This overgrazed and deforested pasture land was, in November 2010, divided into small tennis-court sized parcels of land, and distributed to 56 poor landless families as part of a partnership between Landesa and the government of West Bengal, India. On their small patch of Eden, each family built a house, and planted a kitchen garden to provide their family with food and income. In just over a year, and with minimal agricultural training, the families have transformed the land and their lives.

The families receive agricultural training to ensure they make the most of their land. Here, Jelekha Bibi tends her kitchen garden, planted at the foot of the still young timber trees.

The families work to ensure every square inch of their micro-plot is put to use, even the roofs. Here Phulti Barman tends to the gourd plants growing on her family’s roof.

Here, Jelekha Bibi and Ramjan Ali, who received a micro-plot of land in November 2010, begin to sow their kitchen garden.

This is the same plot today. The trees are a tangible expression of the family’s aspirations. Some are fruit trees, others are grown for timber and when cut down will provide the family with a financial windfall. These timber trees, homegrown college funds, are replaced with new seedlings for the next generation.

Anita and Uttam Sarkar with their two children, were one of the 56 families who received a parcel. In this photo, they stand next to a bamboo pole that delineates one corner of their new property on the day they received legal title to their micro-plot.

This is Anita and her two children standing in the same spot a year later. The family has poured their sweat equity into their new land and created a verdant kitchen garden. Fruits, vegetables and hope have all taken root.

Today, the verdant green of Adrashnagar village stands in stark contrast to the overgrazed land around it.

2012-07-10

Co.Exist

How Small Plots Of Land Helped Lift An Entire Indian Village Out Of Poverty

Land ownership is an important factor in getting people on an upwardly mobile path. But how much land do you need to own? Less than you would think.

The majority of the world’s poor share three traits: they live in rural areas, they rely on the land to survive, and they don’t have rights to that land. In India, the government has in the past tried to give out entire farms to the poor--but there were just too many people and not enough money. Landesa, an organization that helps families around the world secure land rights, is stepping in with a more practical solution: microplots of land.

"Microplots were our tool to allow governments like India to help the poorest of the poor without breaking their bank and giving more land than they have in the entire country," explains Rena Singer, senior communications manager at Landesa. By working with government partners, Landesa has secured rights for over 430,000 families in India--including everyone located in a brand-new village in West Bengal.

The village of Adarsanagar didn’t exist until two years ago, when Landesa and the Indian government worked together to bring 56 poor, landless families into the area. Each family has its own microplot of land. "The program that we helped design involves the government buying land on the private market in a place where there are landless families and involving the landless families in identifying that land," says Robert Mitchell, senior director of program quality and learning at Landesa. "The idea was to create a colony because for various reasons people prefer to live together rather than apart from one another, and it makes sense to purchase land this way because it’s much more efficient."

Everyone in the village owns a tennis court-sized piece of land--big enough for a home, some small livestock, a garden, and trees. Generally, Landesa prefers for the microplots to be about a tenth of an acre, but in certain areas they can be as small as half of that.

The villagers’ lives have changed dramatically since they were given their land. They’re eating two or three times a day instead of once, women are able to launch home businesses (impossible previously because they were living doubled up with relatives or in a landlord’s house), and all the kids in the village are going to school. The microplots also give villagers negotiating power with employers. In the past, they often lived on their employers’ land, so they couldn’t ask for raises (the landlord would just tell them to go somewhere else). Now they can.

"The intention here is not to provide families with a complete livelihood. It’s a foothold out of poverty," says Mitchell. "If a family falls on even leaner times, having this plot of land gives them some food security that they can fall back on and a cushion against economic shocks."

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