Home CATEGORIES Agriculture & Rural Development Mr Ganesh Neelam from Tata Trusts Talks About Development in Rural India

Mr Ganesh Neelam from Tata Trusts Talks About Development in Rural India

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India is home to nearly 17.24 crore rural households and as per the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), in 2022, unemployment in rural India stood at 8.35% in February, 7.29% in March and 7.18% in April. Tata Trusts has been working towards bridging the gap through large-scale transformation of rural areas across India. Its Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) was set up to transform the lives of tribal and rural households in Central India through building knowledge and scaling up programmes in areas of agricultural productivity, forest-based livelihoods, water resource development, etc.
In an exclusive interaction with The CSR Journal, Mr Ganesh Neelam, Executive Director – Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives, Tata Trusts, talk about the organisation’s initiatives for rural transformation in India.

1. How will Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives and Tata Trusts transform the rural areas in India?

Furthering efforts to transform 17 tribal blocks across the central Indian tribal belt, which is home to 75% of India’s indigenous tribal communities, Tata Trusts established the Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) back in 2007. An associate organisation of Tata Trusts, CInI has been working on tribal development for over 15 years now, leading the Central India Initiative in a focused manner.
Committed to the cause of tribal upliftment, CInI will continue working towards meeting the aspirations of the tribal communities through focused scalable programmes such as Lakhpati Kisan, Education, etc. The approach towards focusing on transforming the communities is to empower them along with bringing in the relevant enablers and stakeholders to overall enhance the quality of life. Focusing on scale and impact, we will also continue collaborating with relevant stakeholders like civil society organisations, agriculture and other knowledge institutions, and state and central government agencies. Promoting advanced technologies in agriculture, water resources, energy, drinking water, and sanitation is also going to be a priority as we continue on our journey to significantly impact livelihoods in the region.

2. Please shed light on how Mission 2020 – Lakhpati Kisan: Smart Villages Program was conceptualised. What are the key components of this program?

Central India is home to a tribal belt where 75% of India’s indigenous tribal communities reside. Out of the 900 blocks that house these tribal communities, an alarming 72% have a Poverty Head Count Ratio that exceeds 50%. Keeping this in mind, our Mission 2020 – Lakhpati Kisan: Smart Villages Program  was launched with Collectives for Integrated Livelihood Initiatives (CInI) in 2015 with two broad objectives: transforming 17 select blocks as drivers of regional growth across Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Odisha, and making nearly one lakh tribal households ‘Lakhpati’ in an irreversible and  sustainable manner. Conceptualised and designed along with the women from the communities with an understanding to meet their aspirations for their family and themselves, the program focuses on strengthening the communities to take up positive and long-lasting transformation of the region. With the aim to drive these results, the program includes key principles, including ensuring irreversibility of impact; undertaking market-led intervention to ensure at-scale production and systematic market access; indulging demand-led activities to empower communities; promotion of high end technology; and improving quality of life by providing access to water and sanitation, nutrition, education and all-round development.

3. How is the sustainability of this program? How will the villages fare after the intervention by Tata Trusts is taken away from the area?

With a prime focus on irreversible and sustainable impact through our mission, we have worked very hard to ensure that the development undertaken, along with the communities, has a long-lasting impact on the target regions. The program is being built with the core base of women-led community institutions and micro-entrepreneurs, ensuring quality services to their member base from a long-term perspective. The overall strengthening of the community institutions, connecting them with relevant stakeholders and enabling the overall ecosystem with quality services within the livelihood value chains will enable sustainability. Today, the program is successfully working with over 1 lakh households across the four target states in the country. The demonstrated success in these areas is creating a ripple effect in their own as well as neighbouring regions and motivating other community members to pursue their own pathway to prosperity – a sign of organic impact beyond target regions and community-led action that is critical in ensuring sustenance. The anchoring of the program by the community institutions, along with the micro-entrepreneurs embedded within the clusters for various livelihood services, has been the focus, and this would ensure the larger community base within the clusters get the required services, solutions and products for moving towards the lakhpati pathway.  Based on the learnings from the last 5 to 6 years, the next level of scale of nearly 200,000 small and marginal families through these community institutions is something we are focusing on and will facilitate the integrations of the relevant stakeholders for moving ahead systematically.

4. How does the organisation measure the impact of this program? What has it been so far?

Launched with the idea of transforming key target regions across Central India, the broader objective behind the program is to drive positive development for tribal households in the area. Over the past few years, the program has been overall successful, with considerable learnings to take it to the next level of scale. The goal of the program is very clear in terms of making the households Lakhpati in an irreversible manner. With this goal, the process being followed towards implementation is livelihood layering at the household level, with asset creation, technology integration, services in terms of inputs and market linkages, etc. The process of measuring the annual outputs and outcomes is through the seasonal data captured in the MIS, along with looking at the annual income through the livelihood interventions. With this process of data capturing at the household level linked to the livelihood interventions, the movement of the households to Lakhpati is captured. The program has also been evaluated through a third party in terms of the impact on the communities along with the learnings. Overall the program has seen nearly 50,000 households becoming Lakhpati in an irreversible manner. Around 25,000 households are now moving to the Lakhpati pathway, and there are still around 25,000 households who are still behind on reaching the Lakhpati as their resource base is fairly poor, and their risk-taking ability is minimal.  Promoting rural entrepreneurship, we are working with more than 250 rural entrepreneurs to give them access to production clusters, conscious and cost-effective technology, and opportunities for the transfer of knowledge and technologies. Focusing on improving the overall quality of life by providing access to resources like water, we have also set up more than 2,540 irrigation structures, thereby bringing 15,000 acres under irrigation.

5. How does the organisation bring about technological development under this program?

Promoting the use of advanced technologies in agriculture, water resources, energy, drinking water, and sanitation can reap rich dividends by significantly impacting livelihoods in the target regions. The focus has been on understanding the pain points of the community linked to the livelihood value chains in pre-production, production, and postproduction and then identifying the relevant technologies and solutions to address the pain points. As an example, for high-value agriculture, one key pain point is the timely availability of healthy seedlings for transplanting. To address this pain point, the technological innovation of Polyhouse nursery has been promoted through local entrepreneurs as service delivery. We want to drive innovation through the infusion of high-end technology and processes – and hence partnering with the best technology players is a key priority for us.  With sustainability on our minds, we have also been successful in nurturing the adoption of innovative, cost-effective and environmentally conscious technologies solutions such as solar pumps and solar panels to ensure sustainability in the region. Various technologies in the areas of agriculture, livestock, non-timber forest produce, water, etc, are being promoted with various stakeholders linked to start-ups, private players, etc.

6. What are some of the key learnings that the Tata Trusts team has acquired while working on this program?

– People’s institutions at the centre of planning for sustainability and exit
– Water and soil control are critical to impacting livelihoods.
– Focus on high-value agriculture and utilizing uplands.
– Integrate Climate Resilience Principles
– Plan quality-of-life interventions in parallel through a cluster-based approach.
– Technology, financial inclusion and markets to be prominent enablers.

7. How does the organisation plan to scale this program? What are the future plans of the organisation for this initiative?

The success of the mission so far has bolstered our commitment to scaling this program for large-scale impact. With plans to scale the number of households from 1 lakh to around 2 lakh in the next five years, the next phase of the program is in the works already, and we are very excited about the journey ahead. The scaling phase focuses on integrating climate resilience principles to be anchored by the community institutions along with the Systems Thinking Approach, wherein they link the livelihood interventions with the climate resilience aspects and build up an action plan with it. The focus scale on technology integration along with financial loan products and building the business of the community institutions. As the general conversation around sustainability gains momentum, we are also focusing on integrating the climate resilience principles and renewable energy aspects across our efforts. Empowering and strengthening women-led community institutions will also remain a key priority for us. As we continue to evolve this bold and ambitious program over the coming few years, the idea is to grow it as a successfully demonstrated model that can be replicated and adopted by the government and other like-minded organisations to drive large-scale development across the country.