Started with an aim to restore the ecological integrity of common lands, FES has impacted over 9 million acres ever since
“We strive for a future where we understand that human society is a part of a larger ecological whole… Our cities fundamentally depend on villages for their food and water supply. I think we need to see rural and urban in a continuum,” says Jagdeesh Rao, Founder Executive Director (2001-2020), Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) while talking about the importance and need for ecological restoration for enhanced livelihoods.
FES works for conserving nature and natural resources through co-ordinated human effort at local and higher levels to improve ecological, social and economic outcomes. FES is ensuring these outcomes by promoting decentralisation of natural resource management, creating awareness around conservation of common lands, and assisting local communities to secure rights over shared natural resources, improve local governance and access public funds to restore local ecosystems.
Jagdeesh is among the entrepreneurs whose stories are captured in Omidyar Network India’s newly launched video series titled ‘The Bold Ones - Innovating for the Next Half Billion’. Comprising videos combining interviews, archival footage and animation, the series captures power-packed stories of entrepreneurs who are building for the 500 million-plus Indians coming online for the first time via their mobile phones, a segment often referred to as the ‘Next Half Billion’ or NHB.
Ecological restoration of Commons
“About a quarter of India could be classified as Commons. These are forests which are adjoining villages, pastures which are inside the villages or water bodies. How can a country like India with 1.3 billion people and about one-third of them living under poverty afford to neglect or disregard about a quarter of its land mass…,” says Jagdeesh in the video.
It’s globally acknowledged that the degradation of Commons is a key contributor to poverty, conflict, corruption and limited economic growth; and in India, Commons face widespread degradation, leading to falling yields, increased cost of cultivation, depleted water tables, shrinking forests, and the unregulated use of pastures.
FES is helping local communities retain their rights over Commons, to move towards sustainable land-use practices that aid conservation, and create economic opportunities.
In 20 years of its existence, FES has worked with over 30,000 village institutions in 78 districts. More than 16 million lives have been impacted and over 9 million acres of Commons have been secured by the organisation.
Enhancing livelihoods for the next billion
“FES is uniquely placed in working with such communities [who are just getting connected to the internet] in different geographies of India. Our target for the next five years is to reach 38 million people,” says Jagdeesh.
FES hopes to collaborate with other organisations and tech companies solving specific problems such as poverty, insurance, agritech, etc to provide farmer-centric products, thereby serving the next half billion with products that could create a deep and positive impact in their lives.
The personal and professional challenges and success Jagdeesh has faced on his journey can be seen here.