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Kasare village is like any other village. Rainfall is low. Terrain is undulating and difficult. Water was always a problem. There were no crops. People migrated to Mumbai and Pune for work. From such a situation, the villagers changed their village and also their lives. Water conservation through watershed development totally changed the scenario. Imaginative and high income generating cropping is the norm. Water is plenty. There are not even traces of poverty in any household; nor do farmers ever think of suicides here.
Gottigaripalli village is a remarkable story of collective triumph against nature’s adversity like low rainfall and difficult terrain. Kasare and Gottigaripalli villages are like our own miniature Israel. Transformed from once considered wastelands to present evergreen fields, agriculture is showering wealth on people here. Whereas Kasare and Gottigaripalli changed their destiny with intelligent watershed development and resultant water conservation, adjoining villages remain where they were; even now, drinking water has to be brought by tankers from outside.
Experience shows that the landless generally get land allotment far away from their habitations. The lands are also mostly fallow or at times difficult parcels where a lot of effort and investment is needed to make these cultivable. A different experience is shared here where the landless belonging to a backward tribe selected and purchased agriculture land for all the families near their habitation. The results are a learning experience for lifetime; not only their living conditions improved but also their self-esteem has gone up. The experience is relevant as nearly one third of rural households are landless and half of the households depend upon manual labour for livelihood in India.
The experience of landless people belonging to a nomadic tribe living close to Solapur town in Maharashtra is a classic example where despite so many development programmes including those specific to tribal development, they find their living tough.
For fishermen and women of Orissa’s sea village, Gopalpur, life is a daily battle against sea storms on one hand and exploiting middlemen on the other. Help from various Government programmes is making slow impact; but the needs are many and diverse.
Nearly 60% of agriculture in India is mono crop. Single crop and rural poverty go together. Rural poverty in turn adversely impacts education, health and nutrition of a huge part of our country. There are also vast areas which do not have any agriculture activity. All these present opportunity for alternative thinking to go for imaginative crops which change people’s lives.
Today, self-help groups (SHGs) are there everywhere. But, they are like enormous energy waiting to be tapped and also awakened. The experience of SHGs of Midnapore shows that they can be agents of social transformation in our villages. The scope for bringing desired change is limited only by our imagination.
All the experiences shared in this collection have a common underlying theme; there is so much to do and at the same time so much can be done with imaginative ideas and interventions. Development planning and execution must resonate with common people’s heartbeats. The author has been fortunate to be associated with these interventions; and also with their dreams, sorrows and struggles.