The project is being supported through the ‘Sunehra Kal’ initiative. The project is being implemented by the Foundation for Ecological Security in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh and Pratapgarh, Rajasthan from October 2005.
Agriculture is the backbone of Indian rural economy and contributes 24.2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provides livelihood support to about two thirds of the country’s population. The sector employs 56.7 percent of the country’s workforce and is the single largest private sector occupation. In the water-scarce semi-arid regions of India characterized by their dependence on rainfed agriculture, the erratic rainfall pattern in the last few years combined with the changes in land use practices and patterns have resulted in successive years of large-scale crop failures. In these areas 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 unsustainable use of the natural resource base upon which agriculture depends impacts considerably on food availability with poverty, low agricultural productivity, and environmental degradation interacting and leading to a vicious downward spiral. In the dryland regions, livestock play an important role in the transfer and reallocation of fertility both across space and time. One of the most common types of movement of nutrients is the transfer of fertility from one system of land use to another (forest-animal husbandry-agriculture). Agriculture in these areas is based on a complex interaction between grazing lands, water and animal husbandry within an ecosystem. Rural livelihoods in such areas are typically woven around appropriation from the various components of the ecosystem and the complex interrelationship adds to the viability of the various components and the system as a whole. However, this unique relationship is tenuous as the system of production, regulation and governance put competing demands on the components of the ecosystem.
Uplands, usually forests and grazing lands, have been subjected to degradation owing to ineffective policies, unregulated use and large-scale encroachments. This has adversely affected the condition of downstream land and water resources. The criticality of inter-linkages amongst various production systems needs to be clearly understood and worked upon as the depletion and erosion of one component – groundwater, fertility and cropping patterns as discussed above – can threaten the viability of various production systems.
There have been different approaches to address the complex inter-linkages in various natural resources and their impact on rural livelihoods, the prominent among them being integrated watershed development. The results of the watershed programmes have shown positive results in reducing the threat of drought to crop and livestock production; improved surface water availability, soil moisture regime and recharge of ground water; arresting soil erosion thereby maintaining crop productivity; improved fodder production and thereby increase in milk production; and creation of employment opportunities for landless labour through increased forest cover and agricultural wage opportunities.
The specific objectives guiding the project are:
- To increase the availability of biomass through revegetation of the common lands and increased availability of surface and ground water through soil and moisture conservation and retention measures.
- To assist individual farmers through appropriate soil and water conservation measures to improve water availability for agriculture and thereby, improving agricultural productivity.
- To strengthen the village level and watershed-level governance of biomass and water resources by village communities, including involvement of Panchayats in addressing natural resource management.
- To assist village communities in obtaining tenure on public land or usufructs and initiating and strengthening systems of collective management and governance over land and water, in a contiguous area to draw on the advantages of its ecological and social structure.
- To assist communities in effectively integrating agriculture and natural resources management and in regulating the demand for biomass and water through rules, regulations and mechanisms evolved by community institutions at village and inter village levels