RDT’s Ecology sector works to transform Ananthapuram from an arid, unyielding landscape into one of plenty of green cover – grasslands, crops and forests. Its programmes are directed towards creating self-sustainable land-based opportunities. People should live in harmony with their natural resources – contributing towards ecological renewal and development while reaping rich rewards at the same time.
Land Development Activities
Promotion of Micro-Irrigation Systems
Diversification of Crops, and Horticulture
Promotion of Livestock and Pisciculture
Ananthapuram district is a rain shadow region, which means the rainfall pattern is either sparse volume spread over many days, or lots of volume over few days, neither of which is ideal for crop survival. Overall, the district receives very poor annual rainfall; the second-lowest in India at 540-550mm annually, behind only to Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
The undependable rain patterns made land-dependant livelihoods very difficult to
Establishing access to improved groundwater levels through rainwater conservation and recharging.
Improving awareness of and setting up of water-saving irrigation systems.
Adopting micro irrigation systems and improved agricultural practices, ultimately resulting in an increase in irrigated land-area as well as growing of at least two crops a year.
To improve and diversify farmers’ source of livelihood from livestock by rearing cross-breed Jersey cows and graded-Murrah buffaloes, as well as high yield sheep, goats and pigs, and growing fodder crops.
To improve crop production, reduce costs and increase income through diversified cropping patterns with a focus on fruit plantation, vegetable cultivation and floriculture.
To facilitate a more ecologically balanced environment with improved natural vegetation and increased wildlife by engaging local bodies and community-based organizations(CBOs) in widespread afforestation of barren hillocks and wastelands, and taking up of stringent protective measures by committed rural farmers.
Curtailing migration in small and marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers, especially youth. Creating avenues of engagement in farm and non-farm based income generating activities, with appropriate skills trainings, to fetch a self-sustainable income.
To enable greater functionality by CBOs in addressing issues concerning ecological regeneration, environmental development and sustainable agriculture.
Creating and improving access to renewable non-conventional energy resources (solar and biogas) with both, RDT and government support.
Improved production and marketing capacities via co-operative enterprises in select villages for an enhanced synergy between production and market gains.
Enabling bulk marketing, processing and value additions for improved revenues.
All of these factors meant that water was scarce, and above-ground reserves were sorely exploited to yield what could be had from farming. There were no alternative means to irrigate land with other than rainfall, there were no perennial rivers in/around the area and the tendency was to grow traditional crops - like groundnut and castor in dry-lands and paddy in wet-lands – which were water-intensive and heavily dependent on annual rain patterns. Under the circumstances, only about 10.5% of cultivable land was being used for its purpose, as opposed to 33%, which is what the 52 sub-regions of the district, or Mandals, needed to be self-sufficient.
The mismanagement of land due to lack of awareness of how to use water judiciously and optimising land usage was compounded by superstition and religious rituals that called for wood burning which added deforestation to the list of factors adversely affecting land productivity. The way communities were structured then - only the better-off landlords had open wells – meant once community water sources dried up and rains flagged, result would be a certain prolonged season of crop-failure. Poor rural farmers, having no subsidiary occupations to fall back on, resorted to either working for bigger landlords, or migrate to seek labour work elsewhere.
India’s Land Ceiling Act, enacted in 1976 allocated lands to farmers in the district, but it wasn’t necessarily cultivable. Rural poor farmers usually received allocations of undulating and rocky land, besides which, the farmers did not have the financial wherewithal to develop and till their land, further unable to source and buy saplings for cultivation, they would often seek debt from the richer landlords/farmers. They also usually did not own any means of transportation like the bullock carts that could help them mobilise inputs outside of their immediate surroundings. In fact, livestock as a means of support was sorely lacking among rural poor, lower caste farmers, what few animals they had were of low yield due to poor nutrition- goats and cows usually. Bulls for pulling ploughs usually belonged to richer farmers, opening another avenue of dependency among poorer farmers. In effect, while they had been provided with lands they practically had no working capital, livestock(and subsequently manure) or access to other input factors that could help them out of the vicious cycle of tenancy farming, bonded labour or migration they were faced with.
Some of the early problems that needed to be addressed were
Tackling draught by altering the landscape was always a part of Father Ferrer’s larger goals. He dreamt in the 1970’s of changing the landscape to one where natural resources, land and people existed harmoniously. His visionary approach for the ecology sector was that “bigger problems need bigger solution”. Then, the 70s also saw three successive years of drought, which severely impoverished communities. Father Ferrer devised the ‘Food for Work’ programme in 1973 to assist villagers – a barter program where they were enlisted to help with basic land renewal jobs like clearing rocks and digging wells, in exchange for Rawa (semolina) and oil. The ‘Food for Work’ programme was so successful, that this period saw the installation of 8000 open wells and a boost to groundnut and castor farming, among other traditional crops.
Seeing also that the quality of the land needed improvement to sustain itself, RDT saw ecology measures as an area where farmers could work jointly to restore ecological balance in their regions, and improve land-based productivity and revenues. Poor rural farmers were largely wage or bonded labour, or migrated for work to help meet their commitments and sustain their families –conditions that the initiatives of RDT’s Ecology sector have helped in softening, and in some cases reversing.
Enriching the lives
With enthusiastic support from the villagers and local bodies, technical and information inputs from experts, and working in tandem with government efforts the Ecology team has achieved much progress in the last 3 decades.