Drop by drop


Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

THIS is an important addition to a rather limited number of publications documenting case studies of the participatory processes of natural resources management. The process of bringing out this publication started with a workshop organised by the Ford Foundation (they also provided financial support for bringing out the book) in March 1993.

Besides recording the experiences of NGOs involved in participatory development the book attempts to draw lessons from these. As the authors note"Despite the evident benefits of such (participatory approach) activitiesthese examples often remain unanalysed and anecdotal."

Most of the case studies are of groups working in low-rainfallpartially- irrigatedsemi-upland locations which have limited access to markets. These case studies show how technology and resources can be harnessed to the needs and skills of small and marginal farmers in order to revitalise difficult and degraded environments.This is in contrast to the failure of the government to achieve similar results even after spending much larger sums of money.

While the book notes that "networking and lobbying may be a starting point for wider political representation and change", it fails to evaluate the performance of the NGOs on their attempt to target policy changes in their areas of work. This is a general lacunae in the case of most NGOs involved in 'positive constructive' work. An evaluation of their performance is all the more relevant because it is difficult to repeat the work done by them on a mass scale given their financial, human and technical resource constraints.

Neverthelessthe case studies note interesting facts about the activities of NGOs focusing on specific representative cases. For exampleduring the struggle led by the NGO Ubeshwar Vikas Mandal (UVM) to create community lift irrigation system in Udaipur district of Rajasthan even privately owned drinking water resources were made available to all the households in times of crisis. Significantly, water was shared on the basis of labour contributed for building the lift irrigation system which is more equitable than sharing on the basis of landholding.

Another interesting fact in this case study is that though the assistant engineer of the district rural development agency is the nominal secretary of the Lift Irrigation Samity he never attends the meetings. Yet the accounts of the scheme are maintained in his office and were not made available to the villagers despite repeated requests and visits. It is significant that all the decisions of the community were taken in traditional community forums in which the local tribes were the group leaders. Another significant outcome is that the whole process has enabled the community to gain a degree of awareness and responsibility towards the natural resources of the village.

Another lift irrigation scheme under the initiative of the Aga Khan Rural Support programme (AKRSP) began in 1988 in Samadhiala village in Junagarh district in the drought prone Saurashtra area of Gujarat. AKRSP managed to persuade the farmers to contribute 60 per cent of the capital cost and full operating cost for the scheme. The argument used was that a useful though expensive capital asset is better than a free asset which quickly becomes non-functional - a miracle in a state where the capital cost and 77 per cent of the operation cost of development projects is subsidised by the government. An important lesson from the AKRSP experience was that it is important to obtain public support by convincing the community about the benefits of the project and that even small-scale projects can fulfill the water needs of the community in arid areas like Saurashtra.

Other interesting case studies in the book include the Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti's efforts to promote cooperative tubewells in water-scarce Jodhpur and Jaisalmer districts of Rajasthan and the Society for Hill Resources Management School's efforts to develop some 2500 acres of wasteland in some 23 villages of Palamu district in Bihar.

The authors could have done a much more exhaustive analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the case studies and drawn up clearer lessons for other practitioners. The case studies would also have benefited from the inclusion of location maps of the sites being described.

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