Vedanta enriching lives of farmers in Rajasthan

By Rusen Kumar

NEW DELHI: Barmer in Rajasthan is one of the few declared desert districts and receives only about 270 mm rainfall annually. The soil is sandy and the surface below is hard, so, it is very difficult for communities to achieve productivity through traditional farming methods in these areas.

Vedanta’s Cairn Oil and Gas forayed into this harsh terrain in 2004 after the discovery of one of the largest onshore oil fields in India – Mangala. The pursuit of excellence in improving the lives of the farmers in the operational areas of the company is reflective in Project Unnati, undertaken to create an impact in the lives of farmers in these regions.

Neelima Khetan, Group CSR Head, Vedanta Resources Plc further speaks to India CSR Network on how Vedanta has been instrumental in changing lives of thousands of farmers in Barmer and Jalore districts of Rajasthan. Excerpts of an interview: 

What was the thought behind introducing this initiative in Barmer and Jalore district?

More than 50,000 families reside in the villages around our areas of operation in Barmer and Jalore district. 80 percent of these families are dependent on traditional, rain-fed farming activities for their livelihoods, earning less than Rs. 50,000 annually, or Rs 4,135 a month as per Government statistics. This level of annual family income is less than even the regional minimum wage.

The Barmer Unnati agriculture and natural resources management programme was undertaken to promote round-the-year agricultural productivity for livelihood generation, doubling farmers’ incomes, and transferring necessary farm and non-farm based technology to make our communities resilient and self-sustaining in the face of climatic vagaries.

Please take us through the implementation procedure of the project?

The project is spread across five blocks of Barmer district (Baitu, Dhorimanna, Barmer, Gudamalani, and Shiv) and two blocks of Jalore district (Chitalwana and Sanchore).

The project targets four specific livelihood components to preserve and promote traditional livelihood practices while bringing in scientific advancements to people’s doorsteps. They are Agriculture, including agro-forestry; Horticulture; Dairy Development and Small Ruminants Rearing.

It is among the largest CSR projects to be implemented in a Drought Affected and Prone (DAP) region with the best budget utilization, a wide expanse in terms of impact and reach, and community involvement.

What has been the impact of the Project, how have the locals benefited from this project?

Cairn’s livelihood interventions in the region span 140 villages.  The efforts have enabled the development of 1,114 agri-horti units, or orchards (Wadi), with more than 100,000 fruit saplings of Ber, Anar, Gunda  and Nimbu planted. The project has demonstrated a 70- percent survival rate. It uses gravity drip micro-irrigation systems that help reduce usage of water by approximately 65,000 m3.

681 traditionally built farm check dams (Khadin) harvest more than 11.32 lakh m3 of rain water and more than 43,000 tons of soil annually. The project has also renovated 15 traditional community water bodies (Nadi), harvesting approximately 15 lakh m3 water, meeting the potable water requirements of 51 villages and their livestock. Three Silvipastoral units (Charagahs) have been created across 30 ha of land. 85 roof rain water harvesting structures with storage tanks are harvesting over 7,000 m3 water annually. The project has established 5 bulk milk chilling units, and has connected 38 villages to a dairy development initiative through computerized milk collection centers, which procure and sell an average of 12,500 liters of milk every day. The project has also supported 60 landless and marginal families.

The project has been able to generate a total economic value of around 64 crore, which is either amount saved or revenue generated for 12,900 beneficiaries involved with the project since its inception.

Farmer incomes have increased by 10-50 percent. Farmers directly supported by the project have grown their incomes by 30-50 percent.

Do you have similar projects like Unnati in other location, how successful are those initiatives?

Yes. Vedanta subsidiary Hindustan Zinc’s Samadhan project focuses on farm based development through community participation. The project covers over 7,000 families in 185 villages in the districts of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittaurgarh, Bhilwara and Ajmer. Interventions include horticulture, improved farming practices, rain water harvesting, and cattle breed improvement.

Similarly, at BALCO, Project Jal-Gram works with tribal farmers in the Korba region of Chhattisgarh to tackle the challenges of climate change and ensure sustainable agriculture and improved livelihoods. The initiative, started in 2012, has benefitted more than 1,500 farmers so far, and is in the second phase of implementation. It seeks to equip landless and marginal farmers with the latest farming method and irrigation facilities, and augment their annual productivity and incomes.

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