While the World Bank’s data shows that global poverty has fallen steadily over the past 25 years, India is still grappling with the rural poverty challenge. Despite giant strides in economic growth and an overall reduction in the percentage of people below the poverty line, India’s rural population continues to mainly be poor.
Over a fifth (21.9%) of India’s total population, approximately 363 million people live below the National Poverty Line (C Rangarajan Committee Report, 2014). Rural poor dominate this number, accounting for approximately 260 million. A large proportion of this population are agriculturalists, or agricultural labour. In a country where agriculture remains largely dependent on rainfall, this leaves our rural poor susceptible to the vagaries of the weather. In addition, the lack of systematic irrigation facilities, poor soil heath with minimal inputs, minimal use of modern farming methods and absence of post-harvest facilities and sustainable market linkages combine to create a trap from which poor farmers find it impossible to escape. As it is clear that India cannot deliver an equal and empowered citizenry without including the rural poor in its growth story, the Tata Trusts have identified rural livelihoods as a core area of focus. The Trusts work in-depth with distressed communities across over 19 states.
A macro perspective
The Trusts’ Livelihoods portfolio prioritises the growth of rural poor and marginalised communities. The focus is on remote or isolated regions, and specifically on women, BPL, and SC/ST populations. In order to create sustainable and irreversible change, the Trusts developed an integrated model of development which ties different programmes to a specific geography and its inhabitants, working with the empowered communities over time to create profits from production, develop markets and mitigate risk.
The Trusts’ initiatives under its Livelihoods portfolio follow an approach that is holistic, systematic and pragmatic. Baseline surveys identify vulnerable communities. Ground research helps understand the environment, market conditions and available resources. Sustainable interventions, based on geography and need, help to augment natural resources and develop new income opportunities. These interventions are designed to develop sustainable production chains in crops, livestock and fishery products; promote integrated livelihoods and enterprise; provide market linkages; and enhance technology and research capabilities so that income-generating programmes lead to permanent solutions.
The Trusts’ strategy is to promote several disparate projects to overlap within a community or even the same household. For instance, farmers in a village may continue farming, but they are given training in modern methods, such as the System of Rice Intensification for increasing paddy yields, or encouraged to grow kitchen garden vegetables for off-season income. At the same time, they are encouraged to earn through non-agricultural means, such as rearing of dairy cattle, goats, poultry, fisheries, duck farming and piggeries.
Similarly, the Trusts help with finance-based interventions such as training farmer groups and women’s self-help groups on saving money, obtaining loans, and tapping the government welfare and insurance schemes. They also assist in setting up local producer groups that support individuals with small loans, seeds, agri-inputs, etc. This integrated model of intervention helps in mitigating risk for the beneficiary, and in building stronger, self-serving communities on the ground.
Many paths to a single goal
The Tata Trusts’ strategy is to use multiple interventions to collectively address the issue of poverty. The challenge of livelihoods cannot be delinked from socio-economic factors such as education, health, access to finance. Hence, the Trusts’ approach is to overlap strategic interventions to address these shared components. This path, it is believed, will create more robust livelihood opportunities and enable households to earn more and live healthier.
In Central India, our Lakhpati Kisan Mission 2020 initiative aims to provide every tribal household with an annual income of Rs100,000, despite the small-sized land holdings. In the Central Himalayan Region, our Himmotthan Pariyojana initiative drives livestock programmes to increase fodder production, improve animal health and introduce better breeding practices, in order to increase the income generating capacity of the small farmer. At the same time, the education initiative in this region focuses on strengthening English language skills, building life-skills, and promoting digital literacy. The microfinance initiative empowers villagers to build self-reliant communities that can access the support of financial institutions.
In Maharashtra, the Sukhi Baliraja initiative seeks to alleviate farmers’ distress and reduce vulnerability through a multi-pronged strategy that includes sustainable agricultural practices, soil and water conservation, collective marketing and community-based microfinance. These are a few examples of the Trusts’ systemic interventions to improve livelihood opportunities among marginalised communities.
The Trusts believe that livelihood enhancement for poverty alleviation requires the collaborative efforts of public and private sectors as well as civil society, so as to ensure that vulnerable communities are firmly set on a sustainable path towards prosperity. The Trusts use the network of their associate and partner organisations to help implement programmes in at-risk geographies across the country. The Trusts also collaborate with central, state and local governments, academia and the corporate and social sectors. For example, India’s agricultural universities and farmers’ federations provide local knowledge that forms the foundation of the Trusts’ agricultural and allied livelihood programmes.
The Trusts also engage at the grassroot level to build community resources. For instance, in communities which depend on inland fisheries for a living, the Trusts collaborate with community centres to produce fish fingerlings and feed to sustain community fish ponds. It is this close and committed partnership with allied stakeholders that is key to generating visible and sustained positive change.
Going forward, the Trusts hope to strengthen these ground-level institutions so they are economically viable, thus ensuring that each and every vulnerable community is on the forward path to prosperity.