A griculture is critical to India and its wellbeing, not just because it contributes 16% to the country’s GDP, but also because more than half of the Indian populace depends on it for a livelihood.
Poor crop yields, low agricultural incomes and small land holdings are among the reasons why most of those who farm for a living are in a sorry state. The vast majority of India’s farmers own small plots (less than two hectares), follow outdated methods of cultivation and are dependent on the monsoon for irrigation. Depressed agricultural productivity translates into stressed living conditions in rural areas, leading to urban migration, which in turn leads to unplanned growth and poor living and working conditions in the country’s cities.
Tata Trusts is striving to change this scenario by getting to the root of the issue. Sustainable development of marginalised communities is a focus area under the rural uplift portfolio of the Trusts. “Our focus is sustainable rural livelihoods,” says Arun Pandhi, director of programme implementation at Tata Trusts.
Rural uplift projects supported by Tata Trusts encompass sustainable natural resource management, agriculture, water and sanitation, micro-finance, rural entrepreneurship and business development. Says Mr Pandhi: “We have end-to-end projects allied to agriculture. We look at production and organising communities around that, creating structures, linking them to markets, and developing value chains, so that people get better returns for what they are doing.”
The right kind of backing and knowledge can prove vital for sustainable growth. Tata Trusts ensures guidance not just for farmers, but also community-based institutions such as self-help groups. “We have a large affirmative action programme and the idea is to ensure that farmers do well despite having small pieces of land,” says Mr Pandhi. “We look at issues like making land much more productive, getting more ‘crop per drop’ or a higher yield, and market linkages for horticulture and vegetable crops. We want the farmers to earn much more from what they have.”
Most of Tata Trusts’ programmes are run in partnerships with state governments and linked to schemes funded by the central government. They span the length and breadth of India and are customised to local requirements. The Trusts’ Central India Initiative focuses on tribal communities and aims to support 101,000 households in a sustainable manner. The North East Initiative concentrates on Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Reviving the Green Revolution is operational in Punjab and Tamil Nadu. A diversion-based irrigation initiative, which has been implemented across eastern India and Maharashtra, is the setting for a water and agricultural project.
These initiatives have shown results on the ground. “Distress migration is a thing of the past in many places thanks to our interventions over the last 20 years,” says Mr Pandhi. “We have a lot of examples in Jharkhand, Odisha, parts of Maharashtra, Gujarat, and south and north India where we have linked small farmers to markets, stabilised their farming, given them greater returns and generated livelihoods.”
It’s no wonder then that people in more than 900,000 households in 18 Indian states are now leading happier and more productive lives.
Bahadi Tudu, a tribal from Madhuban village in the Dumka district of Jharkhand, is a member of a self-help group operating under the ‘Mission 2020: Lakhpati Kisan – Smart Villages’ programme. Coordinated by the Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives of Jamshedpur, the nodal agency of Tata Trusts, the programme is focused on providing livelihood opportunities to tribal communities. It does this by, among other means, creating sustainable water resources, encouraging farmers to become entrepreneurs, introducing innovative technologies, ensuring fair value to farmers for their produce, and nurturing community-based institutions. The initiative aims to cover 101,000 households in villages across the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha and Jharkhand.
The ‘North East Initiative’ has under its umbrella low-income communities in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. The programme — which is driven by the North East Initiative Development Agency, an associate organisation of Tata Trusts — aims to address the development challenges of the villages in its ambit by providing better livelihood opportunities, improving agricultural practices, making sustainable use of natural resources, and establishing channels for spreading knowledge and expertise. Expected to cover around 47,000 households by 2020, the initiative takes in agriculture and horticulture, the setting up of household level piggery enterprises (one of which is seen here), strengthening of community institutions, skill-building, education, and water and sanitation.
The ‘Reviving the Green Revolution’ programme supports farmers in agricultural diversification through a shift to economically viable, water-saving crops. Covering villages in Punjab and Tamil Nadu, the initiative includes schemes to improve soil health, arrest environmental degradation, reduce cultivation cost and, ultimately, make farming sustainable and economically viable. Since being launched in 2002, the programme has been rolled out in 1,300 villages across nine districts in Punjab and in six districts of Tamil Nadu, where some 10,000 households have benefitted from it.
This farmer, seen with her produce of apricots, belongs to a village in Ladakh (in the state of Jammu and Kashmir) that is part of the ‘Leh Livelihood Development Initiative’. Farmers in this high-altitude cold desert area face the challenges of a fragile ecosystem, dependent on meltwater from glaciers. Tata Trusts became active in the district in 2008. A comprehensive micro-plan was developed for villagers, which includes improving irrigation systems and improving value chains of crops such as apricots, potatoes, green vegetables, etc. Run in collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, the programme has covered 30 villages thus far.
A check dam constructed by villagers in Nimuwa Latima village of Nalabari district in Assam. Part of the ‘Diversion-based Irrigation’ project being implemented by Tata Trusts’ associate organisations, Livolink Foundation and Gramya Vikash Mancha, this illustrates one aspect of a programme being implemented with a total of 15 partners in the states of Assam, Manipur and Odisha. Under the programme — which is essentially about setting up gravity-flow systems to capture water, an extremely precious resource in hilly and mountainous terrain — 130 such structures have been built to irrigate more than 8,000 acres of previously water-stressed land.