Leh Livelihood Initiative

Three-quarters of the population in Leh, India’s second-largest district, is spread thinly over 112 villages. Farmers here perpetually face the challenges of a fragile ecosystem in a high-altitude area. For instance, irrigation of arable land is fully dependent on meltwater from the glaciers. With the glaciers receding, farmers are faced with reduced meltwater to irrigate their lands during the short growing season. The situation is exacerbated by the extreme weather conditions that cause regular damage to gravity-based irrigation systems.

The Tata Trusts’ Leh Livelihoods Development Initiative functions on multiple levels that involve researching the needs of each area, working out scalable solutions, and implementing them in collaboration with government and local bodies. In collaboration with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), the Trusts have developed a comprehensive micro-plan for the villages in Leh.

The initiative focuses on improving the quality of life of 3,300 small scale farmers living in 30 villages in Leh district. Areas for interventions include water resources development, protected farming, horticulture development, fodder cultivation, value chain development of apricots, crop diversification, artisans’ skills development, high-tech farming, infrastructure development and capability building programmes, among others.

These programmes are being implemented in collaboration with LAHDC, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and a network of non-profit organisations such as Ladakh Ecological Development Group, Ladakh Environment and Health Organisation and Leh Nutrition Project. During the year, these interventions directly benefited 2,391 households across 30 villages in Leh district, including 55 women self-help groups.

Key achievements
  • Focus on improving irrigation systems and the value chain of crops.
  • Construction of check dams on mountain streams at high altitudes of around 4,500m in four villages – Nang, Umla, Takmachik and Igoo. These bunds trap freezing water in the winters, creating a system of artificial glaciers by building large reservoirs of ice. Built at a lower level than the natural glaciers, the ice in the artificial glacier melts earlier, providing sufficient supply of water for the most essential first round of irrigation, as early as April. The six artificial glaciers benefit more than 651 families and supplement irrigation over 1,014 acres of agricultural land.
  • Repairs and renovation of four irrigation channels in Lehdo, Skyindyang, Igoo and Saspol villages in convergence with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGA). Water was distributed to 203 families through these channels facilitating irrigation across 313 acres of agricultural land.
  • Constructed 47 greenhouses in 12 villages, to facilitate protected farming across 0.51 acres, benefitting 47 individual families. Repairs and renovations were undertaken for four individual and two community greenhouses that were lying defunct. Use of these structures for protected farming has benefitted the community as fresh vegetables are now available through winter.
  • Supported value chain development of apricot by providing training to farmers on harvesting, sorting, drying, grading, packaging and marketing of the crop. About 276 families across 11 villages adopted units of improved solar driers comprising 3,189 trays for sun drying of apricots. More than a thousand families in 13 villages began to use harvesting nets for apricots, thereby ensuring that the fruit harvested is free from damage. Over 10,500 apricot trees were harvested using this technology. These interventions have improved the quality of the sun-dried fruit, and helped farmers get increased price for their produce.
  • Introduced and tested new varieties of potatoes – more than 35 tonnes of potato tubers of improved varieties were demonstrated to 183 families across seven villages. Six potato cellars were constructed in three villages to demonstrate best practices in potato storage with technical inputs from the Defence Institute of High Altitude Research (DIHAR).
  • Facilitated the training of six women from five villages as master trainers in knitting. A 4-day decentralised training programme on knitting was also organised for 460 women from 58 women self-help groups spread across 17 villages and hamlets, under the supervision of 34 trainers and master trainers.
  • Undertook demonstrations of high value crops such as kidney beans, watermelons and green peas.

Future plans

The Leh Livelihood Development Initiative is an opportunity for the Trusts to implement situation-specific interventions that are both ecologically and socially sensitive. The Trusts, currently associated with 30 villages, plan to expand their scope of operations while also deepening the scale of potentially high-impact interventions. On the anvil are plans to:

  • Extend pilots for artificial glaciers and diversion irrigation channels in critically water-starved villages in the high-altitude desert ecosystem.
  • Establish precision farming, a new technology approved by a Leh-based research agency, of watermelon as a new cash crop.
  • Conduct a digital microplanning exercise in 113 revenue villages in Leh district, which will provide district officials and policy makers a platform to map and link all local and central schemes to each eligible person and household of the district, as well as analyse the status of key sectors of livelihood, health and education, enabling data-driven decisions and targeted implementation.
  • Initiate an extensive protected farming development programme to overcome the limitations of farming in winter.
  • Promote high-value crops such as kidney beans, watermelons, green peas, carrots, onions, etc. to enhance rural farmers’ incomes.
  • Demonstrate lift irrigation schemes and micro-irrigation to facilitate community wasteland development and high-tech farming.

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