GRAVIS vision is to mitigate droughts and reduce poverty among Thar Desert farmers by enhancing agricultural productivity
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
GRAVIS has been working in the Thar Desert region of India foer a long time. It is one of the most impoverished and under-developed part of India. Impacted by chronic droughts, the agricultural producirtivity is very low in Thar and there is a gross food insecurity. Depsite of erratic rainfall, rain-fed farming is only viable livelihood option in the area. Jodhpur, Barmer and Jaisalmer are 3 large districts on the western side of Thar close to the international border of India and Pakistan and are most severely drought impacted Districts where food and water insecurity is alarmingly high. GRAVIS understands the need of this area and has very good understanding of local conditions.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
Thar is a very arid and under-developed region
Thar (where the mentioned Districts are) is the most densely populated Desert eco-system globally having 83 persons per sq. km. It stretches through the State of Rajasthan in India. Extreme weather conditions and water scarcity that define the life of impoverished rural communities in Thar leaves even more belligerent impact because of the dependency of people on agriculture and animal husbandry. Despite being the smallest desert in the world geographically, it exhibits wide variety of habitats and biodiversity. Extreme climatic conditions and scanty rainfall along with strong winds that blow in the region affect the flora and fauna. While perennial droughts have always been an issue for the Desert people, climate change has manifested in the unpredictability and shifts in the rainy reasons in recent years. For instance, overall precipitation has been higher in the last couple of years but rains were neither spread out as per the traditional rainy seasons, nor did it come when it was most useful for agricultural needs. In the absence of structures that could store water for household use and agriculture, and with existing agricultural seasons and practices, farmers are not able to make use of this water for agriculture or for household purposes. On the other hand, they end up paying high amounts to procure water for household use.
Poverty in Thar is inextricably linked to the local environment. The proportion of people living below the poverty line is much higher than the national average as they live in the dry or un-irrigated areas where rainfall is low and highly variable. Rainfall is limited to about 2 months of the year and annual rainfall varies from less than 100mm in western Rajasthan to about 200 mm. in some parts of the desert. Of the 27 million inhabitants of Thar, 70% live in rural areas in extreme poverty particularly in low rainfall areas. Lack of water and food commodities due to insufficient rains have caused deep-rooted poverty and malnutrition in the region.
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The agriculture and pastureland is depleting in such conditions and is in constant want of water. For the agrarian and pastoralist communities of Thar, depleting soil and flora cover results in direct threat to food security. Water scarcity affects their agricultural produce while also impacting milk produce from cattle. While the rural communities in these regions have always bore the brunt of such conditions, climate change has come to affect their livelihoods in a much volatile manner, with their water and food security, health and nutrition are under constant threat.
As a result, the region faces severe food shortages and is trapped under poverty and malnutrition. With the current climate change manifestation, we are witnessing significant changes in rain fall patters and weather conditions which are affecting agricultural practices adversely. Hence, without strong drought mitigation and climate change adaptation programmes in place, the region's food crisis will deepn as we approach 2050.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
As described, chronic droughts have been impacting local populations and they face following challenges:
1. Food and nutrition insecurity - the food shortage is quite severe with both staple crops and fruit and vegetable cultivation being very low
2. Poverty and poor health - agriculture is the only viable income generating options, that often suffers due to rain failures. As a result, the region has widespread poverty. Lack of food and nutrition causes several health conditions
3. Gender inequality - women and girls have to engage in water fetching drudgery for domestic use as well as for agriculture which effects their health status and their opportunities to obtain education. The region has very strongly visible gender inequality with women and girls confined to traditional roles.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
Our high level vision is to mitigate droughts in the Thar Desert and by doing so address the food insecurity in the area. WE take a communities led approach which is driven by blending traditional wisdom and modern technology. Our focus has been on creating and rejuvenation rainwater harvesting structures and on organizing crop demonstration and new farming methods. Both physical interventions and training and capacity building activities are integral part of our overall vision. Our focus has been on small and marginal farmers. Last but not the least, our approach has been eco-friendly with the use of rainwater without threatening further depletion of ground water and with the use of organic methods of farming positively benefiting land and soil quality.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Rainwater harvesting tank
An Arid Horticulture Unit (AHU)
Crops in a farm with khadin
As stated, in this region, where levels of hunger and food insecurity are very high impacting millions of people living under poverty, GRAVIS has made some very sincere efforts to mitigate poverty and hunger. It has taken several innovative techniques to enhance food security in rural areas and has been conducting training and capacity building interventions. Following in account of our activities:
Construction of khadins (farming dykes)
It is a runoff based farming system constructed for an individual family or for a group of farmers. Khadins help in moisture retention in the farming lands even when the monsoon rains are as low as 50 mm in a year. As a result, the crop yield of farmers, dependent on rains, increases significantly. Thar Desert, where the rains are very low, khadins transform the rural lives with increased yield.
These are approximately 1 to 2 meters high and the length varies from 250 to 800 meters. Top width of khadin bund varies with height. The shape of khadin depends on average rainfall, catchment area, slope and soil type. Adequate catchment, bund, outlet for excess water or spillway are essential elements of a khadin. Masonry spillway is an innovation and it regulates access water outflow and increases the longevity of khadin walls.Till date, GRAVIS has constructed over 5,374 khadins in the Thar Desert benefiting over 10,000 farming households.
Arid Horticulture Units (AHUs)
AHUs are small, household level units that are used for cultivation of fruits and vegetables crops irrigated by wastewater from domestic use. We set up these units of about 20 fruit plants and vegetable crops in a land area belonging to the family. The fruit plants include pomegranate, guava, lemon and plumb (all desert friendly), and the vegetables include pepper, tomatoes, okra, coriander etc. Organic manure is used for growth and pitchers underground are planted to irrigate the plants roots constantly.
In the Thar Desert, where food choices are extremely limited, fruits ad vegetables are almost non-existent in people’s diets. Fruits and vegetables bring all-important micro-nutrients to people’s diets reflecting into overall improvement in health and in ensuring well-being. Beneficiaries consume fruits and vegetables in their diets and the surplus is sold in the markers for income generation. Till date, 4,251 AHUs have been set up by GRAVIS in its project villages.
Community Seed Banks (CSBs)
In order to sow crops after arrival of monsoon rains (which is very unpredictable), it is extremely important to have good quality of seeds available within the community. Many farmers in Thar struggle as the seeds are too far from them in urban markets and are too inexpensive. GRAVIS has led the concept of forming Community Seed Banks in many of its target villages. These CSNs are managed by Self Help Groups 9SHGs) of women who acquire seeds from local farmers at low costs after the harvest and then they sell them back to the farmers in the community with a small margin required for recurring costs. These CSBs help in timely supply of good quality seeds to all local farmers without external dependence. A total of 322 CSBs have been set up till date.
Fodder security and food security have extremely important inter-relationship. Animal husbandry is a crucial mainstay on desert economy as the milk products provide nutrition as well as income. Droughts heaver cause serious damage to vegetation and livestock have to suffer a great deal with no fodder available. GRAVIS has been working on developing community pastures (community grazing lands) over the last 30+ yeas and it has set up 72 pastures till date benefitting nearly 10 million cattle.
Taankas (drinking water storage tanks)
A taanka is underground rainwater harvesting structures that stores water for household needs. In Thar, water scarcity is a major challenge and we believe that without drinking water scarcity, achieving food security and good health is not possible. Taankas enhance drinking water security and also relieve women and girls from water fetching drudgery. Over the years, GRAVIS mad made several innovations in these taankas including improved water catchment areas, innovated inlets structures and a cemented apron along with the taanka wall to avoid any water damages. A total of 6,869 taankas have been constructed.
Crosscutting areas of GRAVIS’ work on food security
It is extremely important in GRAVIS’ ideology to seek full community ownership and sustainability. To do this, GRAVIS forms Community Based Organizations (CBOs) including Village Development Committees (VDCs) and Self Help Groups (SHGs). Till date over 3,000 CBOs have been formed and have been directly involved in all our food security interventions.
Ensuring gender equality – women and girls are often neglected at the community level and are more severely malnourished. Our food security intervention target at women and girls getting equal share of nutrition as well as of community ownership and decision-making.
Training and capacity building – to empower rural communities on food security, GRAVIS has till date organized over 5000 training and capacity building events.
Research, documentation and advocacy – we focus a lot on documenting our work on food security, on conducting internal research and on sharing our learning. We believe this area of our work is extremely important for replication and scale up. Many of our research studies are available on our website on: http://gravis.org.in/index.php/resources/publications
Our work has reached over 1.3 million people. Our aim is to expand our work in the above 3 Districts to reach the entire population and to enhance food security in the region that is prone to droughts and to food crisis. We are also keen to share our learning that might b useful in solving food crisis in other arid setting around the world. We do foresee a strong replication potential of our model.