The Rural Sector Opportunities and challenges

To deal with 'economic poverty', it is necessary to deal with 'ecological poverty'. And people's participation is necessary to undertake ecological restoration

Published: Wednesday 31 March 1999

The Rural Sector Opportunities and challenges

It was only in the early 1970s that the Chipko Movement laid out before the country the need for an environmental agenda and emphasised the significance that the environment held for the poor people of India. It made Indians realise that deforestation was taking place at a rapid pace and had to be stopped.

By the early 1980s, experts had started describing nearly one-third to half of India as a wasteland. In 1985, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi announced a major initiative to green these wastelands through a people's movement. But the idea was stymied by the bureaucracy's lack of understanding on how to deliver the concept. Over the years, Ralegan Siddhi and Sukhomajri have been able to show that it is possible to reverse degradation of even the most degraded land. The biggest lesson being that to deal with "economic poverty" it is necessary to deal with "ecological poverty". And people's management is essential to undertake ecological restoration.

The economic success of the community-based natural regeneration efforts that had started in villages like Sukhomajri and Ralegan Siddhi in the 1970s was beginning to attract nationwide attention. It was also in the mid-1980s that Tarun Bharat Sangh ( tbs ) had started reviving the traditional water conservation techniques in Alwar district of Rajasthan.

By the mid-1990s, this model of community-based natural resource management was already spreading. tbs is today working in nearly 500 villages. The governments of Punjab and Haryana have tried to replicate the Sukhomajri model in several villages. But, most important of all, Dig

of the lesser-known projects of the same kind have delivered reasonably good results. The best result of all these projects is that they have either totally stopped or greatly reduced distress migration from the villages. In other words, greening India's villages has a great potential to reduce the immense pressures that exist on the country's urban centres in the form of slums and exploitative labour conditions, including child labour.

Undoubtedly, these are still the high points of the lessons that India has learnt in the last two decades. And, by historical standards, this is no small achievement. Over the last 200 years, with the advent of the British, a state-dominated paradigm has taken total control of the country's natural re
dertaken in Jhabua becomes a model for drought and poverty-stricken Kalahandi? Orissa has not learnt anything from Madhya Pradesh as yet.

Also, it is equally important to understand that the new natural resource management paradigm developed in Sukhomajri, Ralegan Siddhi and Madhya Pradesh is not universally applicable. This new paradigm -- which begins with participatory rainwater conservation efforts, moves on to management of irrigation
rural poverty:
- The Sukhomajri-Ralegan Siddhi-Jhabua paradigm must be spread to every nook and corner where it is applicable in the next decade.
- Efforts must be made immediately to develop ecologically-appropriate paradigms for those regions for which it is not applicable.

The only question is: will we do it? But the very hope that this is achievable is both inspiring and empowering.

Unfortunately, as the report shows, bureaucracy can still be a major impediment. Sukhomajri is a fine example of

So the major challenge ahead is to regenerate India's lands, making firewood and fodder easily available, and thereby reducing women's work burden.

India has also been successful to some extent in maintaining its forest cover. Official data shows that t]22*]^]]2,+],23,]]2,22]]3,2,
]]^+2V32]-2V2322]]2]d,22]Victions about severe deforestation have not come true due to the government's effort to promote tree planting by farmers on their farmlands, and the invasion of an exotic species called Prosopis juliflora .

Ecology changes in peculiar ways. But this cannot be an excuse for government inaction. The change may not last long. It needs careful nurturing. The firewood and fodder crisis saw a rational response both at the level of community and individual level. But government efforts are still extremely patchy. The government does not encourage people to grow more trees. It has wound down its farm forestry effort. Further, it is still not clea>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
>>>>>>ty to manage the rural environment has definitely improved and past experiences provide valuable lessons. If we learn our lessons properly, we can easily move towards a green rural India. Unfortunately, hope ends here.

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