Date: 31st Oct 2016
Location: Chinnarampatti panchayat, Tirupathur block, Vellore district, Tamil Nadu
How can good ecology practices be the root of social and economic development? This is a key question for all of us in Auroville, and we at Pitchandikulam Forest are happy to be part of an initiative in an exciting project to manifest one such idea at a large scale.
Tamil Nadu, a state with 60m people, separates out the complex business of local government into five levels: habitat, villages, panchayats, blocks, districts and at the state level. One panchayat consists of a few villages (as low as 2), one block is 15 or so panchayats, one district has 10-15 blocks, and the state overall has 32 districts.
The state government implements programmes through several departments with as many as 52 schemes and policies in rural economic development and ecology, for example:
- the 100 Days programme, which guarantees local women a hundred days paid work a year
- the Green Villages programme, which supports tree-planting on the local level
Both are promising, but in practice can face the following challenges:
- 100 days work a year at a minimum wage is not enough for a sustainable livelihood (although it is worth noting that this scheme is not meant to provide permanent livelihood support and only supplements income during the non-agricultural period of the year, hence the 100 days)
- Local villages often do not have access to good seedlings and the traditional knowledge about what to plant and how to ensure that the plants thrive has been lost in the ‘modern’ ways of life
In September, as part of our needs-based training for social enterprises, we were asked to help out in Chinnarampatti, a panchayat at the foot of the Jawadhu Hills in the Eastern Ghats, in northern Tamil Nadu.
The Chinnarampatti Nursery
Twenty ladies created a small nursery in their village with their own local knowledge and understanding.
The panchayat secretary, Mr Madesh, initiated this nursery scheme through the 100 Days programme, which pays a salary to local women for 100 days a year, and is administered by the Department of Rural Development in the Tamil Nadu state government. He was looking for help from Auroville: technical training in running a nursery for the women’s groups.
The local women came to Auroville, stayed for three days in September, and received technical training through the Sustainable Livelihood Institute, sponsored by the State Government. Pitchandikulam Forest provide training in seed collection, plant identification, germination techniques, nursery maintenance, compost making and how to plant properly. We used our young forest and education centre at Nadukuppam as a host location for training with the team of experts from Pitchandikulam (Aramugham, Kesavan, Bubesh, Joss, Lourdes). They also did a planning exercise in resource mapping for the village, to see how the future of the nursery fits in with the village’s economic and social development.
After the training, they requested a follow up visit by Pitchandikulam Forest to assess their progress and help them carry out and fine tune their plan.
We were pleased to see that the women’s cooperative have successfully germinated 40,000 seedlings there – it is well-maintained and managed. Afterwards, we visited the village, including the lakes and ponds, sacred groves, poramboke lands with the local elected leader, village elder, and local officials. Each panchayat falls within a block, and local government assigns a block development officer (BDO) to each block and panchayat engineers (PE) to give technical support. The BDO and PE came to the site to meet and discuss how to develop the nursery further. They promised to assist with funding for a proper toilet/bathroom and sheltered restroom for the nursery.
The Big idea
Tamil Nadu currently has a scheme to develop nurseries at every Panchayat in the State (details here).
Together with local government leaders, we will work to make the nursery in Chinnarampatti into a model that can be extended and replicated across the 400+ blocks in Tamil Nadu. In exchange for local government supporting the salaries and capital costs of the nursery, all the villages throughout the block receives seedlings and training for free.
Within this programme, a nursery will:
- provide a real sustainable livelihood for the women’s groups who runs it, beyond the 100 Days programme
- upskill the women by enabling them not only to run a nursery, but also to train other women’s groups as to how to run nurseries across the State
- lie at the heart of local policy, bringing together economic development, water management, agriculture, environment, health, education, livelihood as part of a local masterplan
- show local government officials how ecology can play a key role in effective, joined-up policy making
- supply plants and seedlings to the group of panchayats that it represents for their Greening Villages scheme
- ensure that the villages in the panchayat get the right plants for the bio-region, and are educated by the nursery staff in their planting and maintenance
The panchayat president has requested our help in creating a coherent masterplan for the panchayat’s development. He has already cleared out all the encroachments on local tanks and ponds, and there is a real opportunity to green this area. Their immediate need is that their groundwater is 900 ft down, so bore wells are very expensive. Most of their water goes directly into rivers and flows away: their long term strategy is that they would like bunds or dams, to strengthen lakes and ponds in order to hold more water to support development.
Pitchandikulam Forest team will conduct a survey to establish detailed information about this area for the watershed masterplan. Together with the Sustainable Livelihoods Institute, and other experts from Auroville, we will help local government to create a masterplan that includes economic development, water management, agriculture, environment, health, education.