We always believe that development is sustainable, only if it is bottom-up. To understand what works at the grassroots in tribal areas, one can’t sit in their air-conditioned urban office spaces and search the requirements online. One has to be a part of the tribal life, speak their language and understand their hardships.
Tribal areas of our country are the richest in natural resources, be it forest, minerals, diverse flora and fauna. This shows the natural prosperity and wealth of these areas, which are till-date being preserved by our own tribal communities. However, changing definitions of ‘development’ have rated these areas as undeveloped, and governments and other organizations have bestowed upon them so-called ‘development programs’, which are mostly driven from top-to-bottom. Though, some of these programs have proven really beneficial and hats-off to the efforts of those involved in planning and implementing these, a majority of the programs have failed.. Not only have these programs failed to develop a better life for our fellow tribal communities, these programs have destroyed the natural wealth of these tribal areas!!! These top-down programs have delinked our tribal communities from their natural-resource based livelihoods, which were of an ‘inclusive’ nature and pushed them towards livelihoods which are of an ‘extractive’ nature!
Our project with BAIF Research Development Foundation and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), was aimed at addressing this very issue. Aarohana’s team visited each of the six tribal clusters selected by BAIF, namely:
a) Betul district, Madhya Pradesh
b) Dhadgaon block, Nandurbar, Maharashtra
c) Etapalli block, Gadchiroli, Maharashtra
d) Khunti district, Jharkhand
e) Peth block, Nashik, Maharashtra
f) Songadh block, Vyara, Gujarat
After spending a considerable time with the local teams and the tribal population, team Aarohana gathered grassroots information about natural resource status, present forms of livelihood and issues associated with them. This was done using various tools such as Participatory Rural Appraisal, Focused Group Discussions, Primary and Secondary data collection and so on. The information was then churned through various rounds of quantitative and qualitative analysis by our experts and a final output report was produced for use by developmental organizations like BAIF as well as by government departments.
This was a very valuable project, which enhanced our understanding of some of the most remote areas of our country, and how alternative models of sustainable development could be adopted to ensure the future of these communities is not ‘extractive’ but it ‘inclusive’ with their natural wealth!