It's a unique experiment. Three Kerala organisations are involving local communities to evolve a blueprint for development based on resource maps that they helped to draw
Where a community maps its resources
MAPPING of local natural resources by the villagers is an
experiment being tried out by three Kerala organisations: the
Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad (KSSP), the Centre for Earth
Science Studies (CESS) and the Kerala State Land Use Board
Economic growth is unsustainable unless the exploitation of
natural resources is within the limit of the carrying capacity
of life support systems. Achieving development that is
sustainable and environment-friendly needs decentralised, micro-
level approaches. This requires scientific data based on local
An integrated programme of panchayat level resource mapping
was started for the first time in the country with the scientific
evaluation of the terrain in Ulloor panchayat of
Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala in 1990. The endeavour
involved the local community, training them in the art of
resource mapping which involves a high level of scientific
skills. The training module, developed by CESS, includes three
days of theoretical deliberations followed by five days of field
demonstration and mapping work.
Course material has been designed to include a brief
exposition on the development crisis in Kerala, the need for
micro-level surveys, and the relevance of resource maps and
mapping procedures in detail. A comprehensive legend has to be
worked out by the participants. Water-related data are gathered
in a structured format. Plot-wise details covering land-use,
settlement details and water availability and problems are
recorded in a diary.
At least five persons from each ward of a panchayat
participate in this work. After the theoretical deliberations,
field demonstrations start. Scientific and technical personnel
initiate the volunteers in the use of cadastral maps, as the
local people can easily identify these plots. The experts are
fully involved in the mapping exercise on the first day. They
themselves map, write diaries and fill up the water chart. By the
second half of the day, volunteers are asked to conduct the
survey with the assistance of scientists.
Volunteers undertake the major work on the second day.
Scientific staff oversee their work and provide assistance if
required. Volunteers start mapping on their own from the third
day. At the end of the day, the entire team discusses the survey
to sort out problems.
An important component of the mapping programme is
systematic campaigning. Preceding the mapping, volunteers
participate in kala jathas (cultural programmes) and meetings and
make door-to-door visits to spread the message of the programme
and solicit local support. Intensive ward-wise discussions of
land use problems are also undertaken.
The Ulloor Model, improved by the CESS, KSLUB and KSSP,
has been extended by the Indian government's department of
science and technology to 23 panchayats in Kerala. The project
involves scientific terrain evaluation by earth scientists, the
mapping of existing land and natural resources by local
volunteers and the preparation of action plans for panchayat-
level development based on these maps. The information and maps
by digitisation, using the Geographical Information System (GIS)
software, is then computerised.
In December 1990, the Kerala government brought all the
panchayats in the state under the scheme, with CESS as the nodal
agency and KSLUB as a collaborator. Already 30 panchayats have
been scientifically evaluated and mapped by local villagers.
The total cost of developing resource atlases for the
whole state was estimated to be Rs 2.8 crore, of which Rs 1.7
crore can be saved through the involvement of volunteers. The
additional money is being provided by the government.
The traditional wisdom, values and ethics of the local
people, combined with the scientific evaluation of resources,
eliminates problems of centralised planning and focusses on
grassroot realities. It is perhaps the only alternative to
existing resource management models which have led to widespread
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