Timely, but incoherent

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Wednesday 15 September 2004

-- In Search Of Sustainable Livelihood Systems: Managing Resources and Change Edited by Ruedi Baumgartner & Rueidi Hogger Sage publications New Delhi 2004

As the title suggests, this work is a serious and timely search. Currently India is facing an unemployment epidemic. The new government has declared employment creation as its main policy. However, the problem arises as conventional sectors like agriculture, as well as the organised sectors, have stopped generating new jobs. So where should one look for employment opportunities?

The authors of the book have started off on the right note: India's main problem, the erosion of sustainable livelihoods, is what leaves thousands jobless every year. Given the context, the objective of the book is to search for sustainable livelihoods. In India, sustainable livelihood is all about a fine equation of economy and ecology. The book attempts to rediscover this equation and veer policy makers towards the 'right' direction.

The book is a compilation of studies and surveys on sustainable livelihood and natural resource management carried out over six years in Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The survey is limited to arid areas in these states because, as the authors argue, these areas are hard hit by erosion of sustainable livelihoods and the conventional development model for non-arid areas cannot be applied to them. As the foreword puts it, "Policy makers and practitioners of rural development have long focused on sustainable land use and sustainable natural resource management as major concerns. However, experience shows that focus often fails to address the issue that is of utmost importance for rural households in semi-arid India, namely, the rapid erosion of sustainable livelihood."

Notwithstanding the timely selection of the subject and the compilation of the specially commissioned studies, the book is lacking in coherence. The subject loses steam as one struggles through page after page on India's poverty scenario and the impact of economic reforms. There is no discounting the subject's relevance as well as urgency, but the authors have failed to assimilate the information, and the comprehensive studies on the three Indian states, have lost edge thanks to a confused editorial intent.

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