Sector: Natural Resource Management (NRM)
The state of Himachal Pradesh is known for its natural beauty. Its landscape is dominated by large mountain ranges and beautiful fertile valleys. Many people grow vegetables, wheat, and mustard flowers which create a mosaic of green and yellow. There are ample natural resources such as streams and natural forests which add beauty to the land while providing for the people. However, management of these resources is not always organized and efficient. As a result, the land and the people lose out. This was the situation in the villages of Kand, Kaniyara, and Bhagiara.
This area was prone to many difficulties due to its location in a watershed and susceptibility to bad weather. This caused problems with drinking water, irrigation, land and water conservation, vegetation, and income generation. Natural sources of water were drying up. Bowries (natural water sources) were neglected and not cleaned as often as required. The village was dependent on government schemes to manage their own resources; however, even the government could not provide sufficient funds. The villagers did not understand the importance of canals. The traditional canals were not maintained leading to the wastage of water, time, and hard work. The powerful wind and water stole the nutrients from the land and eroded it. Due to their location on the Dhauladhar Mountains, soil erosion and landslides were very common, especially during the rainy season. The landslides destroyed many rare species of plants growing in that area. Twelve years back, a school was also destroyed by a landslide and the remnants remain buried under heavy rubble. Ground level water was also decreasing day by day. The lack of resource management caused a shortage of fodder and grass for cattle. Many of the villagers allowed their cattle to openly graze destroying a lot of the land. Open grazing had detrimental effects on the land including minimal vegetation regeneration, an increase in soil erosion, and the loss of precious topsoil. Villagers would have to travel far to collect food for their cows. The exploitation of the forest by the villagers and nomads forced people to travel far in order to reach necessary resources. Finally, there were limited income generation activities. This led to the temporary migration of villagers and kept the per capita income of the people very low. The community urgently needed guidance and this came in the form of CORD, Shri Ratan Tata Trust (SRTT), and the People’s Science Institute (PSI) in Dehradun.
SRTT wanted to financially support a project in Himachal Pradesh. However, they needed the participation of an organization that knew about the local people and customs. CORD’s strategic position as a grassroots organization made it the perfect facilitator for the project that SRTT had in mind. However, CORD did not have the knowledge about natural resource management. So SRTT turned to PSI for the necessary scientific knowledge. PSI trained CORD workers for one year so that the project could be carried out at a grassroots level. One of CORD’s main objectives for this project was to promote people’s participation in the planning, implementation, and management of the program. Special emphasis was given to the empowerment of women, the disadvantaged, and the poor and landless. CORD imparted the necessary information through community groups that were already established like Mahila Mandals (Village Women’s Groups), Yuva Mandals (Youth Groups), and Self-Help Groups. New organizations were also created as necessary like User Groups where villagers would contribute money for the maintenance of natural resources. This would ensure the sustainability of the projects. Leaders were identified and trained in order to ensure community involvement.
Hard work was poured into this project by the villagers. Traditional bowries were restored and managed to provide drinking water. To stop soil erosion and landslides, loose boulders, gabions, and retaining walls were constructed by the village committees. Traditional canals were repaired and irrigation tanks were built. Efforts were made towards the plantation and reforestation of lost land. To grow grass and fodder efficiently, new breeds of grass were introduced to the area. Ponds were constructed which helped to raise the groundwater and provide drinking water for cattle.
Establishing traditional income generating activities was very important to the community. Efforts were made to increase the income of the people by providing them training and knowledge about nurseries, floriculture, poly houses, candle making, soap manufacturing, dairy work, khaddi (traditional loom weaving), etc. The hidden skills of the villagers were enhanced, and the economic condition of the people started improving. People from the different community based organizations (i.e. Mahila Mandals, Yuva Mandals, Self-Help Groups, User Groups) came forward and actively participated in the different activities. People’s attitudes became more positive and the relationships among the villagers were transparent and fair. An essential aspect of the project was the arrangement of leaders at the social level so that when the project was finished, the development of the village and the active participation of the villagers would continue.
The success of the village can be seen through the story of two motivated individuals who were able to take advantage of the programs.
Sapna was struggling to provide for the needs of her family. She tirelessly worked on a field cultivating the land; however, her earnings were not enough. One day, she was able to express her frustrations to a CORD worker. Sapna, along with three other families, brainstormed on different possibilities to increase their income. Sapna told the CORD worker that her house was at a strategic position because it was on the way to a pilgrimage site. Known as the Old Chamunda Mandir, thousands of pilgrims hike up an arduous trail to have darshan (to see and take the blessings) of this holy place. However, along the way there were no places to stay or take rest should the pilgrims wish to do so. Sapna decided to convert her house into a small rest house. By offering a place to sleep for the night and a simple, hearty meal she was able to make the pilgrims’ journey more comfortable. Sapna also received money from the project to build a latrine so that she could meet the basic needs of her guests. As she conversed with her guests, she realized that they needed a place where they could purchase some food, cold drinks, and get a hot cup of chai. Sapna then decided to undertake the project of building a small store where pilgrims could rest and buy some snacks. Her endeavors have been a success. Not only is she able to meet hundreds of travelers each season but she has also increased her income to 50,000 rupees (per season).
In order to provide for his family, Tilakchand found work day to day. Like many of his neighbors, daily wage labour and services were the only means of survival. Sometimes only earning 1500 rupees per month, Tilakchand was hopeful about the natural resource management scheme proposed in his village. He decided to start his own fishery and arduously dug two ponds. However, with no eggs to harvest he approached the government office that promoted natural activities. They were able to provide him with one species of eggs. Tilakchand then went to the Agricultural University in Palampur where he received the eggs of four more breeds. With the training and funds provided by the project, his new business venture proved to be very successful. Tilakchand was very resourceful about his endeavor and often implemented clever schemes to increase his output such as directing overflowing bowries into his ponds. Today he earns 3000 rupees per month selling 60 kg of fish and he plans on building another pond.
The program’s success can be measured not only in the physical enhancement of the village, but in the new found appreciation the villagers have for their surrounding environment. The training has allowed them manage their resources properly and learn the necessary skills to continue to do it on their own. The villagers feel a newfound connection and respect towards nature and are determined to sustain it.