Natural Resource Management through People’s Participation

Atul Pandya, Centre for Environment Education

Somabhai Kuvra grew water intensive cotton crop like most others in water scarce Jasdan area of Hingolgadh Sanctuary. With high input of chemical pesticides/fertilizers on his 4 acres land, he found the productivity and returns gradually deteriorating. With the guidance of CEE workers, he experimented with a shift to a mix of custard apple, vegetables and fodder crops. He also set up water conserving structures and a wind pump. By the third year his production and income increased sustaining his livelihood. Somabhai is one of many farmers associated with the Hingolgadh Eco-development Programme (HEDPro) initiated by CEE.

The Jasdan area around Hingolgadh Sanctuary (in Gujarat) is an ecologically fragile, semi arid, drought prone area with extreme constraints in natural resources. The communities in the region mainly depend on marginal farming for livelihood. Lack of information, low productivity and high production cost coupled with poor working capital had for long, forced villagers to depend on money lenders.

About 1,500 families (10,000 people), mainly subsistence farmers from 6 villages, and about 7000 cattle depended on the sanctuary area as the only source of fodder and firewood.
In 1987, CEE initiated an eco-development programme with people in 6 villages surrounding the sanctuary. The objective was to jointly with the community (both willing and able) engage in experimentation to protect the forest of Hingolgadh integral to their environment and their lives.
The approach has been to facilitate processes that enable the community to assess their situation especially in terms of livelihood and conservation needs, to articulate the challenges, and plan the individual and collective actions to address these challenges. For example, a parikrama in 13 villages revealed that watershed development needs to be given utmost priority in this area, linking all activities to the central theme of water harvesting and conservation.

The initial work consisted of soil and water conservation, installation of smokeless chulhas, EE and development of plant nurseries in schools. During the same time CEE negotiated with the park authorities to allow people to cut grass from the sanctuary against a guarantee that cattle would not be let in to graze. In addition to this, the traditional pastoralists in two villages agreed to protect 10 hectares of common land in their villages and develop them as pasture land. With support from the District Rural Development Agency and the Animal Husbandry Department a cattle development centre was set up in one of the villages.

Demonstration plots were also prepared in the villages to promote cultivation of vegetables and fodder.
Over the next few years other environment-friendly technologies and practices were also introduced such as bio gas plants, silage for fodder, and planting of combinations of species suited to the local agro-climatic conditions such that they would yield an optimal mix of income, fuel and fodder. In order to optimize the use of available water and increase productivity, efforts were made to motivate farmers to shift from traditional agriculture to horticulture and farming and the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides.
CEE arranged training programmes, workshops and tours to see places of exemplary work for the farmers. This was the first time that the people got an opportunity to visit areas where fodder development, animal husbandry and soil and water conservation measures, etc have taken place. Here they could see, interact and also get some limited hands-on experience of these practices.

By the tenth year of the programme, there were signs that many of the techniques and practices taken up as experiments and demonstrations were working well, and that the communities were keen on making these regular features of their resource use and management activities. The community and village-level institutional structures needed to make these practices work had evolved and were able to take control of many aspects of the work being done.

Extending the Experience
Early in the programme, the CEE team realized that while the six villages adjunct to the Sanctuary were indeed a major source of pressure on it, villages further out also made a significant impact. With most of the initiatives taken in the beginning having taken roots, the need was felt to extend the programme area.

It was decided to extend the experience of the six villages with nine other villages that used the sanctuary and local resources. CEE team along with villager from the 6 villages went to each village to discuss initial ideas with the community. Interested people were recognized as Paryavaran Vikas Mandals (PVM), these Mandals participated in a learning and experience sharing process. This process helped them develop a more detailed understanding of natural resource management, institutional structures and skills for implementation of action programmes in their region.

The PVMs have organized a variety of activities with in their villages. These include camps with for veterinary health care, medical check-ups and treatment, awareness for ground water recharging. Soil and water conservation activities including construction of check dams have been taken up with people’s contributions in kind and shramadan. Several farmers are using drip irrigation and are forming themselves into irrigation cooperatives.

The villagers have progressively taken control of development activities, through institutional mechanisms such as self help groups (SHGs) and PVMs set up under the programme. The success of women’s SHGs has led to the adding of five more villages with such formations, to the programme areas, leading to a total of 20 villages. Young people and women are engaged in the PVMs which have about 450 members. Though mainly engaged in savings and credit, the experience of the past few years has helped them evolve into local institutions for sustainable management of local resources. They have registered themselves as Community Based Organizations.

Gram Nidhi
In 2004, an eco entrepreneurship initiative titled ‘Gram Nidhi’ was started in 5 villages. The initiative aimed to use microfinance as a tool to establish micro enterprises for marginal rural communities which are both environmentally sound and economically sustainable, and enhance community capacity to effectively manage natural resources.

The Gram Nidhi model is based on four ‘E’ interventions:

  • Economic support (micro finance)
  • Extension service
  • Entrepreneur mind-set
  • Environmental conservation

The difference between the Gram Nidhi model of micro-finance and traditional SHG-based micro-credit programs lies in the holistic sustainable livelihood approach that is being implemented. Livelihood interventions have taken place in four areas: agriculture (including horticulture and vegetable cultivation), animal husbandry, agro-processing and marketing.

Eco-packages consisting of different enterprises are promoted to create a chain of enterprises. By creating a local chain of producers and consumers the benefits of the enterprises stay in the village community. An example is the way organic farming has been promoted in the Gram Nidhi project. Often organic farming is perceived as a form of no-input farming. The type of organic farming that is being promoted in the Jasdan area is scientific, requiring organic inputs, like bio-pesticides and organic fertilizer. Since there is no guaranteed supply of these organic inputs, the initiative was taken to train farmers to produce these types of fertilizers and pesticides. This can be labour intensive and may not be feasible for small-scale farmers. Therefore entrepreneurs were provided credit to start a shop for inputs for organic farming. In this way a chain of producers and consumers is created that benefits the local economy. By-products from animal husbandry and agriculture turn into valuable inputs for the production of organic fertilizers and this more economical way of perceiving organic farming seems very effective.

Another example of an Eco Enterprise that has had a sustainable effect on the community, contributing both to equity and balancing the ecosystem is the introduction of small-scale animal husbandry. This has proven to be a good livelihood option especially for women. In Jasdan, animal husbandry is not perceived as an enterprise nor as a profitable livelihood option. Animal husbandry has decreased with the coming of cotton as a cash crop. Most of the agricultural land is being used for cotton, while this does not provide a residue that can be used as cattle feed. The scarcity of fodder is one of the major obstacles for turning animal husbandry into a viable livelihood. In the Gram Nidhi Project animal husbandry was introduced as a potential for additional income for the women of the household. Traditionally they take care of the feeding and milking of the cattle, but the milk products are only for home use. Through the savings in the PVM the women got the opportunity to buy good quality cattle with a relatively high milk production. Since there is a lack of infrastructure, such as cooling facilities and a distribution network, the milk is processed in to less perishable ghee, which is catered to the urban market.

In 2005 the World Bank under its India Country Level Development Marketplace selected Gram Nidhi as one of the 20 winners among 1500 nationwide entries.

This award within one year of running the programme is a major boost to the rural entrepreneurs who have worked against all odds to improve their socio-economic conditions and set an example for others to follow.

For more information contact:
Atul Pandya Rural Programme Group
Centre for Environment Education
Nehru Foundation for Development,
Thaltej Tekra, Ahmedabad-380 054
Ph: 079–26858002; Fax: 079–26858010; E-mail:

Liliben of Lalavadar village Jasdan block, Rajkot district, heads the Mahila Paryavaran Mandal, comprising of 15 members. She also manages the Gauras Bhandar, set up by her mandal. This mandal sells organic products like cotton wicks, herbal tea, stone ground flour, ghee (clarified butter) and milk-based sweets. “In the last eight months we have sold ghee worth Rs.70000 to outlets such as Asal, an organic produce shop that functions on the Jain principles of Ahimsa. Against the market price of Rs.140, the ghee that we made commanded a price of Rs. 225/-” she informs proudly. She explains the production and quality control process as well. “The ghee is produced by our mahila mandal members, who bought the Gir cow and Mehsana buffalo through loan provided under Gram Nidhi. We ensure that our products are organic, even the cattle feed is organically produced. All of us cross check the quality of ghee produced by each other. We ourselves go to cities like Ahmedabad to establish market links. Though competition is tough, it’s the quality that helps us get orders”, she adds.

Sakarben, of the same village took calculated risks while shifting the ‘production technology.’ Armed with a loan of Rs. 5000/- provided by the Gram Nidhi project she began organic cultivation when she realised agricultural production costs are low. She began by growing pulses and groundnut organically. “Organic cultivation meant that I could not use chemical pesticides. So, I started with these two crops as these are usually not attacked by pests,” she explains. Satisfied with the results, she now plans to go in for organic cotton cultivation as well.

“Even if I am not able to target niche organic markets and sell my farm produce at prices of chemically produced products, my profits will increase as our production costs are low. In addition, my land gets nurtured as well,” she says.

These are some of the small efforts at entrepreneurship, started under the Gramnidhi model which aimed at developing financial and human capital to conserve natural resources leading to sustainable development in these villages.

(Extracted from an article “Angootha chhap to India Inc” written Ms Indira Khurana based following a visit to assess the project)

No comments: