Press Information Bureau
Government of India
Special Service and Features
27-October-2016 18:08 IST

Horti-pasture system: Strengthening livelihoods to reduce disaster risks in Thar

Ghewar Ram and Gauri Devi, who live in the western Rajasthan, own just a one-and-a half bigha plot of land. They used to migrate in search of livelihood every time a drought struck. Not anymore. They have now adopted horti-pasture techniques. The family first planted local species such as ber, goonda, karonda and lemon, created a rain water harvesting tank and a boundary for the farm to prevent stray animals from destroying the crop. Next year, Gauri Devi introduced guvar on her farm as a part of intercropping. By the end of the second year, the farm turned profitable. While her family has to put about two extra hours of work on the farm, inter-cropping has benefitted them immensely in terms of fodder, fruits, vegetables and other produce. Ghewar Ram is jubilant when he says that the income from the plot has increased ten times.


Similar stories of hope and revival have started to emerge across the desert of western Rajasthan. With sustained efforts by the government to strengthen the financial resilience of vulnerable communities, and pro-active role of non-governmental organisations such as Unnati, a gradual but noticeable change has been brought about by strengthening livelihoods in these drought-prone areas.


Working towards substantially reducing disaster risks and losses in livelihoods is entrenched in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), adopted at the third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan in March, 2015. India is a signatory to this first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda and is thus committed to work towards making those choices for its environment, livelihoods and economic development that make it resilient to disasters.


The pain and suffering of people inhabiting the hostile terrain of western Rajasthan is a part of its folklore. ‘Saatkaal, sattaisjamana, trisathkuriakacha; teen kaal, aisapadela, maapoot mile napacha’, goes a local saying. It means that out of every 100 years, only 27 years are good. There are seven years of drought, 63 years of severe drought and three years of so much distress that a mother and her children get separated. Traditional survival strategies used to revolve around effective water management, animal husbandry, mixed agriculture and collective will. ‘Das hove chaukhibakriyaan, eksaantaron oont, das hove khejdala, to kaalkaad doo koot’ – A family can survive a drought if it has ten goats, a camel and ten khejdi trees. (Khejdi is a multipurpose legume with its parts used as food, fodder for the livestock, and raw material for constructing houses).


The primary source of livelihood for small and marginal farmers, who constitute about 78 per cent of the farming community and depend on rain for irrigation, is livestock. They traditionally relied on common community land and resources to maintain them. Common Property Resources (CPRs), particularly the oran and gauchar (community grazing land) and nadi (village pond), which used to be managed by the community had been declining as bigger farmers moved towards mechanization of agriculture coupled with individualized water supply. This meant growing food and fodder insecurity, poverty and migration for the marginalized population.


With an increase in the frequency and intensity of climate-related hazards, there has been an increase in the incidences of drought post-1961. Almost 80 per cent of agriculture is rain-fed. The Thar desert region receives an average annual rainfall between 100 and 300 mm. Add to that the fact that the highly erodible desert soil is deficient in nutrients, has a high infiltration rate and a low moisture holding capacity.



Fig: Annual rainfall in Thar desert region of Rajasthan


Reviving CPRs thus was of utmost importance for strengthening community resilience against drought. Unnati has been helping small and marginal farmers in western Rajasthan in developing horti-pasture plots and rain water harvesting tanks. It is also helping them in providing veterinary care to reduce animal morbidity and mortality, as well as prevention of malaria.


There was a strong belief that horticulture cannot be promoted in the desert ecology. However, with examples such as Ghewar Ram and Gauri Devi, villagers are now willing to try it out. The credit goes to experiments and trainings done by Central Arid Zone Research Institute (CAZRI) and other Kisan Vikas Kendras. They have provided expertise and training to the farmers on a continuous basis. They also provide an interface to the plot owners so that they can easily seek advice on plant varieties and combinations.


Over the years, many volunteers have been trained for functioning as local resource persons who can support farmers as well as local government functionaries on various aspects of horti-pasture system, grafting and choice of seeds. This has helped the disadvantaged farmers, especially women, in the initial years of switching to farming and livestock rearing techniques that make them resilient to droughts.


Plantation and fencing increases soil fertility providing better yield from inter-cropping. It has led to the regeneration of 21 local grass and shrub varieties that are used as fodder for the livestock. Some are also used as vegetables by people. They also contribute to soil nutrients and prevent soil erosion.


Making rain water harvesting structures, horti-pasture plots, specialized animal care, fodder banks and malaria prevention and cure accessible to small and marginalized farmers has proved to be of great use in building resilience to drought in desert areas of Rajasthan. It improves the adaptation capacity of small and marginal farmers by improving their fodder and livelihood security.


Many village and block level functionaries of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which aims at enhancing livelihood security of our rural population, now want to include horti-pasture plot development in their annual plans. This is a good example of how the goals of Disaster Risk Reduction can be interwoven with the goals of other social security schemes to result in sustainable and inclusive development. Works such as green fencing and construction of water harvesting tanks have also been approved under the MGNREGS in Rajasthan. This has helped horti-pasture system gain wider acceptance across the State with more and more small farmers switching to this form of agriculture.


These small but substantial gender and class sensitive measures are a step towards the 'all-society approach' as envisaged in the Sendai Framework.


While India is surely inching towards resilience to disasters, there is a long way to go. Since disasters don't respect national boundaries, there is a greater need  to move ahead on the implementation of the Sendai Framework in the Asia-Pacific region.


To realise this, the Government of India is organising the Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR) 2016 in collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The Conference, which will be held from November 3-5, 2016 in New Delhi, will see the participation of Asian nations and disaster management experts to come out with the roadmap to a stronger, safer and disaster-resilient Asia.


- contributed by Shri Binoy Acharya, Director, UNNATI