Kotra block: a snapshot of livelihoods
Kotra is one of the seven geographical regions in which Seva Mandir works and is the furthest from the NGO’s headquarters. Its population is 95% tribal. Lagging on most development indicators and public services such as health and education, Kotra was once known as ‘Kala Paani’ (black water), a name which reflected its remoteness and backwardness. While this old name is not used so frequently now, Kotra continues to be plagued by problems of remoteness, poor connectivity with the cities, and erratic and ad hoc provision of public facilities.
Seva Mandir has been working in this region for about two decades now and recently started an intensive programme of natural resource development to ensure food, fodder and water security, thus enhancing the incomes of rural households.
Before the start of this project, a baseline study of 1,020 households from seven villages was conducted in 2015. This article presents some of its key findings and attempts to highlight the base situation of Kotra and other similar regions in the country, as well as the possibilities arising from this project.
Baseline findings: agriculture
The region is semi-arid, drought-prone and comes under the sub-humid southern plain agro-climatic zone.
Medi Village in Kotra
The average landholding of most of the farmers is 1.5 hectares (small-scale agriculture), but roughly half of this land is not fit for cultivation because of the presence of thin soil consisting mainly of partially weathered rock fragments in the foothills and alluvial soil in the plains. Agriculture is mainly rain fed: 48% of the owned land is unirrigated and largely dependent upon monsoon, whereas 42% of the land is irrigated through wells and bore wells. 2% of households purchase water from their neighbours.
More than 50% of the cropping takes place during Kharif (monsoon) season, followed by Rabi (spring, 38%), and only 6% of the surveyed households grow Zaid crops (grown on irrigated land which is not monsoon-dependent). Less than 1% of the surveyed households are engaged in growing fruit.
Of the Kharif crops, maize (51%) is the only cereal crop that is grown extensively in the area studied, followed by cotton (23%), and pulses like pigeon pea (16%). Of Rabi crops, wheat (66%) is the main crop. Of Zaid crops, green gram (62%) is the major crop, followed by maize (18%), bajra (millet, 11%), castor (5%), and onions (2.3%). More than 50% of the surveyed households use hybrid maize seed bought from the market, which contrasts with wheat, where 95% of households use traditional seeds. Across all the crops (maize, wheat, lentils, and vegetables), insecticides appear to be widely used. The analysis shows that all the major crops except green peas receive fertilizers.
Farmer preparing the field for maize cultivation at Medi
The area receives 618 mm rainfall annually, which is highly erratic in terms of onset and distribution. Most of the rainfall is lost as run-off due to undulating terrain. This also results in soil erosion and lack of drinking water for humans and livestock round the year.
As a result of poor soil and water conservation activity in the region, there is severe water stress. 73% of households have drinking water (from sources such as open wells near their home) for only about 8 months a year. In the remaining months they have to fetch it from far away sources such as handpumps or bore wells, but these are few in number (four of five per village) and households have to compete for available resources. 11% of households have water for irrigation available for only six months.
A survey of food availability reveals a dismal picture. 70% of households reported that they do not have enough pulses to sustain their families throughout the year. Even though these are farming communities, expenditure on food (63%) constitutes their highest monthly expenditure. Over the year, expenditure on health and social obligations (marriages and festivals) can rise as high as 50%, agriculture and livestock related expenditure comes to 12%, while education counts only 7%.
Income and food security in this region continues to discourage in spite of the potential the region has in terms of food and agro-based livelihoods. And in the absence of any support systems, migration for wage labour as sharecroppers or factory workers becomes the only possibility for these people.
A rising concern has been the degradation and encroachment of common pastureland, which used to be the mainstay as a source of fodder for livestock. Currently, 54% of households procure fodder from their farms, 34 % from forestland and 2% each from revenue land and pastureland (both of which are owned by the village). All in all, the fodder gathered from these sources last only for 6-7 months, after which farmers borrow from their neighbours or buy from the market.
Pastureland at Medi village
The economy is primarily based on subsistence agriculture. The primary source livelihoods for households break down as follows: 37% in agriculture, 32% in animal husbandry and 25% in wage labour. Other sources of livelihood include small shops in the villages (2%), government jobs (1.5%), and sale of non-timber forest products (1.3%). Due to poor productivity and output from land, villagers are not able to fulfil their needs so migrate in search of employment. In many families, even children migrate to supplement the family income.
The baseline study reveals 52% of the 1,020 households migrate, mostly to Gujarat, as wage labour. 41% of these migrate with their whole family. 67% of the migrating households do so seasonally (winter and summer), while 30% migrate at some point during the year. Finally, the annual household income from migration activities for 94% of households comes to less than INR 60,000.
In addition, these communities have very little access to formalized institutional credit systems, which limits their capacity to save and invest and thus improve livelihood conditions. Only 20% have access to the banking system. Overall, 99% of households were able to save less than INR 500 monthly, which makes them critically vulnerable to household shocks (eg disease, calamities, death of the breadwinner and crop loss). Where there is any spare cash, communities would generally invest in livestock, usually goats and poultry, which have become an important source of cash during the stress period.
Institutionally, these villages come under the Panchayat Raj Institution system (a system of three-tier governance in which the panchayat, or village-level elected government body, is the basic form of administration, followed by an elected body at block level, and finally at district level). The seven villages fall under two revenue villages – Medi and Buriya panchayats. (A revenue village is a small administrative region which may contain many hamlets, all coming under one panchayat.) However, the panchayats’ role in helping improve the natural resource base (eg land, water etc) has been minimal.
The other powerful social institutions are caste panchayats (non-government decision-making bodies set up by a community along caste lines) but their domain has been mainly social and they do not engage in economic and livelihood domains.
Solar lift irrigation at Dehri village
To tackle the challenges described above, Seva Mandir has initiated a project which aims to strengthen agriculture-water relations in the seven villages, by plugging the gaps of soil and water resources in the watershed and creating an irrigation facility through water harvesting, lifting, and conveyance. The work will be carried out in a watershed area of 400 hectares, which will include construction of diversion bunds, deepening and repair of ponds, construction of water harvesting structures to aid irrigation and ground water recharge.
Training on preparation of vegetable nursery at Vasela village
An agricultural production plan for the households will be worked out to improve incomes. The plan will include establishing vegetable nurseries for raising saplings, development of dry-land orchards, and introduction of improved but low-irrigation varieties of grain and pulse seeds. Initiatives are also planned to improve the production of backyard poultry. Village pastures will be developed to improve fodder supply.
Diversion barrage at Koldara village
As a result of these activities it is expected that the health and productivity of farmland and grazing land will increase, thereby ensuring food, fodder and water security. The cultivation of fruits and vegetables will also aid nutrition security. Natural resources like land, water and especially common grazing lands require people to cooperate. The project will create opportunities for people to work together and in the process their solidarity will be enhanced which will help them take up other collaborative work in the future.
Vegetable production by a framer at Dehri village