THE DECCAN Development Society (DDS) started its work in 1983 in the Zaheerabad region with the main aim of regenerating the livelihoods of the people by linking crucial environmental and economic factors, to bring about true developmental change in the region. The promotion of permaculture, a variant of organic or nature-based farming, has been one of its main activities.
The society works with small and marginal women farmers, most of whom are Dalits. The women have organised themselves into sanghas, and today there are over 4,000 members in about 75 villages. The establishment of a community grain fund programme saw the regeneration of over 1,000 hectares of land which was earlier lying fallow, and the launch of an alternative market or public distribution system (PDS) that the women own and run. Collective farming was initiated for women with small land-holdings. A community gene fund programme established seed banks in over 30 villages, and induced the revival of over 60 crop varieties. Traditional foods that were once almost forgotten, have once again become common in many of the households. Prices in their PDS shops sometimes differ considerably from those in the regular markets. For example, coarse millets that fetch very little outside, are given a high value in the women's markets. Through all these activities, the DDS has generated the equivalent of over a million new jobs over a decade, increased food availability by 100 to 200 kg an acre, and enhanced per acre earnings by an average factor of 12. And all this, while eliminating the use of chemicals and increasing the use of biodiversity in the fields.
The DDS also runs Pachasaala, a green school where agricultural and vocational skills are given as much importance as academics. Women farmers have also been trained in radio and video production.
While the physical achievements are remarkable in themselves, the social revolution that the society has wrought is perhaps even more significant. There is a quiet confidence with which India's most oppressed category of people, Dalit women, are leading the agricultural revolution... a revolution that even the big landlords of the region are, if grudgingly, beginning to take note of.