'We improve life through natural resources'

Published: Wednesday 30 September 2009

-- On your inspiration
I studied engineering, but was convinced I was not meant for it. During my stint with Ford Foundation, I worked with a doctor couple from Johns Hopkins University, USA. They were training rural women in Maharashtra as community health workers. I realized that is exactly what I wanted to do.

I conceived of the organization, but Vijay Mahajan, the co-founder of PRADAN, was instrumental in giving it shape. PRADAN works in seven states, mostly in tribal areas. The focus is on enhancing means of income through improving agriculture and irrigation, and by promoting home-based industry like poultry.

On PRADAN's impact
Migration has reduced and spending on food and education has increased in the areas where we work. Our next priority is to manage rainwater. If water is taken care of, food productivity will further increase. Two economists are studying our initiatives.

On your favourite project
PRADAN has done path-breaking work in silk farming in tussar-producing areas. Tribals in Jharkhand and Bihar were trained to identify disease-free eggs using a simple microscope and taught to increase productivity through new silkworm rearing techniques. The weavers were brought together to ensure they get better price from traders. Many are returning to sericulture as tussar has become more remunerative.

On people's response
It varies. For example, people were initially hesitant in accepting system of rice intensification (entailing use of less water and changing sowing pattern). Acceptance is quicker in places where district administration is cooperative. People in Jharkhand have been the most enthusiastic.

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