Harvesting a brighter future: Ambaji and Suman

In the field article written on the 15 Sep 2011

Suman and Ambaji live in the Katkari community of Tadmal. Thanks to agricultural support from SAKAV, they have been able to stop working as farm labourers in neighbouring villages, and earn a livelihood cultivating vegetables on land they lease in their own village through a barter system, where they pay the owner in dry wood and produce from their crops.

The couple spoke to Oxfam’s Chris Johnson about their new way of life: its successes and challenges.

What was life like here before SAKAV and Oxfam came to help?
Ambaji: Before we started this vegetable cultivation both of us used to work as agricultural labourers in the nearby farms. We used to go to neighbouring villages, work there all day, and come back. But in 2006, SAKAV and Oxfam gave us this possibility of pumps and irrigation pipe line, and since then, we have started cultivating the vegetables.

How is it going this year with the crops? How much are you cultivating?
Ambaji: This year we have just started cultivating the vegetables. Two acres’ land … and along this stream, and we are planning to go for brinjals, cucumber, tomato, watermelon and chillies.

What do you do with the food that you grow? Do you just consume it with your family, or do you sell it?
Ambaji: We are growing piri piri [chillies] in the monsoon, and vegetables in the winter and summer. So we keep whatever quantity we require to consume at house level, and [the rest] we sell at the market. Vegetables also: whatever quantity we require at home we will keep, and other things, we will sell in the market.

Has that increased over the years?
Ambaji: Over the years our income from vegetable cultivation is increasing. In 2006 when we started this cultivation — that first year we got only 20,000 rupees, but last year we got 70,000 rupees from the vegetable cultivation.

Have you seen any changes in climate over the years? I saw some of your crops, some of which had holes in the leaves: is that potentially related to climate change?
Ambaji: There is a change in the rainfall pattern. Previously, up to October, rains used to stop. But now … over the last few years … the rains have stayed up until March. Which is not good — it is actually creating havoc for our crops. So these holes that we saw, it’s because of this changing rainfall pattern.

Ambaji and Suman on the land they are cultivating. Photo: Chris Johnson/OxfamAUS

What do you do with the money that you earn from the market?
Ambaji: We have used this increased income meaningfully and we are going for more land, bringing [it] under piri piri cultivation, vegetable cultivation. We have also repaired and expanded our house, and since my wife is very fond of gold ornaments I have made some ornaments for my wife also.

Could you paint a picture of what your life was like before? What were some of the challenges before SAKAV helped you to raise crops and sell them for profit?
Ambaji: Previously, we used to take this vegetable cultivation, but very small. I used to lift water from the street, then I used to irrigate. But now I have a pipeline, so my life has become a bit [more] comfortable. Also there [I had] very little crop for sale. But now I have ample crop: I can consume at home as well as … sell to the nearby towns … Because of SAKAV I have sufficient resources to invest and I have a good market, because SAKAV helps me in the marketing [of] my products.

A question for Suman: what are the challenges you face, raising children, as well as working in the field to raise crops?
Suman: Eight years back the situation was slightly different. Mostly I used to spend my time with the children because there was a responsibility of bringing up children, so my husband used to work in the farm. Then, after looking after children, then I would come to the farm, I would join hands with my husband in the agriculture work, and then in the evening I would go back.

Now, I have slightly more comfortable life. Morning, we come together, whole day we work together in the field, evening we go back … We also have some goats, so we raise the goats also, so that’s an extra income for us. So we bring the goats along with us in the morning and then we take them back home in the evening.

Want to help other indigenous families like Ambaji and Suman grow their way out of poverty and into self-sufficiency? Please donate to our Harvest Appeal.