Planting Hopes

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NABARD in 1995 launched a development initiative in parts of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Financed by a German government bank, this
initiative came to be known as the Wadi project and was spread over 251 villages. This area of Gujarat where NABARD ran the programme has now been
converted into a Wadi, which means a small orchard. 

The project area was largely a dryland and was inhabited by the tribals of that region for years. Most of the tribals in the area owned pockets of land ranging in size from one acre to five acres. Isolated from the mainstream development processes, the tribals had no access to education and were largely illiterate, depending upon certain old traditional ways of doing farming. They used to grow crops,  such as millet, barley and ragi and made some income out of it. However with no access to fertilisers or pesticides or the science of cropping, their income from land was of a very uncertain kind, as a result of which many of them were forced to migrate from that area.

Following the release of the grant, NABARD decided to appoint a NGO to develop and carry out the programme and appointed BAIF Development Research Foundation as the development agency. The choice of BAIF was largely because of BAIF’s impeccable record, knowledge and experience in carrying out development interventions.

With the Wadi Programme”, says BAIF’s representative Vidyadhar Badwe, “we integrated cashew and mango cultivation and using that income the economic conditions of the families we worked was improved. This also indirectly helped in improving the crop productivity of the land.” BAIF,says Vidyadhar, designed the programmes after intensive discussions with the people. BAIF’s role was largely confined to providing technical know-how, and the programme implementation was done by the people themselves.

Water resources were developed by digging farm ponds, gully plugging and nalha bunding for watering fruit plants during the initial 2-3 years. With a view to save time and cost on water conservation, temporary bunds were installed by stacking sandbags across the seasonal rivulets. Such nalhas, which generally dry out in November, could retain water up to February-March months. The beneficiaries were able to carry headloads of water or pump it into their farm ponds and then water the fruit plants by hand. Pitcher watering was used to conserve water in areas of water shortage. In this method, an earthen pot with a minute hole plugged with a piece of cloth was placed near each plant, at about 15-30 cm below the ground level and filled with water. Water from the pitcher was released slowly into the soil around the plant.The pitcher was refilled with water once in 8-12 days.This helped in regular supply of moisture as in drip irrigation.

Looking back on the initial years of the project,BAIF essentially tried to educate the people about what was required for this type of agriculture. They were given information on how to grow the trees, tend to them and the fertilisers to be used. It took almost two years to make them realise, that this could be done and that they need not migrate to other places in search of work.

A decade and more after the implementation of the Wadi Programme, things certainly have changed for the tribals in the region. “I migrated to Surat to work and used to get two or three thousand rupees. Food at home used to be served only once in a day and everyone did not get enough to eat” says Jaisingh Gavit of Lachakkadi village. “BAIF introduced me to horticulture, gave me training and I learnt from them. I planted mango and forestry trees. Starting from 1,000 grafts last year, and I made close to 10,000 grafts this year and sold 5,000 of them. From their sale, I
have earned Rs 100,000.” His days of penury are now a thing of the past and he has built a permanent brick house for his family and is also the proud owner of a tractor and a motorcycle. His children now go to school regularly, and like he says, “there is enough food for all of us.”

His sentiments are closely echoed by Ramal Bhai Litta of Dhamni village, who says that 7 years ago there was only barren land and nothing would grow. After the introduction of the WADI Programme, says Ramal Bhai, “I was encouraged to grow mango and cashew”. He today owns 20 mango trees, 40 cashew trees along with other forestry trees and has since last year started has started earning 10-15 thousand rupees a year.

Along with the Wadi Programme, BAIF also introduced other allied activities and under a capacity building programme, training programmes for the tribals were carried out. Training was imparted to over 6,600 tribals in making pot-drips, tailoring and vermicompost making. A number of other microenterprises were also put in place under the programme. Shanti Ben of Haidari village was given a loan of Rs 5,000 to start a shop. “My family depends on earnings from this shop and I do not have to go anywhere else to work” says a contented Shanti Ben.

One of the initiatives under the Wadi Programme was the formation of Self Help Groups. Most of the women earlier had to work as labour on somebody else’s farms. Many times they were cheated by the landlords and did not getting sufficient remuneration
for the work that they were doing. BAIF encouraged the women to form SHGs and to start developing a
savings habit. Today, over 648 SHGs are operating in the project area and using their savings have started
several income generating activities. 

Gauri Ben Raghubhai of Dhamni village is one such member of a SHG group. She along with four other women started making vermicompost, most of which was used in their own fields. The remaining vermicompost was then sold in the market. “We also sell the worms to others” informs Gauri Ben “and this gives all of us sufficient incomes.” Valki Ben of Dhaku village too used to work as a labourer to collect bamboo from the jungle from which she would earn Rs 20-25 a day. “We were encouraged to form a group of five women and were given training by BAIF to make pot-drips that are used in the plantations. By selling these I earn about Rs 70 a day” says Valki Ben as her SHG partners nod their heads in acknowledgement.

These groups could play a significant role in motivating all the members to take active part and assist each other whenever needed. Hence, creation of awareness, transfer of technologies and programme monitoring could be undertaken very effectively. These groups also took the responsibility of procuring necessary inputs from the market and distributing among the members. As these activities were linked with micro-financing, all the participating families could procure the inputs well in time and the epayment was also effective.

In this process of capacity building, many common people, including illiterate women, emerged as community leaders and contested in the elections of Panchayati Raj Institutions, co-operative societies and took initiative in community development. They established linkages with various financial institutions and banks to meet their credit needs. These organisations are playing a vital role in sustaining the programme benefits and progress, even after the end of financial support from the donor agencies.

Another resounding success was the formation of the Women’s Milk Cooperative. Started as a SHG, its members contributed Rs 10 each month for a year and used that money for lending at 5 per cent interest. They then later bought calves for the members and formed a milk cooperative. Today the cooperative is a big success story and basking in its glow is an ecstatic member Vanita Ben Patel who tells us that each member earns about Rs 4,000-5,000 each month fromthe sale of milk.

According to NABARD “the women have got a lot of impetus out of their experience with SHGs and today were not just content with production and
wanted to look beyond that into starting processing of various products”. Production of mango pulp and pickles has already started providing them forward market linkages and the SHGs are looking at other activities too. Processing has also opened up new avenues for jobs and employs a large number of women and men. Malati Ben of Lachakkadi village, who works in one of the processing units belongs to a poor family and had to drop from school since her father could not afford the cost of putting her through school. A confident Malati today says “by working here, I will save money and resume my studies later.”

Thirteen year since its inception, the Rs 1.30 billion programme today touches the lives of over 25,000 families in Gujarat and Maharashtra, and by spending Rs 1.30 billion each year it benefits these 25,000 families. BAIF’s Vidyadhar Badwe, remembers the days when they started the project, and most of the tribals lived in kuccha houses. The implementation of the Wadi Programme, he says, has ushered in a
change in the lives of the people. They are economically sound, have built pucca houses and their children go to school regularly. The project has
delivered and can be summed up through the eyes of the beneficiaries. The tribal today looks to the future with confidence and the planting of each tree is like planting a new ray of hope for him and his family.

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