Agriculture and Dryland Livelihoods
Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood in the region apart from wage labor and collection of forest produce. Agriculture is mostly rain fed and being part of the central Indian dry lands, water is a scarce resource making agriculture a high risk livelihood option. Also since the people in the region were displaced from their fertile lands, returning to previous levels of productivity has been a challenge for the poeple.
Samrakshan interviened in the area in 1996 and implimented the Sustainable Agriculture Programme which seeked to address the issue of low agricultural productivity in the region. As part of the programme, the emphasis was on three areas: Water conservation and Water Harvesting; Crop Protection Walls; Plantations. With the help of the local community, the intervention proved to be a success as it enhanced agricultural productivity in the area.
Water Conservation and Water Harvesting
Samrakshan successfully implemented its first watershed treatment programme during 1996-2011, covering 4 villages lying in the Patar watershed. After the project, average household income increased from around Rs.1400-2100 to at least Rs.12,000-23,000. Agriculture was transformed from a loss making enterprise to a profitable one. All costs incurred in soil and water conservation were recovered in the form of higher farm income as early as the end of 2011. Because of improved availability of water, cropping intensity increased, as did the total number of households engaged in agriculture. The benefits of the watershed project in terms of improved agricultural security have gone dramatically in favour of the poorest households in each project village. A number of the poorest households have started engaging in agriculture once again, instead of depending entirely on wage labour. Under the Patar watershed programme, we have constructed 74 km of field bunds and 25 km of Crop Protection Walls (CPWs) in these 4 villages. We have planted 10,000 saplings, and dug or deepened 25 open wells for irrigation.
Samrakshan partnered with the MP Rural Livelihoods program during 2007-08 to prepare similar watershed treatment plans for all 24 villages displaced from the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary. Many elements of this plan are being implemented by the villagers under the NREGS.
Crop Protection Walls
To save standing crops from damage by stray cattle and wild animals, we have constructed almost 40 km of crop protection walls (known locally as kotra) in 8 villages, enabling around 400 farmers to save their fields from damage. These walls are built from loose stone and rubble, and provide valuable slack season employment, along with protecting the forest since thorny bushes are now not used for fencing the fields.
Over the years we have raised and distributed around 20,000 saplings for greening the newly settled villages relocated from Kuno sanctuary. In the Patar watershed alone, we have helped 100 farmers to raise horticulture plantations to supplement their agricultural income. We developed a nursery of our own with a capacity of 20,000 saplings and gradually handed it over to women’s self help groups as an income generating activity.