Category Archives: Development

Shauchalya Bharat to Swach Bharat……Need for a Complete Change in Approach

The dust has settled (literally) after the October 2 sweeping gesture by politicians from the Prime Minister to local MLAs and we are back to business as usual. Dirty villages, towns and cities and the “swachata” is compounded by ope defaecation – a country that is one big shauchalya rather than swachalya!  The sanitation problem of open defaecation and its effect on malnutrition, stunting has been debated extensively but there is no visible impact on the ground. Rural families interested in building toilets continue to run around for financial and technical support. Any Government support for construction of toilets requires that the CPHEEO manual’s design be followed – complex, water intensive and expensive. So what is the solution? How can we, seriously, address this problem of open defaecation? There are two studies that must be consulted and taken seriously both by planners and those working on the ground in the area of sanitation: the first is a paper in EPW by Diane Coffey and others. It provides very valuable insight into revealed preference for open defaecation through a survey of rural areas in some states of North India. This paper clearly shows the need for a region and state specific strategy taking into consideration local attitudes and preferences rather than merely focussing on infrastructure. The study urges the need for a large-scale campaign to promote latrine use together with investing in infrastructure ( Aashish_Gupta_Payal_Hathi_ Nidhi_Khurana_Dean_Spears_Nikhil_Srivastav_ Sangita_Vyas.pdf). The survey reports that – “Many survey respondents’ behaviour reveals a preference for open defecation: over 40% of households with a working latrine have at least one member who defecates in the open. Our data predict that if the government were to build a latrine for every rural household that lacks one, without changing sanitation preferences, most people in our sample in these states would nevertheless defecate in the open. Policymakers in India must lead a large-scale campaign to promote latrine use.” What works in the Southern States may not work in the Northern States and the Western and Eastern States may require a different strategy.

Another study that must be looked at seriously is a recent paper published in the medical journal Lancet by researchers from Emory University in the United States. They found that increased toilet coverage did not lead to any significant improvements in the occurrence of child diarrhoea, prevalence of parasitic worm infections, child stunting or child mortality ( This new evidence is indeed troubling given India’s 25 year strategy that has focussed mainly on building toilets. The researchers have indicated that the absence of health impact could be “the patchy implementation of the scheme, and uneven rates of use of toilets — at the end of the study period, just 63 per cent of households in the villages where the scheme ran had any toilet, and two-thirds of this group reported a family member using the toilet. Usage was substantially lower among men than among women”. This gender difference was also notes in the study of the Northern States.


Celebrating food…..Celebrating a way of life…

Dedicated to G. Nammalvar (Aiyya)…………

There were more than 300 of us – adivasis, dalits, shepherds, goatherds, peasants, students and activists – along the banks of the Pellipadugu Kalva celebrating food and the ways of life that produce this food. Three days (December 28-30, 2013) of deliberations, animated debates, dialogues and celebration on topics ranging from what is food sovereignty, articulating the real meaning of “the market”, the role of the State, globalisation, world trade and food to the struggles and successes of people in gaining control over our food, our seeds, our land and our water.  In this post I’d like to share the experience more through pictures rather than words (a departure from the usual style of this blog)!

The landscape that hosted the Summit……hills and forests encircled the meadow where the celebrations, dialogues and debates were held  with the Pellipadugu Kalwa providing us water.


Korra (Foxtail millet) being handpounded for breakfast on the first day….


Planning in progress….tasks being assigned to the team! Toranas being tied….


Dialogue spaces, sleeping quarters, toilets everything being built with local material and local skills……no plastic, no cement, no brick! Handpainted murals on canvas flanked the stage set up for panel discussions. The stage was made with compacted mud and held together with bamboo….



We prayed to Bhutalli to bless and protect us…..with offerings of seeds brought from various corners of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. The offerings were celebrated with song and dance…



We talked …… large groups and small groups, through plenary sessions and in dialogue areas, over food, in the mornings, late into the night deliberating on the meaning of food sovereignty, our definitions of markets, our expectations of the State, our expectations of ourselves as individuals and as a collective, about trade and the WTO, about seed sovereignty……..we shared stories of our struggles and experiences, successes and setbacks….learning from each other and strengthening the alliance, that was emerging, to gain control of our food.

The threats to our food system, the struggles to overcome these threats and the spirit of freedom were captured in a street play Bhutalli. We did not just watch the play under the stars but were a part of it…were provoked by it and responded in spirit and action.

CIMG3480CIMG3482CIMG3505CIMG3495CIMG3506 all this happening around the tree where offerings had been made to Bhutalli.

We exchanged seeds and what a diversity there was of grain, pulses, vegetables from over nine districts…..

CIMG3479 CIMG3445CIMG3497

We celebrated the diversity of seeds and the diversity of food…..korra upma, ragi ambili, jonna annam, fresh fish from the Godavari, ragi sankati, mutton curry, pumpkin sambar all cooked on site by our farmer and adivasi friends from the various districts….. traditional sweets and steamed tubers were served with tea as we continued our discussions. No paper and no plastic….leafy plates that when disposed would become part of the landscape…..


At the end of the deliberations and the celebration we put forth a declaration…..the Pellipadugu Declaration on Food Sovereignty – a new alliance was born. A draft prepared in Telugu and English was read out and comments, edits invited….it was then finalised and signed by all of us with the resolution to take it forward through action – individually and collectively!


The people who hosted us …….the Girijan Deepika team at D. Bhimvaram in Addatheegala Mandal, East Godavari District and the young volunteers who made it all seem effortless!



We bid our goodbyes while resolving to take the Declaration forward and empower ourselves with the sovereign right to our food! Till we meet next year…..


Nammalvar (aiyya) who was there at the first Food Sovereignty Summit in 2009 could not be with us this year but we know he was with us in spirit as we drafted and signed the declaration on December 30, 2013. He passed away on that same day fighting against the destruction of groundwater in Thanjavur District…..

The Pellipadugu Declaration on Food Sovereignty

We the adivasi, dalit, pastoralist, peasant, scientist and student communities have gathered here from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, between 28th and 30th December 2013, in D. Bhimavaram village of the adivasi territories, with the collective concern to defend our sovereign right to food and the rights of mother earth.

We deliberated on the fundamental questions that concern our food: the plunder of our resources; the threats to seed sovereignty; the health of our soils; the commodification of our biodiversity, knowledge and cultures; and the destruction of our local markets by the Global Corporate industrial food complex.

For us, food is the abundance of life that mother earth provides: the diversity of grains, pulses, oil seeds, tubers, fruits, vegetables, animals, insects, fish; and the associated food cultures celebrated in our various communities. Ownership and control of land is central to our struggle for food. Markets are networks of relationships to protect, sustain and nurture our food through local reciprocal systems of exchange. They are not spaces to extract profit.

Women are leaders in the Food Sovereignty Movement. It is women who are at the frontlines of struggles for Food justice; and challenging patriarchy is an integral part of restoring Food Sovereignty.

We reaffirm the power in our peasant food webs to feed ourselves and to resist the corporate capture of our lives.

We declare that our lands, forests, water, air, diversity, seeds, knowledge and cultures are not for sale. We will resist the monetization of our lives and resources.

We assert that food security can only be met through Food Sovereignty.

We call upon the State with the following demands:

We demand that the State implement without further delay, the recognition of individual rights and community forest rights according to customary boundaries of adivasi and other traditional forest dweller communities.

We demand that the State uphold the supreme powers of the gram sabha under the Panchayat Raj (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006.

We demand that the State commit its resources to our autonomous local systems of production, procurement and distribution to ensure food security.

We condemn the State-Corporate nexus that has decimated our farming systems: including seeds, agronomic practices, dairy, poultry and fisheries.

We further condemn the State’s continued aggressive promotion of national and multinational Corporates to take over the last bastions of autonomous farming: adivasi food cultures and pastoralist livelihoods.

We condemn the decision of Government of India  to ratify the “Peace Clause” at the Bali round of the WTO negotiations, that trades away our sovereign right to define our food systems.

We call for a moratorium on all  ‘Free Trade Agreements’ that destroy our lives and livelihoods.

We oppose the entry of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Food and Retail.

We strongly condemn State efforts to promote genetically modified crops and call for a moratorium on all field trials in accordance with the recommendations of the Technical Expert Committee on GMOs,  appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

We oppose the global patent regime that privatises and commodifies our knowledge and biodiversity.

We denounce the false market solutions to climate change, and declare that Food Sovereignty is the only way to build resilience and in fact combat the Global Food Industrial System as a primary driver of climate change.

We call for the roll back of destructive State programs such as INSIMP, which in the name of promoting millets, threatens local biodiverse and autonomous agro-ecosystems.

We demand a halt to all monoculture plantations in our fields and forests.

We commit to the following actions:

We shall continue to defend our rights over our lands, forests, water and air.

We commit to deepening our relationships and traditions of reciprocity and collectivism as a means of solidarity with one another. This solidarity is the basis to resist the violence of the corporate food industry.

We shall build power through democratic local systems of governance to further food sovereignty.

We will use the power of our vote to raise Food Sovereignty as a political issue.

We shall shift from growing commodity monocultures to cultivating diverse food crops, through ecological and organic farming practices.

We shall save and exchange our seeds and thereby resist the corporate seed markets.

There is an interdependency between animals, crops, forests, water and other resources of the commons that has been broken by the industrialization of our food systems. We shall restore these broken links by rebuilding our indigenous animal resources, which in turn nourish and are nourished by these commons.

We shall reestablish local markets as a means to exchange our produce with one another, and to feed and support local communities.

We celebrate the spirit and commitment of young people in the food sovereignty movement.

We shall conscientiously nurture intergenerational spaces within our movements for sharing knowledge and practices for the future.

We hereby come together as a Food Sovereignty alliance between our movements, which shall advance this shared vision.

December 30th 2013

Pellipadugu Kalwa, D. Bhimavaram village, Addateegala Mandal, East Godavari , AP

V. Murugamma and V.Krishnamma, Dalit Mahila Sangham, Chittoor

K. Pandu Dora, National Convenor, Adivasi Aikya Vedika

M. Shivaprasad, Convenor- Telangana, Adivasi Aikya Vedika, Adilabad

K. Krishnarao, Convenor- Northern Andhra , Adivasi Aikya Vedika , Vishakapatnam

M. Kamala, G. Satyam and P Dharmu , Adivasi Chaitanya Sangham, Adilabad

Hussain Swamy, C.H Malikaarjun and Nandeswari, Chenchu Rakshana Samiti, Mahabubnagar

M. Rambabu, E. Jyoti and M. Satyavati , Koitur Kutuva Sangham, Khammam

K. Veeraswamy and C.H Durga, Adivasi Seva Sangham, West Godavari

K. Venkatesh Dora, Venkatlaxmi and K. Satyavati, Girijana Deepika, East Godavari

P. Somalingam and K. Pandamma, Jeevam, Vishakapatnam

V. Jogiraju, Derala Girijana Chaitanya Sangham, Vishakapatnam

P. Thammaiah and , Manya Deepika, Vizianagaram

S. Jayprakash, Syuryakanti Yuvajana Sangham, Vizianagaram

S. Vykuntarao and K. Prabhavathi, Savara Sangham, Srikakulam

N. Adinarayana, Sri Gopi Rytu Sangham, Chittoor

S. Apparao and K. Narayanamma, Chinna Sanna Karu Vyavasaidarula Sangham, Vishakapatnam

N. Satyamma and N. Pochamma, Ottavapantala Mahila Vedika, Medak

G. Yadigiri and Kavita, Deccani Gorrela-Mekala Pempakadarula Sangham, Medak

N. Deviah, Grama Sangham, Warangal

Prof K.R. Chowdry, Hyderabad

Dr Radha Gopalan, Chittoor

Dr Sagari R Ramdas, Hyderabad

Madhusudhan, Hyderabad

Charanya R., Hyderabad

Shruti Thrayil, Pune

M. Deepu, Hyderabad

Rahul Ramakrishna, Hyderabad

Srikrupa, Hyderabad

N. Bhavana, Hyderabad

E. Jayant, Bangalore

Aditi Pinto, Mumbai

Sandeep K Singh, Bangalore

Sharib Ali, Kolkata

Amol, Mumbai

Siddharth, Mumbai

Alia Farouqui, Mumbai

Grassroots democracy in waiting….for how long?

The idea of Panchayati and Panchayat Raj is not new to the Indian Sub-Continent. Our villages have always had Panchayats to settle disputes at the local level. Mahatma Gandhi articulated the need for decentralisation and a village republic in the Hind Swaraj and other writings. The enactment of the 73rd (Constitutional Amendment) in April 1993 in a sense formalised this institution. Watching the Panchayat Raj in action (more like inaction) in the villages where I have been working over the last 5 years forces me to ask the question – Is this really decentralised, grassroots democracy? Have the Panchayat Raj institutions, specifically the village Panchayat, improve the living conditions and lives of people in rural India?

I am raising this question specifically in the context of the sham that has been taking place in Andhra Pradesh over the last 2 years. Panchayat elections were postponed indefinitely in the State for over 1.5 years and finally held in May-June 2013. During the interim period there were no functioning Sarpanchs or Ward Members. All responsibility was with the Panchayat Secretary and the Tahsildar (who has Revenue responsibilities across the Tahsil/Mandal). Nothing moved! All problems associated with water, sanitation, street lighting, was held in abeyance – nobody knew who was responsible, rural residents did not know who to go to. There was no money to fix any problems. So when the elections were finally held and new Sarpanchs and Ward Members finally elected there was a sense of hope in our villages. We finally had a Dalit Sarpanch and she was one of the residents. Everybody felt that now funds would come in and maybe we could address sanitation, waste management and water issues. But not so fast……..Along came the State bifurcation issue and the formalities of according cheque powers to the Sarpanch were delayed. The Sarpanch and the Ward Members had no clue what their responsibilities were, who does one approach for funding, where does the funding come from, how is it allocated and disbursed, what are the various Government Programmes which can be accessed to improve the infrastructure in the villages, what is the power of the Gram Sabha etc. Meanwhile dengue and chickanguniya are running rampant thanks to the stagnant water in drains (where they exist) and lack of drainage in other places. Works under NREGS programmes are being selected and implemented in the absence of Gram Sabha decisions and so on and so forth. What this has led to in our villages is people putting in their money to get the drains cleaned, trying to collect contributions to fix street lights etc. People whose lives and finances are already stretched as a result of food inflation and unpredictable income from agriculture as a result of the very evident changes in climate are forced to find their own resources to fix services which the State must provide. This is the reality!

In the public domain however reports abound about how the Panchayat Raj has resulted in grassroots democracy and women’s empowerment. Reservation of 50% seats for women in A.P. since 2011 is reported as an achievement. Panchayat Raj has worked at best in Kerala and possibly parts of Tamil Nadu as a result of their history of social movements. In other States it has made a difference only where NGOs and other Institutions have provided support to Panchayats. If we are to make any difference to the lives of rural Indians or hope to improve even marginally the appalling state of malnutrition in India, a social movement with more urban Indians is essential. More of us will have to serve as bridges between the Government and the rural communities, more of our young people must be involved in the process and our education system must recognise the need for place based learning – be aware of and learn from what is happening around you….be the change that you want to see (as Gandhi said).

Why do we really want to know who is poor?

In the shrill rhetoric surrounding the “counting of the poor” in India, the question that is not being asked is – Why count the poor? or more specifically Why do we want to know who is poor? What is anybody doing with this information? There are several answers to these questions – politicians, Governments, the World Bank want to know how many poor are there so that they can show that their policies or programmes have reduced the number of poor (nobody really wants to show how their programmes have increased the number of poor!). There is clearly a certain kind of politics at play here in how “poor” are defined. Another reason to define the poor is (one hopes) to allocate resources (read finances) in a just manner so that inequity can be reduced. Again, the smaller the number less competition for the limited resources. In this counting game nothing changes for people on the ground who are deprived of basic “roti, kapda aur makaan”. In fact in today’s economic climate, things are getting worse and poverty is degenerating into severe deprivation.  Isn’t it time therefore to move away from this numbers game? Politicians and international agencies are not going to move away from the numbers game – it is too inconvenient. In this situation, what is the alternative?

The second part of the question and in my mind the REAL question is – Why do we need to know who is poor? or how many are poor? Related to this is an even more important question – How do we define “poor”? What are the criteria? The multidimensionality of being poor has been addressed for the first time by the MPI developed by Alkirie et al ( based on Sen’s ideas on the multidimensionality of poverty. The next step to build on this “more multifaceted
and more accurate tool for measuring poverty” is to qualify the quantitative values of the health indicators. If poverty is to be eradicated and people are to move from deprivation to a life of dignity and well being in India one of the first things that needs to be addressed is the idea of nutritional adequacy in the measurement of malnutrition. Knowing that somebody is anaemic, or has low body weight, or is stunted is not enough. We need to know why and understand the role of environmental, social and cultural factors in defining nutritional adequacy and how these factors can be used in creating an enabling environment to ensure nutritional adequacy.    

Closer home the effective use of multidimensionality of poverty has been done through the Kudumbasree Model in Kerala and this was fully conceptualised and implemented in Kerala as early as 1998 ( For some reason the economists and planners at the Planning Commission and others working in the area of “poverty alleviation” have not included it in the ongoing debate on poverty indices and lines. The HDI performance of Kerala State should be proof enough of the effectiveness of this Model.

Unless the politics of counting is replaced by the real work of defining poverty, deprivation and well being in a multidimensional, linked and realistic manner AND we are able to answer the question WHY? Why are we trying to count the poor? this meaningless exercise will go nowhere and we will continue to drive more and more people deeper and deeper into an abysmal existence while we argue over the theoretical inconsequentialities.

Ecosystem Specific Governance…….Is there such a thing?

Two recent events triggered this question in my mind…….

The first was a recent discussion, that I was a part of, on livestock dependent livelihoods. This was held under the auspices of the Centre for Economic and Social Sciences in Hyderabad. The discussion was very rich since it brought in experiences of indigenous communities and pastoralists and small farmers from the rural plains….experiences related in people’s own voices. While the focus was on the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA) the heart of the deliberations was the increasing severing of the inextricable linkage between animals, agriculture and people (so much more lyrically expressed as paadi-pashu-panta in Telugu) that has been brought about by industrial farming and the supportive legislation and policies. People’s experiences, be they adivasis, dalits, pastoralists, was the same! Obfuscation, ambiguity, confusion reigned supreme in the legislation and its implementation. On one hand a progressive legislation (the FRA) was enacted by Parliament with a stirring Preamble raising the hopes of millions of marginalised people for whom justice would finally be served. This legislation would also enable communities to practice traditional livelihoods which had co-evolved with the surrounding ecosystem. On the other hand,  in implementing this law, Government Departments were pointing fingers at each other saying the law was not clear, they were not sure who it was applicable to, refusing to review submitted documentation, harassing people when they field documentation to assert their rights etc.

Having heard these stories which emerged from a research study facilitated by CESS the question now is what is the next step? How do research studies such as these, done by think tanks across the country,  translate to action? Are policy makers even interested in these studies? Is there a proactive role that such think tanks can play? Will the Planning Commission or the Ministry of Rural Development (through its flagship programme NRLM) take cognizance of such findings before allocating and spending crores of rupees in designing and implementing yet another “livelihood” programme?

The discussion also showed us how the issues are distinctly different for forest-dwelling adivasis compared to forest-dependent pastoralists. The challenges faced by pastoralists (with sheep) dependent on grasslands is a different story. Sheep rearing programmes (as a livelihood promotion effort) cannot be thrust upon adivasis who live in forests and do not have access to grasslands. Ecosystems are different across this diverse country and dwellers native to each ecosystem require different policies and programmes.  Not appreciating this difference and diversity has resulted in thrusting exotic cows on dalit families living in dry deciduous ecosystems (e.g. Rayalseema in Andhra Pradesh) and sheep on adivasis living in tropical rainforests. The resultant ecological and livelihood crises is there for all to see across the length and breadth of this country.

The second was a moving account titled When the Ganga descends…( by Chitra Padmanabhan of the unfolding tragedy in Uttarakhand. Once again, an apalling lack of connection between policy and several decades of grassroots action by the local communities against a destructive development paradigm that does not understand the local ecosystem.

How much more ecological and human devastation and how much more proof of the absolute inequity and social injustice do we need to see before we realise that there is a need to recognise Ecosystem Specific Governance? Grassroots action, wisdom and knowledge needs to find a place in policy making and not merely be maintained as studies.

The Great Indian Livelihood Tamasha

Open Letter to Mr. Jairam Ramesh on National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM)

Dear Minister Jairam Ramesh

Over the last 67 years independent India has seen several avatars of poverty alleviation programmes in rural areas. These have ranged from independent and disconnected income-generation programmes aimed at the poor (defined by a “line”) and marginal communities to more “broad spectrum” employment generation programmes, with MGNREGS being the most recent. Individual Ministries and Departments have also ostensibly pursued the same goals albeit in a compartmentalised, fragmented manner. The design of these programmes and the measure of effectiveness for all these programmes have been defined by “outsiders1”. What has been missing and continues to be missing are the experiences and articulations of the people whose poverty is to be alleviated.

The diversity of culture, ways of life, ecology, knowledge, experiences etc., in India, where settled agricultural and animal herding communities go back several thousand years,have led rural communities to adapt to the vagaries of nature and circumstance and shape distinct and unique livelihood strategies. Shouldn’t all these programmes at “alleviating” poverty from the outside at least recognise this diversity by accessing this experience and contextualising the issue(s) before action that is relevant follows? Extending the question asked by the poet and scholar A.K. Ramanujan “Is there an Indian Way of Thinking?” let us begin to ask – isn’t it time to develop the Indian way of livelihoods?2

In focusing on imported solutions and approaches and by adopting “one size fits all” solutions we have become obsessed with words such as “models”, “scale up”, “beneficiary”, “intervention”, “imparting skills” etc. All of this stems from a complete lack of understanding of rural reality, the complexities of livelihoods and the interdependencies which are implicitly given in livelihood practitioners. The failure to acknowledge indigenous knowledge base has led to two tragic realities (i) rural communities have lost their sense of ownership and understanding of their surroundings and resources and (ii) lost their traditional democratic spaces where decision making on resource sharing and management used to be done. A more dangerous development has been a hijacking of these traditional spaces by political interests.

With the announcement of the NRLM, “livelihoods” has entered Government developmentspeak. Let us for a moment assume that the recognition of “livelihoods” by Government through a formal programme is a welcome change in itself from fragmented – income, employment, poverty line based – approaches. What is one to expect from this programme?

A review of the mission of the NRLM shows presence of the same old vocabulary. E.g. enabling the states to formulate their own livelihoods-based poverty reduction action plans” where are the people in this? Shouldn’t the task be to provide an enabling environment so people can practice their livelihoods which will help them adapt to the changing ecological environment? The mission statement also states “imparting requisite skills and creating linkages with livelihoods opportunities for the poor”. Shouldn’t the aim be to revive skills or provide conditions that will let the livelihood skills emerge? Who is imparting what skills and to who?

If we want this programme to truly transform the lives of several generations of rural Indians (and by extension urban Indians as well) the design and approach of the programme needs to be reviewed.

The design of the NRLM programme must be based on the lessons learnt from the green, blue and white revolution which addressed specific needs of the time but had serious long-term problems. One of the main reasons for the long-term damage was the complete lack of understanding of the importance of diversity in rural livelihoods leading to a systematic erosion of diversity in livestock breeds, crop diversity, marine diversity, traditional medical knowledge and destruction of common property resources.

Unlike programmes like MGNREGA and other employment wage oriented programmes NRLM’s focus is livelihoods and their sustainability. This necessarily means reaching out to successive generations, which in turn requires that rural ecosystems are made resilient. To realise this vision, NRLM must ensure not just conservation but rejuvenation of diversity.

  • Livelihoods are location specific. Diversity (ecological, cultural, economic and social), which accords resilience to these communities, must be conserved and rejuvenated at all costs in the design and implementation of this programme;
  • Rural households earn their living through multiple and diverse ways – a portfolio of livelihood strategies. The programme must therefore focus on providing an enabling environment so that the decision on, which portfolio of strategies to use when, is made by the communities in question. E.g., conservation and regeneration of CPRs will need to be the focus of the programme in dryland areas since that is the basis of livelihoods there. The focus in the forest areas will need to be to ensure that the ROFR, 2006 is effectively implemented;
  • Recognise the strength of traditional democratic spaces and let them form the basis of the village level institutions and wherever these spaces have been completely lost, revive them in a manner relevant to current circumstances.

Effective implementation rests on assessing whether livelihoods have truly been impacted. This can be effected only with robust and relevant metrics which are a critical element of programme design. The primary developers of the metrics and criteria for measuring impact and effectiveness of actions must be the rural community that is being impacted. Civil Society (including academia, NGOs, research institutions) may serve as facilitators in helping to articulate and documenting these metrics.

In terms of its approach, the NRLM programme must be such that it “stitches together” various disparate, programmes and policies that are underway in the rural environment. It must aim to be the grand unifier that stimulates the inherent diversity of rural livelihoods. This will require convergence of Government programmes particularly those that are engaged in the management of natural resources notably, IWMP, livestock, agriculture, water resources, land and forest management. Convergence must be supported with a reorientation and transformation of some of these programmes particularly the IWMP3 so that they can support the NRLM in bringing about “appreciable improvement in (their) livelihoods on a sustainable basis.4

The heart of the programme must be the rural community, particularly the youth. As mentioned earlier “outsiders” must serve as facilitators who learn from the people on the ground and simultaneously build up a knowledgebase of resources for the future. What they should facilitate must be articulated from the grassroots. Decision making on livelihood strategies is and must be the prerogative of the rural communities.

Capacity building of rural communities must be left to institutions like Barefoot College, Thulir, Gandhigram and several others who can play a transformative role. Design for rural education must be drawn from the efforts and examples of people like M.G. Jackson and others who have developed and implemented effectively in Uttarakhand so that we have a new generation of youth who understand livelihoods and rural reality.

I would like to conclude by emphasizing that urgent action needs to be taken to build the NRLM from the bottom up by listening to, understanding, learning from and working with rural communities. For the first time in the history of independent India, let us all be accountable to rural communities and let them assess whether their livelihoods have truly been made sustainable. Let us work towards bringing back democracy to grassroots institutions.

1“Outsiders” include NGOs, academics, Government and others who are not from these rural communities.

2Ramanujan, A.K. 1989. Is there an Indian Way of thinking? An Informal Essay. Downloadable at:

3Detailed and relevant recommendations from Hanumantha Rao (2000) and the Parthasarthy Committee (2006), if used to reorient the IWMP will go a long way in bringing the much needed connection to livelihoods.

4Quoting from the NRLM’s articulated mission and objectives.

The Myth of Food Inflation – The Reality about Milk

There is a myth that is being perpetuated about the rising food prices which needs a serious reality check. Policy papers, Government reports, policy briefs by international development agencies constantly declare that the rise in per capita income in India has led to a rise in demand for high value products such as milk and milk products. The article in the Hindu Business Line, July 6, 2012 by Sthanu Nair and Leena Mary Eapen has provides valuable insights into this myth but does not speak adequately to the pricing fiasco that is prevalent in the market. Let’s look at the reality on the ground from the supply side as far as milk is concerned. The information provided below are facts based on the writer’s personal work with small and marginal farmers in a rain fed community in Rayalseems. The reason the reality is embedded in small and marginal farmers is because they contribute to 80% of the milk production in this country.

Fact 1: Cost of milk production in rainfed areas by small and marginal farmers can range from Rs. 19 per litre to Rs. 25 per litre depending on asset ownership. Farmers with land and access to water typically incur a lower cost of production than landless farmers with dairy cows.

Fact 2: Those who have exotic crossbred cattle (Holstein Friesian particularly) thrust upon them through Government subsidy and loan programmes (be it through women’s SHGs or other schemes) will incur high medical costs and high resource costs (water, feed, fodder). This is because these cows are not hardy like the native breeds and are susceptible to disease. In addition like the Green Revolution crops they require a lot of water – for drinking, washing and indirectly for green fodder. Small and marginal farmers owning these cattle are entrenched in debt-traps having to continuously service the loans which adds to the cost of milk production. (For more on the saga of exotic breeds and indigenous breeds see:

Fact 3: This summer (2012 summer) the Syndicate of private dairies fixed prices as low as Rs. 16 to 18 per litre for wholesale purchase of milk. The prices were slashed from the winter rates of Rs. 19 to Rs. 21 per litre. The situation for the farmer is exacerbated since summer is when the cost of milk production is even higher due to lack of green fodder and inadequate water. This drives the farmer deeper into debt since the income from the sale of milk is significantly less than the cost of production of milk. The rationale provided by the dairies for the slash in prices in summer was a milk surplus.

Fact 4: Price of pasteurised milk in July in Andhra Pradesh however increased to Rs. 32-34 per litre for toned milk and Rs. 40-42 per litre for whole milk.

Given the facts above, Where is the supply constraint if there is a surplus?

Farmers are producing milk that meets the quality requirements in terms of fat and solids not fat (SNF), volume is being produced on the back of debts by these farmers, retail price of milk is shooting through the roof so Why are farmers and consumers the ones who are being hit?

The reality is that there is no supply constraint but it is the cartel of dairies and skewed Government policies on milk pricing that is placing both the farmer and the consumer in this “pseudo inflation” situation. Unless Government policies crack down heavily on regulation of milk prices people at two ends of the spectrum will continue to suffer – at one end the farmer who is going to run himself / herself to the ground entrenched in debt and at the other end the consumer whose income will never be enough.

The only entity in this that I can see is the winner is the milk processor and the policy makers who are blissfully oblivious of the ground reality.

Truly, if food consumption patterns have shifted and if there is a domestic demand shouldn’t the small and marginal dairy farmers at least be able to make both ends meet? Where is the inclusive growth and development in this scenario?