Poverty — and the conditions that lead to it — is dependent on a multitude of causes, ranging from economic and political to social and cultural. According to World Bank data, the global poverty rate has fallen steadily over the last 25 years. However, India is still grappling with the critical challenge of rural poverty that impacts millions of Indians.
The Tata Trusts aim to create robust livelihood opportunities to enable households to earn more, and lead healthier lives. The Livelihoods portfolio covers a number of integrated community-based interventions across India that strive to improve rural incomes through modern farming practices, water management, soil conservation, livestock and animal husbandry, market linkages, crafts, etc.
The giant strides that India has made in economic growth has no doubt helped to reduce the percentage of people below the poverty line. However, over two-thirds of India’s population still lives in rural and semi-rural areas, where there is a daily struggle to earn enough from farm-related activities to feed the household. According to 2011 statistics from Asia Development Bank, 21.9% of India’s population (approximately 363 million) lived below the poverty line. Of this, the rural poor account for nearly 260 million (C Rangarajan Committee Report, 2014).
Families in rural areas find it tough to break out of the cycle of poverty, primarily because a majority of Indian agriculture-based incomes continue to be dependent on the monsoons. Additionally, poor soil conditions, minimal use of modern farming methods, lack of systematic irrigation facilities, absence of post-harvest facilities and sustainable market linkages combine to put farm-based income generation capabilities in jeopardy.
To develop an equal and empowered society, it is imperative that a country includes the poorest of the poor in its growth story, which is why the Trusts have identified the development of rural livelihoods as a focus area for rural development.
Rural livelihood development has been a key engagement area for the Trusts for a number of decades, with programmes spread across farming, irrigation, water conservation, fisheries, marketing of produce and more. The approach is both systematic and pragmatic: surveys and baselines identify vulnerable households, while ground research helps in understanding the environment, available resources and market conditions.
Sustainable interventions are then designed — based on need and geography — to augment natural resources and help develop community institutions. Several livelihood-centred interventions are designed around local or regional needs - such as promoting suitable Package of Practices in agriculture, end-to-end (i.e. from production to market) value chains for farm and non-farm produce, setting up poultry, dairy, fishery, piggery, non-timber forest produce (NTFP), high value agriculture or micro enterprise-based income opportunities in areas where crop incomes are highly variable, establishing a range of household interventions in stressed regions like Vidarbha, Maharashtra or north-east India, launching water management projects in water stressed areas, and so on.
The core of the Trusts’ Livelihoods portfolio is a continued focus on innovation and integration of ideas and projects, with an emphasis on sustainable development. From the mKRISHI model of crop information dissemination to designing simpler, more efficient agricultural machinery to developing micro-irrigation systems and using solar energy, the Trusts’ initiatives integrate innovative technology into projects, making them more efficient and self-sustaining.
These initiatives prioritise the upliftment of marginalised and poor communities in remote regions or isolated villages, especially those with a predominance of scheduled caste (SC) or scheduled tribe (ST) populations.
The Trusts believe that developing sustainable livelihoods to alleviate poverty requires the collaborative efforts of both public and private sectors as also civic society so as to ensure that vulnerable communities are set on a sustainable path to prosperity. Hence, the Trusts collaborate closely with their local associate organisations (such as NEIDA in the northeast, CmF in Rajasthan and Himmotthan in Uttarakhand) to help implement a host of programmes targeting at-risk communities across the country.
The Trusts collaborate closely with central, state and local governments across the country, as well as with the corporate and social sectors to roll out programmes for rural income generation activities, while also aiming to catalyse an optimal utilisation of funds and deliver large-scale results. Knowledge and understanding of geography-specific requirements comes from local agricultural universities and farmers’ federations.
The Trusts also engage with communities at the grassroots level to build community-level resources. For instance, in communities that depend on inland fisheries for a living, the Trusts collaborate with community centres to produce fish feed to sustain local fish ponds. This kind of ground-level institution building helps sustain developmental initiatives while mitigating risks.
Regions Covered in Livelihood