Technology for the poor

Wasteland maps can help frame poverty alleviation programmes

 
By SANJAY K SRIVASTAVA
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Technology for the poor

-- Despite the recent emphasis on industrial growth, building up the country's natural resource base remains the most potent counter to rural poverty. In fact, a number of social scientists and activists -- even some planners -- contend that rural poverty is very often a consequence of environmental degradation. But are links between the two merely circumstantial? Satellite remote sensing and geographical information system (gis) can help answer this question. While remote sensing helps map and monitor areas where poverty is accompanied with environmental degradation, gis establishes linkages between the two through modelling and simulation.

It's important to integrate these methods in the planning processes of the country. And, Indian planners are not totally oblivious of these methods. For example, the ecological dimensions of poverty has been captured in agro-ecological zonation maps.

That's not all. In 1999-2000 the Union ministry of rural development commissioned the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Agency (nrsa) to prepare district-level wasteland maps. The agency prepared about 5,000 maps and in 2000, came out with a wasteland atlas of India.


What's so unique? The 1:50,000 scale wasteland maps delineate both ecological and administrative boundaries: forest limits, watershed and village boundaries. So, these maps provides planners with a ready aid to link wastelands with villages and watersheds. But currently they only serve as primary guides to reclamation projects undertaken by the Union ministry of rural development's land and resource department, state forest and agriculture departments, district rural development agencies and ngos. Several other uses of these maps lie unexplored. Used in conjunction with other socio-economic data, these maps can help in appropriately targeting resources for rural poverty alleviation. The maps can also help prepare analyses of poverty and natural resource use at micro-levels, and also help chart out institutional interventions to alleviate rural poverty. That's not all: rural development projects such as the Drought Prone Areas Development Programme and the Desert Development Programme could benefit from use of wasteland maps, so could land reform policies.

Wasteland categories The Union ministry of rural development, has of course, used the nrsa data to classify wastelands in the following categories:

Ones that require high capital, modern technology and long-term development projects

Those requiring direct government action in form of subsidies and grants

The few which are in the vicinity of areas undergoing economic transformation, and where sustainability issues are of major concern.

However, wasteland reclamation must be combined with poverty alleviation measures. Why would the poor labour to reclaim degraded lands, if their efforts don't bring them any immediate economic benefits?

It is here that institutional interventions -- by both government agencies and ngos -- become imperative. The strategy for such interventions should be responsive to local conditions. For example, expanding agriculture could be an ideal strategy for Jharkhand, Assam and Rajasthan, which have very high degree of food insecurity as well as large wastelands. But the method is very unlikely to work well in food secure states such as Punjab and Karnataka. Planners should take care to ensure that wasteland development here is accompanied by off-farm interventions.

Wasteland maps and other maps created by remote sensing have provided appropriate resources to chart strategies for poverty alleviation. It's up to the policy makers, planners and ngos to use them to good effect.

Sanjay K Srivastava is with the National Natural Resources Management System of the Indian Space Research Organization, Bangalore. The views expressed here are that of the author alone

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