Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Earth Provides Enough (Day 18: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

I am not much of a traveler. In fact, I call myself an armchair traveler or a mouse traveler. I either travel vicariously through TV programmes or through the Internet.

That is not to say that I never get out of my little cocoon. I do, but it is work that gets me out, not a vacation.

It was one such trip that I would like to describe here. In October 2004, a colleague and I went for a trip to Raigad district in Maharashtra, very close to Mumbai, to see the work being done by Rural Communes (RC), a non-governmental organization, there. This organization, propelled onward by one man’s determination to revoke the environmental disaster that afflicted the Raigad district of Maharashtra, and sustained by financial support from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, did commendable work there.

Before that man, Muneer Alavi, arrived on the scene, Raigad suffered from an ironical ailment. The region has always been blessed with more than sufficient rainfall. But all the water flowed down the hillsides and drained into the sea. Come summer, the locals had to choose from three options.

· Buy water from a tanker at an exorbitant rate.

· Walk miles to fetch water.

· Move temporarily to Mumbai once the rice crop was harvested or at the end of the monsoon.

The culprit for this sad state was the indiscriminate felling of trees to procure wood for construction, firewood and charcoal. Within a month of the end of the monsoon, the rivers would run dry. The ecosystem was so off-kilter that droughts in the summer and excessive rains in the monsoon had become the new norm. Surveying the people, RC found that they survived on a diet of rice, fish and crabs. They were anaemic and malnourished.

RC began a comprehensive watershed development programme in 6 villages and 24 hamlets. It involved soil and water conservation measures such as de-silting of village ponds, staggered trenching, reforestation and bund improvement. These measures contained the rainwater, helping it percolate into the ground. Within two years, the area was assured of water throughout the year.

It was Alavi who started it all. He founded RC in 1977 in Khopoli, in Raigad district. He initiated a 'graduate volunteers scheme', which later evolved into a graduate course in rural development. Later, he started the 'village-level workers' training' programme, affiliated to Mumbai's SNDT University. Students spent five days each month learning theory, and the remainder in community activity.

RC persuaded local Marathas to lease their land to 15 landless families from the impoverished Katkari and Thakur tribes. This was the concept of collective farming. When I visited the area in 2004, there were 30 such groups in these villages. Each group, consisting of two or three families, cultivated rice during the monsoon and vegetables at other times.

I spoke to Yashoda from one such group. Being fluent in Marathi, I chatted with them, and they spoke to me without any inhibitions. Yashoda’s patch of land was glowing with a ripe tomato crop. I cannot describe the sensation of joy and abundance that filled my heart when I saw rows and rows of plants, as far as the eye could see, all swaying with large, ripe, red luscious tomatoes.

As we sat in a rudely erected shed and talked, one of the group members quartered a few large tomatoes, applied a generous sprinkling of salt and served it to us.

Ah, bliss! Hunger and thirst were both slaked the instant I bit into the first quarter. No Coke or Pepsi I have had since has been able to achieve that effect for me.

Yashoda told me that they were able to pick 7-8 tonnes of tomatoes every day. Part of the yield was for self-consumption; the rest was sold in the nearby Pen market.

Bye, bye middle man. Hello, profits commensurate with efforts and hard work.

Yashoda told me that when the experiment began, they suffered losses owing to price fluctuations and their inability to grapple with the transport system. But gradually they mastered the game.

The villagers set up a self-help group and invested part of the money into their own bank which offered loans for start-up enterprises. RC took the self-help group movement further, helping the women to learn skills related to planning, management, accountancy, entrepreneurship, etc. They were also told about micro-savings and credit systems, food processing etc.

RC launched the 'people's biodiversity register' (PBR), which maintained details of more than 300 indigenous plants and animals. The idea was to encourage people to take pride in their biodiversity, to value their way of life, and fight anything that threatened it.

Aware that traditional medicine was dying due to lack of documentation, RC invited traditional vaids to reveal their knowledge of medicinal herbs and other compounds at the local health centre, so that it could be preserved.

It also reserved demarcated 'medicinal plant conservation areas' and worked towards growing a 'forest home garden'. This is an ideal way of living that stipulates that all the resources needed for healthy living and sustainable development should grow around one's house. This includes medicines, building material, spices and foods. Over time, a nearly self-sufficient forest village may be created.

Local villagers were taught to grow spices, mango, brinjal, chawli, tondli, karipatta, banana, papaya, jackfruit, etc. This helped them save more than Rs 20,000 a year. Village youth were trained to make agricultural tools, cane furniture and utility items out of bamboo. Food processing was also taught.

I was only a visitor to that region and much as I longed to stay there for longer, work and family commitments tugged and I had to return to Mumbai. But for a brief while, I got a taste of just how satisfying life could be if we depended on the earth for our needs and if we trimmed our wants accordingly.

I was grateful for this trip to Raigad, for it taught me that the earth provides.


(This post is my entry to the Travel That Moved Me Blogging Contest, in support of Rang De, hosted at


  1. Cynthia, all the best for the contest. very well-written..Even I have been to many areas and they have many 'mahila bachat gat'or women self-help groups and do a good job.

  2. What a wonderful experience. Water management is a big issue in most of India and collectively it can be solved as the problem as well as solution is sharing and caring for resources.

  3. That's such a wonderful experience shared with us here... Its like going back to the roots...brilliant!

    Thanks for this!

  4. that's such an inspiring experience.. I have been to Raigad and am very well aware of all the water problems you mentioned... Muneer Alavi's efforts are really praise worthy...

    Thanks for sharing this and all the best for the contest...

  5. That's an inspiring experience, truly! Self help is best help, truly. It empowers you and those around you!

  6. Good luck on the contest. Amazing all they were able to accomplish.


  7. good luck for the contest! that's two inspirational post in two days! if you can't help yourself, no one can...that's seems so true with these guys.

    btw why aren't ur posts on the UBC home page?

  8. Thank you, Kalpana. Women can achieve a lot when they feel empowered to help themselves.

  9. That's true, Prasad, Water management is a lesson that we desperately need to learn in our cities. I have seen so many people continue to waste water, as though there is an endless supply of it.

  10. Yes, Kajal, it really felt like going back to my roots. There is such a great satisfaction in knowing that what your efforts are not harmful to the earth in any way.

  11. Thank you, Sunita. That man is truly self-motivated. He put his own life's earnings to start this organisation which continues to do such significant work.

  12. That's true, Shilpa. No one else can do for us as much as we can do for ourselves.

  13. Thank you, Kathy, it is indeed amazing what one man with determination can achieve.

  14. Thank you, little princess, Yes, I too have much to learn from them. Maybe that is why I am blogging about them.
    I didn't know our posts were supposed to show on the UBC home page. Do your show up there?

  15. I feel so happy reading this post because I could see Sir dorabji trust name figuring out in the initiative. The Tatas really have taken the concept of CSR many steps ahead.

    As for the whole initiative as such, this is so innovative especially the part where he has involved learning as a process to propound things. Its what dream projects are made up of. The joy of listening to a happy farmer who can see the change in her lifestyle must be very satisfying.

    From tata motors side I am actively involved with CSR. I recently conducted an assessment also fro Lucknow, I felt so proud listening to the villagers almost hail us. :)


  16. Again a nice article from you, Cynthia. Keep writing.



  17. Hearty congratulations,well written



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