By Khagendramani Pradhan
Few years from now, these two clusters of villages in East and South District, predominantly inhabited by tribal Lepcha and Bhutia communities of Sikkim will be transformed into major producers of oranges and guava.
With a paradigm shift from labor intensive but less remunerative traditional system of farming to development of an acre of orchard from within their holding, under the “Wadi” project, certainly gives them a way out to look forward with optimism. Thus the project will not only ensure sustainable livelihood to these communities, but also will address several other concerns that have direct and indirect bearing on them.
Rey in East and Kewzing cluster in South have been selected for implementation of Wadi project in Sikkim by NABARD (National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development) under the Tribal Development Fund (TDF) with active collaboration from United Progressive Organization of Sikkim (UPOS – a local NGO) and Krishi Vikash Kendra (KVK) respectively, which will ensure proper implementation of the scheme in their respective clusters.
These village clusters, in the initial stage of implementation of Wadi project have been chosen only after the beneficiaries showed keenness to adopt the model of development. Simultaneously, officials of the NGOs as well beneficiaries were taken to exposure visits to some of the successful project areas under Wadi to help them better understand the concept. Thus, these two village clusters will contribute three hundred each acres of land for orchard development benefiting equal number of tribal families with sustainable livelihood and income generation. They will further have edge over marketing as well as processing facilitation as these areas of concern will also be addressed as a component of the project.
“Wadi”‘ is a Gujarati word which means a ‘small orchard’ covering one or two acres. The ‘‘Wadi’’ as an effective tool for tribal development has evolved gradually out of two decades of concerted efforts made by BAIF in Vansda, Gujarat. This very concept has been experimented in almost every part of India dominantly inhabited by tribal population with great degree of success. The “Wadi” may be of any fruit crop suitable to the area or a combination of these tree crops, with forestry species on the periphery of the land holdings. Two or more tree crops are selected in the‘‘Wadi’’ model to minimize biological and marketing risks. For these two village clusters of Sikkim Orange and Guava orchard development was found best suited.
A unique feature of the funding mechanism is blending of grant with credit not only to ensure participants’ stake and involvement in the program, but also for self -reliance of the participants.
As the program progresses with ‘‘Wadi’’ establishment and income generating activities, loan assistance is also given to the participants to support income generating activities, micro enterprises, water resources development and other emergent needs under Alternative Credit Delivery System. For the Sikkim chapter, NABARD has emphasized upon 90 percent of the project cost as grant and ten percent as a beneficiary contribution in the form of labor and orchard maintenance.
For this purpose a grant component of 318.89 lakh has been earmarked of which 139.29 lakh and 179.60 lakh respectively will be channelized through the UPOS and KVK– the partners in implementation of Wadi in Sikkim during its implementing period of five years. Furthermore, provision for technical expert to provide necessary expertise intervention has also been made to boost the confidence of the participants.
The “Wadi” model of tribal development is holistic in approach addressing production, processing and marketing of the produce and also other needs. Though the focus of the program is “Wadi”, other development interventions are also built around it addressing the concerns in the areas of environment, gender and health viz., soil conservation in the wadis, water resource development, agriculture development, women development and health.
One acre model of “Wadi”‘ accommodates around 60 fruit plants (depending on spacing) and 600-800 forestry plants which can provide adequate income and livelihood security under climatic vagaries. In five years, a village gets converted into an orchard of proportionately equal numbers of families and acreage of land producing hundreds of tons of fruits. While the fruit plants generate income after 4-5 years, the forestry species provide a fence and also act as a shelter belt. The species mix planted meets the families’ needs for fuel, fodder and small timbers. It also helps in reducing the pressure on existing forests.
Another important aspect of Wadi concept is that any beneficiary under the scheme cannot sell the land covered under the project till the expiry of economic life of the orchard or for a minimum of twenty five years, which thus not only retain the land resource at disposal but also secure the most valuable asset for the future generation.
With successful experimentation of “Wadi” project in two districts, NABARD also has an ambitious proposal to extend it to West and North district of Sikkim in areas with sizeable number of tribal population.
Disclaimer: The writer is a freelance journalist and the views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Editor.