A DELHI UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS, Rangu Rao heads the Watershed Development programme for SPS. His hands-on interventions and personal connections with hundreds of villagers have yielded many successful initiatives.
TACKLING INDIA’S agrarian crisis is not the most fashionable project for contemporary innovators. It isn’t even about innovation — because conventional challenges of innovation pale when confronted with the realities of food and crisis in farming in some of the country’s drought-ridden drylands. The scale and reach of the government intervention has not been able to make a dent. It is enough to demoralise even dedicated do-gooders. But one formidable band of game-changers has taken it upon itself to work towards livelihood security on an unimaginable scale: over a million acres of land across India’s 72 most backward districts.
THE CORE FOCUS of Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS) is watershed development — farmer suicides in the state were high, usurious moneylenders were taking advantage of illiteracy and desperation, and reliance on single crops was making land yields unviable. SPS adopted 57 villages to directly implement watershed programmes — spending 60 million to create water harvesting structures with a storage capacity of over a million cubic metres, irrigating over 112,000 acres of land. In the process, they generated two million man-days of employment — and for the first time ever, offered drinking water security to every household in each village. Another key benefit: drought-proofing of the all-important kharif crop that the community primarily relies on.
But simply creating structures wasn’t enough; the innovators at SPS got involved in management and equitable sharing of water also. Written agreements were drawn up in each case, detailing everything, from proportion of water sharing to hours of pumping, sequence of irrigation, cropping patterns and even watering intensity. All households, irrespective of their size of land holding, were given an equal share of the water. SPS core member Rangu Rao — who oversees the watershed programme along with Pramathesh Ambasta, Murlidhar Kharadia and Narendra Patel — had the formidable task of gaining the confidence of farmers and arriving at the agreement on water-sharing through involvement with local communities and panchayats.
A DELHI UNIVERSITY ALUMNUS, Rangu Rao heads the Watershed Development programme for SPS. His hands-on interventions and personal connections with hundreds of villagers have yielded many successful initiatives. Along with a committed team, Rangu has created a network that enjoys the confidence of locals. His paper on Rural Credit in 20th Century India (along with Mihir Shah and PS Vijay Shankar) is a part of the syllabus for Development Theory for Delhi University’s Bachelor’s degree in Economics. Rangu also chairs the working group on.
SPS HAS BEEN making a tangible impact on the quality of life and incomes in the region. The value of agricultural output has increased, due to expansion in irrigated areas and higher yields. Kharif yields are up 10-20 percent, Rabi by 50-60 percent. Equally significant – external migration of farmers and local families has dropped by a staggering 80 percent. Another key impact has been the removal of reliance on a single crop – tribal farmers now cultivate 2-3 crops.
SAMAJ PRAGATI SAHAYOG (SPS), one of the country’s largest grassroots initiatives for water and livelihood security, is headquartered in Dewas, MP. SPS has direct intervention programmes in over 220 villages and towns in the area. Its key focus is to arrest distressmigration towards the metros and liberate farmers from the vicious cycle of moneylenders and loans. For direct intervention programmes, SPS relies on government funding, and a few key donors. The organisation also focuses on building a corpus from larger donations where only the interest is used for development activities.