The word ‘Transition’ has become a buzz word amongst those who are concerned about sustainable living, largely through the concept of Transition Towns which began in the UK and spread to many parts of the west. But “India lives in her villages”, as Gandhiji famously said. To look at transitions in rural India is as important as focusing on our cities.
Slowly but surely a few of our villages are transitioning towards more just and sustainable living. Grassroots communities and individuals have transformed villages such as Hiware Bazaar in Maharashtra and Kuthumbakam in Tamil Nadu. We present here a few inspiring stories from other rural areas where there have been significant shifts – in issues ranging from water conservation to sustainable sand mining. These are condensations of stories of alternatives that have been shared on Vikalp Sangam and India Water Portal.
Water in the Desert
Gajanand Sharma, who spent 5 years in Delhi working odd jobs, is now considered a “technical engineer” in the villages around Alwar, Rajasthan. “After the rains, the land will be filled with water and then I will sow wheat and reap record production in this area,” he prophesizes. This forecast doesn’t come from his knowledge of astronomy, but that of geology, gained over the years.
In a region that experienced a 40% monsoon deficit last year, the water table has risen to 50 feet, in an area of 160 square kilometres, supporting 20 villages. The combination of Gajanand Sharma’s persistence, the community effort to conserve water, following the elders’ traditions and a sense of responsibility has led to this marvel, that has also resulted in less corruption and forest conservation.
The work of Gajanad has brought together the various castes and communities in the region. Such efforts have empowered the villagers and has led to proven results and made them self-reliant.
Empowered Women Entrepreneurs
Kode Sujatha is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Everyday, she and her colleagues deal with angry boatmen who shout for her attention. Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”
Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the least of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty.
But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.
She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as groundwater depletion, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.
Sheila Devi, from Lalitkhera village in Haryana is one of the farmers who have formed a symbiotic relationship with the insects, instead of using pesticides to ward off these organisms. “We had a good harvest and also saved money on pesticides,” she says. Under the guidance and training of Dr. Surendar Lal Keet Sakshatra Pathshala, the farmers in Jind disrict in Haryana have learned to identify and co-exist with more than 200 species of insects.
Rather than labeling insects as enemies and using insect traps, these farmers have taken the route of mutual coexistence. “We can’t even see many of these small creatures with our naked eye but still believe that we can control them. It is better to make our peace with them than waging a never-ending war”, says Manveer Singh, one of the early adopters of this concept.
For some years now, the popularity of this pest literacy movement has grown to include the Khap Panchayats in the area, who formed a study panel which included a former judge, a food policy expert and the secretary of the farmers’ commission. The panel recommended the promotion of insect literacy by the government.
Considering that pesticides are one of the reasons for increasing input cost and hence farm debts, adoption of pesticide-free farming holds a promise of profitable farming as well.
Taking care of their Nourishment
Women in a small village located in Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra have come together to ensure that their family members are getting nutritious food throughout the year, with a ration shop run by them.
What has brought on this welcome change to the otherwise tough existence of Adulwar and her fellow villagers? The transformation began when Ami Amchya Arogyasthi (AAA), a local non-government organisation rolled out a comprehensive intervention aimed at improving the dismal maternal health indicators in 35 villages of Kurkheda and Korchi blocks of Gadchiroli with the support of UK Aid’s Global Poverty Action Fund.
The idea was to work closely with the community on two aspects – monitoring the availability of quality healthcare services and access to food under the PDS and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).
According to Dr Satish Gogulwar, Chief Functionary, AAA, “Empowering the community to claim their rights and actively monitor essential government services is key to bringing about lasting change. Work on strengthening the PDS services started in November 2013 and by conducting regular meetings and social audits in the village, with the complete participation of locals, including the women, many loopholes in the system were identified. Thereafter, people were encouraged to turn things around.”
The SHG members take turns to work at the shop. Each month, two women take charge of distributing the ration – around 25 kilos of rice, 15 kilos of wheat and a kilo or two of sugar per family – and keeping a log of the sales.
Remarks Niranta Jamkata, an SHG member, “There was a time when we had to stand in long lines the whole day to get what was due to us. Now we never make anyone wait.” Monitoring PDS disbursement and keeping an account of the money has also done wonders for their confidence.
As in many other examples, this story illustrates the importance of communities taking charge of basics for their well-being such as food, nourishment and health.
Chizami Model of Development
Chizami village, located in the Phek district of eastern Nagaland, has 600 households with a population of 3,000. The village comprises six khels, a Naga name for clans within the same community. In the upper reaches of the tropical forest of the village are ‘Jhum’ fields, for the slash-and-burn cultivation traditionally practised in the hilly terrains of north-east India. In the jhum system, an area is divided into plots and a particular plot is cultivated for a year or two after which the farmer shifts to the next plot. The rotation cycle between plots vary between five to 10 years. The longer the duration, the better the crop yields as the soil gets more time to replenish with nutrients.
Chizami is considered a model village for the quiet revolution it has led in the past decade in terms of socio-economic reforms and environment protection. A signage at the entry point of the village sternly prohibits hunting and trapping of birds and animals. The village council imposes strict fines on those violating norms. In fact, the village celebrated Chizami Day on 8 January 2015 for the first time with the theme—“Recognizing history, celebrating the present, and inspiring the future”.
“Climate change and erratic rainfall is affecting our agriculture. As a result, farmers are shifting from cultivating food crops to horticulture and other cash crops. In this context, we need to look for answers within our traditional agriculture practices, which can be regarded as sustainable and ensures food security for the community,” observes Seno Tsuhah, the Project team leader, North East Network (NEN), a women’s rights organization that promotes sustainable agriculture and agro-diversity in Chizami.
“Without the jhum fields, we cannot think of having diverse vegetables and wholesome food. By producing only for gain in the market, we are losing the essence of sharing that has been passed on from generations in our community. Today, young men are least interested in farming, leaving the women to work in the fields. There are now very few households where both husband and wife work together in the field,” says Wekoweu Tsuhah, the programme manager.
Protecting the Forest Deity
At a time when incidences of fire have reduced invaluable forest wealth to ashes across Odisha due to soaring temperature since March this year, forests around villages in Mayurbhanj and Kandhamal districts have surprisingly remained unaffected so far.
What these villages have been successful in doing is that they have taken up the task of checking the spread of forest fires in their districts.
“Forests house our living deities. They are found in forms of plants, rocks and animals. If forests catch fire, it is we who will be the biggest losers. Moreover, the forest is the biggest source of our livelihood and food. We always wish that forests remain intact,” said Maheswar Naik, president of Conservation and Management Committee formed under the CFR, Balipaka village in Mayurbhanj district.
This initiative of the villagers is clear evidence that the Government and its Forest Department by themselves cannot manage issues in large and complex forest eco-systems the way that villagers who are closely connected with it can.
The residents of Balipaka village inside Similipal National Park have constituted two teams to keep a tab on forest fire. “As soon as anyone notices smoke in a forest, other villagers are immediately alerted. The squad rushes to the spot. Subsequently, a fire line is drawn between the affected and unaffected area to prevent its spread,” Mr. Naik said.
Source material and images from Vikalp Sangam and India Water Portal.( www.vikalpsangam.com and indiawaterportal.com)