik.

ACM encouraged farmers to commercially grow sabai grass and mango trees as it was in alliance with the soil and climatic conditions. In addition few tribal farmers interested in paddy and vegetable cultivation were provided the assistance in procuring and exchanging indigenous seeds. Farming was and is the most appropriate source of livelihood for these primeval communities as they rear indigenous breed of cows. Further they do not milk the cows as it is against their religious norms so, “Cows are asset to them for agricultural activities. We support them in using cow based farming inputs in farming so that the production cost is almost negligible. They had the traditional know-how on zero-cost farming practices but due to deforestation and depressive act of robbery they lost the touch. We help them retrieve that significant knowledge on farming. Besides, by using these natural farming inputs they get an adequate supply of nutritious food for themselves and their families so that their family heath is secured. Certainly the excess of farm produce is sold in the market for cash security,” he explains.

To restore the forest cover, every year ACM develops nursery plants of local species, medicinal and commercial plants. These saplings are then distributed among the tribal folks to carry out extensive plantation program. “It is done to fulfill their need of forest herbs, berries, fuel, fodder and wood. Forest is an integral part of tribal life. Apart for being dependent on forest for their survival tribal communities share a symbiotic relation with the forest thus its importance is not only economic but also social, psychological and religious. Therefore no matter what we have to re-establish the forest for them,” he affirms.

Value addition certainly helps to earn better therefore Lodha tribes are trained to make different forest based products. “Sabai and sal leaves make very good plates so ACM gave leaf pressing machine and trained them to make plates and bowls. Similarly wtih sabai grass they make ropes, with bamboo they make handicraft items and furniture and so on. All these value added activities are done through self help groups. ACM takes the initiative to form these groups and then support them financially and technically for self-sustenance,” he elucidates.

ACM always aspired to set up agriculture based stable cottage industries for the tribal community however due to financial constraints it never took off. “Nevertheless Odisha Government started Lodha Micro projects on similar plans. We extended all our support to them because we ultimately want tribal community to earn a decent living so that they can live a respectful life,” he shares.

Speaking of challenges Mr. Patnaik says, “It was a path of numerous challenges! When these tribes used to go to the market for selling the firewood or other agricultural commodities in the market they were brutally humiliated and exploited financially just because they belonged to Lodha community. With passage of time things are improving but at a slow pace.”

Mr. Patnaik concludes, “ACM started its journey with the fight to proffer dignified living to Lodha community. We had been able to partially integrate them into the mainstream of social and economic development through motivation, child education, balanced utilization of natural resources, community health, entrepreneurship, and through vocational training for young men and women. Support the cause to let the tribes live with grace and come forward in safeguarding our natural resources.”

Contact details:
Antyodaya Chetana Mandal
At – Rangamatia, Post – Patagadia, Via – Rashgovindpur, District – Mayurbhanj, Orissa, India-757016
Phone: 0091-6793-275434, 09437060864
Email: adityapatnaik@hotmail.com , acmm@rediffmail.com