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Communities lead the charge against degradation of shared pasturelands in India

Indian women in rural drylands walking to get water.
Indian women in rural drylands walking to get water.

Rural communities in the state of Rajasthan, India, are poor and marginalized. To them, shared grazing pastures represent a lifeline because they provide fodder for livestock, fuel, timber, water and medicinal plants. But, overgrazing, overextraction and lack of sustainable management has led to severe degradation. Community-led rehabilitation efforts have proved successful in reversing degradation and improving biomass yields. 

Key messages 

  • Degradation of pasture lands threaten livelihoods of rural communities 
  • Inclusive approach and community leadership ensure long-term success 
  • System-level solutions rehabilitated land and improved incomes as well as food security 
  • Degraded lands put pressure on women and men 

Located in northwestern India, the state of Rajasthan is a hot, arid region with scanty rainfall. Pastoralists and farmers living there rely on common property resources such as grazing pastures to sustain their livelihoods. But, lack of effective mechanisms for sustainable land management has resulted in severe degradation. Moreover, increased grazing pressure has led to the disappearance of many species and a decline in biomass yield. 

With very little opportunity to make a living in their rural communities, men are forced to migrate and look for jobs in urban areas. Meanwhile, women and children are left behind, struggling to survive in a harsh environment characterized by lack of water and food as well as by a constant threat of droughts or flash floods. 

Community leadership critical to long-term success 

To address these challenges, scientists have been working closely with local communities in three districts in the western part of Rajasthan to develop best practices and technologies on water conservation and regeneration of degraded pasturelands.

Scientists and communities collaborated to identify both biophysical and institutional opportunities and challenges for reversing degradation and sustainably intensifying agricultural production. Extensive community consultations were organized to improve and advance equitable bylaws and new institutional arrangements.  

As a result, a village development committee representing all sections of the community was established, and it now manages the shared pasture system. A women sub-committee is responsible for managing the harvest of fodder. Engaging the whole community is believed to be critical to the long-term success of the intervention:  

In the new institutional arrangement, the involvement of women livestock keepers in operationalizing the cut-and-carry fodder system was critical, and we expect it will contribute significantly to the sustainable management of common property resources,” said Dr. Shalander Kumar, of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which led the intervention. 

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Indian women discussing challenges and solutions relating to common property resources in their village.

System-level solutions address multiple challenges 

Scientists, the village development committee and local partners have worked together to develop appropriate solutions, including:

  • wire fencing the pasture lands;
  • establishing soil and water conservation structures;
  • planting trees; and
  • sowing improved grasses. 

Two local grass species and more than 7,000 multi-purpose fruit and fodder trees have been planted in three pilot sites, and the areas have been fenced to prevent stray cattle, small ruminants and camels from entering. 

To address water scarcity, rainwater-harvesting structures, such as closed wells with water catchment areas and open structures, were constructed. On the other hand, a series of embankments were built to manage runoff water and avert flash floods, which had previously devastated the community, damaging houses and endangering lives. 

Indian woman demonstrates rainwater-harvesting structure set up in her local village
Indian woman demonstrates rainwater-harvesting structure set up in her local village.

Rehabilitation efforts pay off for smallholder farmers   

As a result of relatively small investments and community-led, inclusive mechanisms for managing the pasturelands, biomass productivity and incomes in the three districts have increased significantly.  

Biomass yield increased from 0.25-0.40 tonnes per hectare to 1.6–4.6 tonnes per hectare in the second year of the intervention. Local communities, especially smallholder farmers, are benefitting directly from increased access to fodder resources, which invariably improves their food security and incomes.  

“Working together for improving our village pasture has given us good quality fodder during the lean season; we want now to rehabilitate the whole community land for fodder production,” said Mr. DhudaRam, a farmer of Govindpura village. 

The three village communities have been established as a learning site for farmers and stakeholders, including policy makers, to disseminate the technology to other rural communities in the region.  

Policy makers at the district level have visited the sites and are interested in supporting the trialled initiatives. Local partner GRAVIS has also started to scale up the approach to 20 other locations in the region that face similar challenges. 

Acknowledgement 

This work is led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) under the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems with support from the CGIAR Fund Donors. Other partners include Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti (GRAVIS), a local grassroots organization in Rajasthan, India. This research was supported by CGIAR Fund Donors. 

This story was originally authored by Shalander Kumar and Amit Chakravarty, and it first appeared on the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems website in May, 2015

References 

  • Shalander K., Amare H., Ramilan T., Suhas P. W. (2014) Assessing different systems for enhancing farm income and resilience in extreme dry region of India, International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics, Patancheru, INDIA 502 324 

Location: 

India

Agricultural livelihood systems: 

UN Sustainable Development Goals addressed: 

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