Despite sustaining substantial populations, rain-fed areas are ecologically the most fragile. Here, where as much as 70% of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihoods, the sustenance of rain-fed agriculture in particular assumes critical importance. The key to the sustainability of agriculture lies in reviving the linkages with the natural resource base in the area - the biodiversity, nutrients, water - and adopting a farming systems approach encompassing agriculture, animal husbandry and commons. In addition, such an approach would sustain when the institutional arrangements in the governance of the resources are also equally strengthened. Given the context, the arrival of (MG)NREGA and a number of other programmes such as the Prime Minister's package for distress areas, Watershed Development Programme and Tribal Development Fund of NABARD etc. provides a timely opportunity to work on the sustainability of farming systems in rain-fed areas. Partnering with NGOs already active in the regions can add value to the process of implementation and go a long way in enabling the participation of village communities and Panchayats.
The project focuses on leveraging opportunities in government programmes across different parts of the country to strengthen local governance of natural resource base that is essential for the sustainability of rural livelihoods. It seeks to strengthen democratic processes through capacity building of local institutions and communities, increasing accountability, improving local livelihoods and promoting better sharing of knowledge for sustainable management of natural resources. The efforts are manifested at multiple levels.
In villages where the project is being implemented, the efforts are concerted towards
- Strengthening institutions managing natural resources (phytomass, biodiversity, water, soil, nutrients) at habitation, Panchayat and regional levels.
- Improving rural livelihoods, particularly of the poor and marginalised, including greater assurance of subsistence and increased net income from agriculture and animal husbandry.
- Increasing the flow of nutrients, water and biomass from commons and private lands, having improved biodiversity, and thereby contributing to the agriculture-animal husbandry production systems.
Further, in each location, the project fosters
- Partnerships between village communities, government officials, academia and civil society that collectively envision, develop and implement land-use plans for the conservation and judicious use of natural resources.
- Improved capacities of NGOs to support community-based natural resource management for improving the livelihoods base of the rural communities, including access to best practices, GIS databases, other relevant information etc.
- Volunteers from the village communities trained to support the communities in planning, implementing and monitoring their own development interventions and to interface with the local government officials and other actors regarding the same.
At the national level, the project works towards the emergence of a dedicated resource centre to
- Strengthen other initiatives on decentralised governance of natural resources in rain-fed areas across the country; and
- Influence policymakers and NGO networks regarding
- Rain-fed area development, particularly farming (e.g. National Rainfed Area Authority)
- National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (e.g. Planning Commission, Consortium of NGOs led by Samaj Pragati Sahyog)
- Panchayati Raj Institutions (E.g. Ministry of Panchayati Raj)
Sir Jamsetji Tata Trust