ILSP : Innovations in Mountain Livelihoods

By R S Tolia • Random Thoughts • 2 Feb 2015

Past  two  months  away  from Munsyari, this writer’s permanent perch, has taken him to places and events that have been quite helpful to look at policies and practices, as well as platforms, that would facilitate our understanding of mountain –ecosystems and their sustenance better. Only the other day participating in a policy-planners platform, created by Chief Minister Harish Rawat, arguably the first state to respond to premier Narendra Modi’s transformation via the NITI Ayog, reportedly logged as many as 40 odd suggestions to work-on by as many as six Groups to be set up. More on that later. A major take –away from that meet has been the realization that the eleven mountain states will have to come together to contest any policy-change on Special Category Status, enjoyed so far only by these eleven mountain states, the 2 per cent Gross Budgetary Support ( GBS ) that has been recommended by the erstwhile Planning Commission by way of what it termed as ‘Development Deficit Index’ and not, repeat not,  as ‘Green Bonus’ or recognition of the eco-system services , as many would like this to be termed as. The Development Deficit Index is instead a recognition of the relative backwardness with which the eleven mountain states have been found to suffer from owing to stringent forest and environment laws which automatically accompany ‘creation and maintenance of forests’ in India. Coming together of these eleven Indian mountain states, for some of these common concerns, and many more will require a platform. This incipient platform, the Integrated Mountain Initiative ( IMI ) has also come into existence. It looks like several platforms like IMI would be required, the over-all agenda being so enormous.                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Mountain Agriculture to Mountain Forestry

That all known disciplines based on physical sciences like agronomy, veterinary sciences and so on transform into an altogether new –discipline the moment you prefix “mountain” before them and thus deserve specific and additional examination has taken quite some time to appreciate. Just like theory the practice part of the discipline would also entail a most comprehensive re-visit remains to be even formally postulated, in so far as the Indian sub-continent is concerned. It was more than a decade after a platform dedicated to mountain-development in the Hindu Kush Himalayan ( HKH ) region that this realization was expressed in a term ‘Mountain Agriculture’. That ‘Agriculture’ as was hitherto understood in the sub-continent was quite distinct from ‘Mountain Agriculture’ was first brought out by Narpat Singh Jodha. The mountain platform was the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development ( ICIMOD ), headquartered at Kathmandu, Nepal, in 1983, and the concept of ‘mountain specificities’ describing ‘mountain agriculture’ via ‘inaccessibility’, ‘diversity’,’fragility’, ‘marginality’, ‘niche’ and ‘human adaptation mechanism’, made popular after early 1990s. All those who closely watched mountain developed hailed it as one of the most insightful analyses. Discourses on mountain development have since that postulation taken an altogether different course and quietly manifested themselves in large scale horticultural plantations, off-season vegetables, policies incorporating, ‘mountain specificities’, experiments like in-situ value addition in seabuck-thorn and so. Till date ‘mountain specificities’, in the eyes of the policy-planners, remains the single most significant theoretical formulation that has allowed improvement in the practice-domain as well as our understanding of the mountain –ecosystems. While this has improved the policy analysis process, has created and established a major regional mountain development platform, ICIMOD, it has not been transformed effectively into designing and implementation of projects being implemented in mountain regions. Its vertical and horizontal mainstreaming should have been a major approach of ICIMOD which sadly has not been the case for which several factors have been responsible. However, it is a task that should form the core of collaborative work that ICIMOD should take with its National Nodal partners as well as new platforms like IMI and others hat might emerge within the region.        

ICIMOD-FRI & ‘Mountain Forestry’

Those like this writer, who looked forward to theoretical break-throughs like ‘mountain specificities’ that attended postulation of ‘mountain agriculture’, while attending an International Symposium on ‘Mountain Forestry’ at FRI recently were obviously disappointed. ICIMOD in future has to refine its Symposium -design and walk away from a ‘one set of Scientist & Researcher speaking to another set of Scientist & Researcher’ syndrome to an ‘all Inclusive’ design, from design-part through the end. The ‘mountain specificities’ appealed to the scientist and the practitioner alike was its policy-praxis interconnectedness. In the Indian context the discipline of ‘forestry’ to be accepted as ‘mountain-forestry’ will have to first shed its ‘colonial, read European past’ ( remember it was Brandis, a German rather than an English who set all this up ), transform radically the way Indian Foresters are trained, both at the Centre and the States; leverage its vertical diversity i.e. national, sub-national and community-level characteristic. Further, as the Chief Guest Governor Dr KK Paul reminded all the forest-luminaries, that the North Eastern India, as many as eight states, do not seem to exist to our current crop of Foresters, Scientists and Administrators alike, has to be take more seriously than a mere part of Seminar proceedings. In other words, time has come to consider Forest Federalism as a concept, both Vertically and horizontally.

Vertically, Forestry is now a Concurrent subject, the Centre as well as the States having an equally say in Policy and in making Rules. The Indian Forest Act dates back to 1927 vintage, and section 28, allows tremendous room to the States to strengthen the ‘commutization’ of forestry, significantly reducing the interference of the State. Forest Rights Act, 2006 and the community forestry, which injected this section 28 into the 1927 Forest Law, should indeed become the king-pin of forestry –policy. Stronger the element of community forestry closer the forestry would come to become ‘mountain forestry’ should have been the take of the recently concluded Symposium. The mountain states, or those who longed to see a far more space provided to that kind of ‘mountain forestry, would naturally expect ICIMOD to take the ‘mountain forestry’ discourse away from just science & research to community management and participation and research and development directed at strengthening that kind of forest management than forests for the foresters and forests scientists regime. Science & research, both physical and social science ought to be directed towards ‘communities’ and forests as their major source of livelihoods.  

Horizontaly, organizations like ICFRE, WII and the Institutions under the umbrella of ICFRE must engage, systematically so, with the ‘mountain states’ who also happen to be heavily forested as well. The Twelfth Plan document has already directed the ICFRE to engage more and systematically with the States, in a federal polity like India, as is already being done by sister-institutions like the ICAR, a good model to emulate and learn from. Understanding and improvement in forestry –systems as these prevail in community-forestry and Eastern Jhum-systems deserve far more attention on those which are farthest away from the forest-dependent communities point of view. Mountain States would obviously be tracking action bother from the Indian Forestry administrative architecture and ICIMOD, alike in coming days and thus, emergence of ‘mountain forestry’ as a mountain specific major discipline. 

Welcome Forest Federalism !

That Mountain States like Uttarakhand must commence work on re-visiting the entire architecture of Forestry, as it exists, and strengthen their State and Community-level Forestry architectures, institutions, Van Panchayats, their Rules and Regulations, directing all of the to enhance the livelihoods opportunities, forest product- enterprises and so on, was also one major recommendation that was high-lighted in recently concluded Policy Planning Group discussion. Far too long the Centre has been allowed to have had its say and time has come to put in place a true and pulsating Forest Federalism, along side a vibrant Political Federalism, an oft exhorted appeal of premier Narendra Modi. ICIMOD, ICFRE and the all Mountain States have their mandate cut out for direct action.

Praxis  and  Platforms

Precepts like ‘mountain agriculture’ and ‘mountain forestry’, the latter yet to be convincingly worked-upon, are best tested in praxis, or real-time externally funded projects like Uttarakhand’s IFAD’s Integrated Livelihood Support Project, Ajeevika in popular parlance. This writer had a ring-side view of an externally-aided livelihoods project that he had helped conceptualise and access more than a decade back. It is also a good example of how  mountain professionals net-work can also be helpful in creating ‘experimental pilot projects’, access external resources to put in practice new innovative livelihood projects and enterprises, expose communities and young professional ‘wet’ their hands through experimentation. While he sat through a two day review of the Phase II of the IFAD, International Fund for Agriculture and Development, project being implemented in five districts of Uttarakhand on 9-10 January 2015, held at the ICFRE Conference Room, this writer was reminded of the contributions of two ‘mountain-friends’, Shyam Khanka from Nepal and Phrang Roy, a Khasi senior bureaucrat hailing from Meghalaya who was then Assistant President of IFAD, in Rome. Thanks to Shyam Khanka, working in IFAD office and Phrang Roy, IAS from Maharashtra cadre who later joined IFAD full-time, in Rome, that we owe this ‘biggest ever single project’ to this new state. This Phase II IFAD project, when sanctioned in 2003/05 as a Twin-project with Meghalaya, was the single biggest IFAD project ever sanctioned to any country. In principle IFAD never sanctions any single project which is more than 10 % of its annual kitty. On records, IFAD Uttarakhand-Meghalaya Twin project was the first such 10% full-stretch project.

Besides being the ‘biggest ever’ it was also a deliberate decision on Uttarakhand –part was to keep it exclusively confined to ‘hill districts’, just to gain experiential insights that might be gained through keeping it confined just to hilly-regions; both in Uttarakhand and in Meghalaya. Keeping its First Phase confined to the hilly-districts and thus gaining invaluable experiential development insights in primary sector livelihoods initiatives has to be its main take-away. Not many may be aware that it was IFAD, the loaning-arm of United Nations’ Food & Agriculture architecture, that first spawned the concept of Self Help Groups ( SHGs ) decades back, now a widely accepted development –instrument of community-level economic activity, including agriculture extension.  

Externally Aided Projects : Learning Platforms

IFAD’s Phase II Ajeevika project, for observers like this author, are essentially like crucible in any experimental laboratory where development practitioners and policy-makers get substantial resources to experiment with various concepts related to various aspects of rural development e.g. community mobilization, capacity building, efficient use of resources, rural business-models, resource requirements and so on. More than the availability of resources and their augmentation for the state more efforts, on the part of the senior programme managers and development practitioners  have to go into concretizing the learnings, the experiential take-aways and their appropriate application in various sectors to which these relate via reforming administrative structures, norms of finance and mode of financing etc. All these inputs, in the mountain context, go on to make any discipline into a ‘mountain discipline’. The ‘mountain’ part gets added by these new insights gained through working in ‘mountain regions’. These insights, needless to say, can come only through ‘wetting of hands’ in field and not through data-analysis and theoretical formulations couched in pedantic verbiage or publications in ‘peer-reviewed’ scientific journals.

While this writer listened to various speakers he was keenly looking for any such ‘new insights’ that might have been gained during Phase I of IFAD Ajeevika project. Phase II, a Rs 828.57 Crores project, has 54 & coming from IFAD, 29% from our State, 12% from Financial Institutions and a significant 5% from the beneficiaries themselves. ILSP component consist of Rs 378.74 Crore to be used for Food Security & Scaling Up, Access to Market, Vocational Training and Innovative Linkages. Next comes a component of Rs 310.42 Crores, which is now to be implemented through the Watershed Development ( WMD ) and dedicated again to Food Security Enhancement support and significantly, for watershed development. Mountain-watchers would recall that Watershed Development has been one of the two Programmes, that were accepted under Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 ( 1992 ). What is Chapter 13 of Agenda 21 has also to be understood by all those who are working in any of the eleven Indian Mountain States, if they wish to remain relevant to the administration. One major learning of Phase I has been what now remains to be implemented with some intensity and dedication, namely what UPASaC has as its mandate, namely Bank Mobilization, Risk Management, Development Finance ( SVCF ) and , hold your breath, Financial Inclusion. It would be apparent that IFAD, is UPASaC arm is on the same page as the country at large i.e. the Jan Dhan Yojna. The Project Coordination, to be implemented by CPCU, has also received its due share of importance. As against original 5 Hill Districts now Phase II is to operate in 8 Hill Districts through Uttarakhand Gramin Vikas Samiti ( UGVS ) and 3 Districts through PS Watershed Management Directorate ( PSWMD).

Tangibles and Intangibles Outcomes

Under the Ajeevika project 89,795 households in 33 blocks through 8,000 Production Groups and 120 Livelihood Collectives and 100 ILDC Centres are to be benefit from increased food production, through greater participation and returns in markets for cash crops, tourism and new employment opportunities. Rural economy is to be more commercialized reaching every targeted household and rural youth is to gain remunerative employment. Above all, as emphasized earlier, developing and disseminating new models is its main objective as its mainstreaming has an impact potential far bigger than the amount that may be expended during the project. Ajeevika project  is to be assessed from what it is able to add to understanding the mountain livelihoods practice scenario that gets mainstreamed in the coming years, even while it is still under implementation. External Oversight of the project therefore acquires great importance, from the learning point of view.

Towards the end of the IFAD-IFSP Ajeevika Review meeting one expert-speaker, working in Uttarakhand but who hailed from neighbouring Himachal Pradesh, after listening to well-informed and very vocal women office-bearers of various Federations, apex organisation of Self Help Groups, admitted : “ Even though my state Himachal Pradesh is much more advanced than Uttarakhand I can not even dream of our women-community leaders speaking with so much knowledge, confidence and clarity.” This writer tended to agree with this speaker that efforts made during Phase I of Ajeevika have delivered substantial outcomes, if these women community –leaders and their confidence is taken as an indicator.” Ajeevika is on right-tracks but senior policy-makers need to devote more time as there is no substitute to first-hand knowledge and listening to the beneficiaries. 

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