Over 150 million Indians representing 250 different tribal communities are living on the edge of the forests, struggling for survival. Traditionally, these tribal communities were living in the forests, dependent on rich forest produce for their livelihood. With the rapid denudation of forest resources over the last 8-10 decades, their income from collection of various minor forest produce has been severely eroded, forcing them to take up shifting cultivation, clearing the natural forests and to migrate to cities in search of wages.
Most of the tribals live in remote areas deprived of clean drinking water, medical care, education and communication facilities. While about 20% families are landless, the rest of the families own 0.5-1ha of land, where they grow various food crops, without adequate inputs and appropriate technology. Unable to ensure their food security with the meagre harvests, most of them migrate with their families to nearby towns and work as farm labourers or construction workers for six to eight months, every year. Thus, this vicious cycle of starvation, malnutrition, migration, high rate of birth and child mortality, literacy and exploitation has forced them to live in chronic poverty.
The programme: Realising the plight of these neglected tribal communities; BAIF initiated a comprehensive Tribal Rehabilitation Programme in Gujarat in 1982, focussing on sustainable development, while conserving the natural resources. The goal was to ensure food security, community health, empowerment of women, education for children, functional literacy for adults, prevention of distress migration, and improved quality of life without disturbing their culture and religious sentiments.
The main activity was to promote income generation through establishment of fruit orchards on 0.4ha of degraded land by each family. Other activities included shaping of hilly terrains by establishing series of contour bunds to prevent soil erosion and for moisture conservation, establishment of drought-tolerant fruit crops like mango, cashew, Indian gooseberry, custard apple, etc as main crops, cultivation of seasonal food crops in the inter space between fruit plants and fencing of these orchards by planting saplings of various plant species useful as food, fodder, timber, fuel, herbal medicines, along the boundary. As these crops promoted under the agri-horti-forestry system needed water for ensuring higher growth and yield, water resources were developed from various sources. These included digging of open wells and bore wells, lifting of water from rivers and storing in storage tanks, revival of natural springs, etc.
While promoting these economic development activities, it was also necessary to promote various community health care activities such as immunisation, development of clean potable water resources through chlorination of open wells, installation of hand pumps for bore wells. Along with this, awareness was created about family welfare issues relating to problems of malnutrition, neglect of maternal and child health and sanitation. These activities kept the participants healthy and enabled them to devote adequate time for development of their orchards. As most of the tribals did not have easy access to Public Health Centres and hospitals for medical treatment and child delivery, local midwives and traditional healers were trained to attend to these cases, while working closely with good doctors and hospitals in the nearby towns. Enthusiastic local youth were selected and trained to work as honorary para-health workers to create awareness and promote preventive health care practices.
Self Help Groups of women and men belonging to homogenous socio-economic segments were formed to plan and implement the programme with mutual understanding and support. Women groups also took the responsibility of organising micro-credit and development of various non-farm enterprises. These people’s organisations took the lead in procuring inputs and to coordinate marketing of their produce as well. Establishment of kindergartens was also initiated by the women groups by training the local girls to manage them. Reduction of hardship, particularly of women, was initiated through easy access to drinking water, fodder, fuel and grain grinding mills. Joint bank accounts were established in the name of both husband and wife to facilitate the women to take up financial transactions independently.
With series of training activities and timely technical support from the project staff, these participants were able to establish their food and fruit crops making good use of the available water resources. While the fruit trees started bearing fruit after four to five years, the income from food crops started from the first year itself. Thus, these tribals, particularly the women, stopped migrating to cities. This ensured good health and instilled confidence in them, while their healthy children could also attend schools.
Financial support: Generally, development of 0.4 ha of land under agri-horti-forestry requires an investment of Rs20,000 to Rs25,000 over a period of four to five years, which has come as development assistance from donors such as government of India, German Development Bank (KfW), NABARD and the respective state governments. Additional investments were made in the form of labour and local agricultural inputs by the participating families. While they earned about Rs8,000 to Rs10,000 from inter crops right from the first year, the major income of Rs30,000 to Rs40,000 per annum came after six to seven years, when the orchards started bearing fruit regularly.
Various supplementary income generation activities such as establishment of fruit and forestry nurseries, mushroom production, processing of local fruits and vegetables, establishment of goat, poultry and dairy herds further enhanced their income by 40-60%. In this process of development, the tribal families realised the importance of forests and natural resources in directly influencing their agricultural production. As fruit orchards did not require intensive tillage operations, the programme ensured improvement in soil and water conservation, resulting in a clean environment and improvement in the bio-diversity
Coverage: Presently, this programme is spread over 18 districts of Maharashtra, 10 districts of Gujarat, eight districts of Karnataka, one district of Madhya Pradesh and 15 districts of Rajasthan benefiting two lakh tribal families, who were living in poverty. In about four to five years after joining the programme, the participant families are able to come out of poverty.
Programme impact: Safe drinking water ensured reduction of hardship, good health and better quality of life. With focus on literacy, there has been significant improvement in the literacy level while thousands of tribal youth have successfully completed graduation, post-graduation and technical qualifications and are serving in various capacities.
The programme has ensured food security and connectivity with various development institutions such as Government departments, Panchayati Raj and financial institutions. The participant communities have established their cooperatives for processing and marketing of their produce, while also establishing direct linkage with various urban markets.
Greater awareness about organic farming, hygiene, sanitation and clean environment has been leading to sustainable development.
A model has been demonstrated with a unique approach to rehabilitate the tribals while enriching the environment. This programme has been very well accepted by the tribals as well as the policy makers in the country. Thus, various donor agencies including the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, government of India and NABARD have created special funds for wider replication of the Wadi programme across the country.