Toil, Tribulation and Triumph
'Owners of barren lands that had stubbornly resisted cultivation for generations, Madhuben and Amrabhai Raval had no option but to work in others’ farms as labourers… till Reliance Foundation reached out to their village and helped transform it. Their lands springing back to life, the Ravals are now skilled farmers who take pride in their own farm produce.'
“Rocky, barren lands were the only thing passed on to us by our forefathers. For most of our lives, we worked in a farm in the village of Darbar. While our own lands lay unused and uncultivable, we watered someone else’s green lands and tilled someone else’s soil.”
This is how Madhuben and Amrabhai Raval, a farming couple from Bedaj village in Modassa, Gujarat, describe their lives before Reliance Foundation (RF) came to their village. Toiling day after day on an empty stomach and under hostile working conditions had taken a toll on Amrabhai’s health, and he had been unable to contribute to the household for almost four years. His protracted illness had plunged the family into despair and uncertainty, with his wife, Madhuben, struggling to make ends meet.
Madhuben recollects: “That was the most difficult phase of my life. My husband was ill, my mother-in-law was old and infirm, and I had young children to look after. My daughter and I used to wash utensils and work in farms in Darbar, to earn enough to feed our family.” In addition to hours of back-breaking labour, Madhuben had to trudge three miles to a nearby village every day, to fetch drinking water for her family.
The Raval family lived in a small kuchcha house, and owned a 1.25-hectare plot of land – quarter hectare of this plot was partly irrigated, a half-hectare stretch was rain-fed and another half hectare was utterly barren. Farming on the 0.75-hectare sliver of land was completely dependent on the rains, and the family only managed to grow maize in pitiful quantities. Selling that along with some fodder, Madhuben managed to earn only Rs 36,000 a year.
Living life on the margins of her village’s farming community, Madhuben dreamt of farming on her half-hectare patch of fallow land.
In the first year of its presence in the village, RF focussed on measures to store rainwater. Nine new check-dams were built, while an existing pond was deepened through RF intervention. After years, village wells were full again. Hand pumps were also installed with RF support. These measures simplified life for Madhuben, who no longer had to walk miles to fetch drinking water for her family.
Supported by RF, the village association established in Bedaj helped Madhuben transform her 1.25-hectare farmland. “As many as 150 trolleys of black soil were applied to my half-hectare stretch of fallow land, and for the first time, I could cultivate fodder on it through village mandal support. In winter, I harvested 1,500 bundles of fodder, which I could use to feed my cattle.”
The RF team helped Madhuben apply deep-ploughing and border-bunding techniques to increase soil health and prevent erosion, and provided her with high quality seeds for improved yields. Thanks to these interventions, the Ravals could grow castor, a cash crop, on a half-hectare patch and wheat on 0.3 hectares of land. With the Rs 27,000 that the castor crop fetched them, the family repaired their kuchcha house. The family’s annual income shot up from Rs 36,000 to Rs 1,04,200.
The RF team also helped Madhuben set up a Reliance Nutrition Garden in her own backyard, which became a steady source of fresh green vegetables for her family, contributing to their health and well-being. Amrabhai, who was elected the representative of the village association, says, “For the last one-and-a-half years, we haven’t spent a single rupee on medicines and doctors. Including vegetables in my daily diet helped me regain my health. Having access to our own vegetables also helps us save time and money.”
Freed from the daily grind of wage labour, Madhuben now lives life on her own terms. She aspires to build a pucca house, and pay for her daughter’s wedding. Her son who is now 20-years-old, works at a local provision store, adding Rs 3,000 to the family kitty every month. Secure about her family’s future, she now nurses an ambitious plan of developing a horticulture model in her farm.