SUSTAINABLE NATURAL RESOURCES

Over 90% of the people Seva Mandir works with rely on subsistence agriculture, but the region’s natural resource base is severely degraded. For over 35 years, across more than 400 villages, Seva Mandir has protected and developed 16,000 hectares of common land, made sustainable watersheds for 6,000 families, and helped another 10,000 farmers improve their agricultural yields. These efforts have strengthened farming livelihoods, ensuring that the poorest people have food and financial security, and nurtured a demand for better, more ethical management of the environmental commons.

COMMON LANDS

Need

3/4 of the land in our area is common land to be used by the entire community. However, illegal private encroachments on nearly 70% of this land disallow access to the poorest and prevent them from earning a livelihood.

Seva Mandir’s Response

Seva Mandir supports communities through lengthy negotiations to remove encroachers, and has developed 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) of common land. These lands yield tangible benefits, such as an annual Rs. 4.5 million ($75,000) of fodder which families would otherwise have to purchase. Seva Mandir’s village institutions manage benefit-sharing, have protected and kept 80% of sites in productive use, and produce grassroots environmental leaders recognized by Seva Mandir’s annual Ummedmal Lodha Awards.

Seva Mandir is also a leading partner in the government’s efforts to protect common lands. A Seva Mandir advocacy campaign won NGOs the ability to implement the flagship MGNREGA program in Rajasthan, and since 2011, over 100 village governments have endorsed Seva Mandir as the executor for 272 government projects on common resources, creating 110,000 person days of employment at an expense of Rs. 12,500,000 ($210,000).

WATERSHED

Need

Farmers in our work area must cope with a desert climate, erosion-prone hills, and irrigation on just 20% of productive land. In this context, conserving water can make or break livelihoods.

Seva Mandir’s Response

We have built sustainable watersheds in 46 villages through large-scale infrastructure (such as dams and trenches) that prevents water runoff and soil erosion, conserves water and increases agricultural productivity. Village institutions maintain the watersheds and receive technical support from our engineers.

Our work on watersheds has improved the lives and livelihoods of over 6,000 families. Farmers in watershed areas can grow food grain for four additional months, and 85% of families who previously bought grain are now self-sufficient. 50% of farmers report an increase in cultivable land of more than 1 acre, translating into a near 100% increase in farm-based income with important knock-on effects such as fewer families migrating for work. In testimony to its excellence in watershed creation, Seva Mandir has received funding from NABARD and has been selected by ICRISAT and the government’s Ministry of Rural Development to build a national model watershed.

AGRICULTURE

Need

93% of the rural population in Udaipur district are farmers, but only 4% of their crop is grown for sale. Agriculture is thus an essential component of food security, and there is great scope to improve farming livelihoods through better access to irrigation and more efficient farming practices.

Seva Mandir’s Response

To improve irrigation, Seva Mandir has constructed 76 anicut dams and 47 irrigation lifts in 108 villages. Followup studies found that involved families were able to grow staple food grain for 3.5 additional months, about a 50% increase.

Seva Mandir has also worked directly with over 10,000 farmers to improve agricultural yields. Seva Mandir promotes eco-friendly best practices, such as communal seed banks with improved crop varietals, diversified vegetable cultivation, vermi-composting, and livestock health camps. In the year 2011-12 alone, improved seeds provided 1000 farming families better nutrition and a 50% hike in income through sale of corn and mustard worth about Rs.1500 to each family.

RESEARCH & ADVOCACY

Research & Advocacy

Seva Mandir stands at the national forefront of research on common lands and related advocacy networks. These efforts complement the demand driven movement we have nurtured in our partner villages (like the pictured forest protection rally), allowing us to influence wider policy and practice.

Seva Mandir is currently leading a coalition of six partner organizations in a study, “Safeguarding the Commons,” which will comprehensively document the status of common lands across five Indian states. The study will form the foundation for local action and national level advocacy.

Seva Mandir founded and collaborates closely with Van Utthan Sansthan, a network of forest protection committees across 240 villages that manages 67,000 hectares of common land and was awarded the prestigious India Biodiversity Award, given by the Government of India and the UNDP, in 2012.

At the policy level, Seva Mandir is currently building a national model watershed with ICRISAT, has played an influential advisory role to government on implementation of programs like MGNREGA and the Joint Forest Management act, and has served on the National Afforestation and Eco-Development Board.

  • Ummedmal Lodha Awards for grassroots environmental leaders (link)
  • Interview on BBC Radio 5: The Human Impact of a Seva Mandir Watershed (link)