GANJAM, India (AlertNet) - Efforts to secure land ownership for tribal people in one of India’s poorest states are bolstering their economic security in the face of climate-induced hardships, and helping conserve farmland and forest.

In the hamlet of Kharibandh in Ganjam, a coastal district in the eastern state of Orissa (now officially called Odisha), 13 households of the Sabar tribal community each received title to 400 square metres (0.1 acres) of government land two years ago. The families had lived in Kharibandh for three generations, but had no legal right to the land.

Today, Rabibari Sabar, a 51-year-old widow, pedals vigorously on a foot pump to pipe pond water into her plot of seasonal vegetables interspersed with coconut and papaya trees. As well as feeding her family, she earned 1,500 rupees ($30) last year selling tubers and spinach from her homestead farm to neighbouring villagers.

“Simply owning legal documents to the property has brought about amazing motivation and socio-economic transformation,” says Nakula Sarbar, who works with the Rural Development Institute (RDI), a non-governmental organisation based in the state capital, Bhubaneswar. “What was grazing ground and paddy-threshing yard has now been converted into a virtual lifeline during the frequent crop failures.”

The RDI helped tribal families in Kharibandh apply for their plots under the Orissa government’s Vasundhara (“possessor of wealth”) scheme for distributing land to landless rural families. Tribal people make up about 22 percent of the state’s population, nearly three times the national average.

More than four out of five of Orissa’s inhabitants live in rural areas, with the majority earning a livelihood from small-scale agriculture.

The occurrence of droughts and floods in the state has almost doubled since 1999, and their intensity has increased - a trend experts believe is driven by climate change. Farmers who were already struggling have been hit hard by the extreme weather.

“In 2010, some paddy had been harvested and left in the field to dry while the rest was being cut, when unexpected rains in October flooded this region for eight days, and swept away the season’s entire produce,” says Binaya Kumar Das, a revenue official who settles land titles in the area.

You can read the full article, including the sections "Access to loans, compensations and homes", "Less migration" and  "Protecting forest land" on AlertNet

Manipadma Jena is an environmental journalist based in India. She can be reached at: This story is part of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

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