Herders and the Amelioration of Range: A Report from the Desert Frontier of Gujarat and Rajasthan-Complementarity of Basic and Applied Desert Research in India and Israel

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I spent 29 March to 16 April (2003) in India, as the guest of BAIF. I, Mr P.K. Shirsath and Mr A. Bidhe were also the guests of three other NGOs. The four NGOs are:

* BAIF--Bharatiya Agro-Industries Foundation is a development/research foundation committed to sustainable rural development, food security and clean environment. Pune, Mahrashtra.

* GIDE--Gujarat Institute of Desert Ecology is an organisation for the conservation of Banni, Grasslands. Bhuj (Kachchh), Gujarat.

* KALA RAKSHA--'Society and Trust' is a grassroots organisation to preserve and protect traditional arts; to enhance (after re-accommodations) the use of the Bhonga (the traditional round-shaped adobe house, once the prevalent residential form in the Kachchh district), Sumrasar Sheikh, Gujarat.

* LPPS--Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan ('The Camel in India') is an organisation to enhance the breeding of camels--a threatened livestock in India. Sadri, Rajasthan.

Scholarly Effort to Reinforce Village Communities

The four aforementioned organisations share a commitment to better the future of India's rural communities by improving the quality of production, which would raise their standard of living, thus improving quality of life. All four NGOs acknowledge the key role that rural development plays in the general effort to secure the nation's future and restore dignity to village life, as in Gandhi's vision of the 'royal village': gram rajya (Howard 2000). All four share the opinion that stabilisation of the rural community is necessary to staunch the flow of migration from village to town. As a result, the phenomenon of neighbourhood's of poverty forming on the outskirts of towns might decline. Gandhi's disciple Mr. Manibhai Desai, the founder of BAIF, set the tone of the organisation's objectives--to improve life for those living in rural, rather than, urban areas.

If one views India's economic burden as being tied mainly to what transpires in its rural sector, then one must call for a mobilisation of the resources of government and NGOs. In addition, mission-driven, devoted teams of academicians should volunteer to work hand-in-hand with India's villagers to help them prosper. Science's newest offerings to improve agriculture and facilitate agricultural work, should be made available to the rural sector.

Our work tour was planned, with the assistance of Mr P.K. Shirsath of BAIF, so that I could learn about BAIF's state of the art program. Escorted by BAIF experts, I visited various farming communities, and we were able to sense at firsthand, the concerns and the difficulties encountered by herding communities along India's desert frontier. We discussed how the formation of better rural communities comprised of agriculturists and shepherds, who would benefit from reciprocal cooperation, could be encouraged. For example, herders can clean the stubble fields by grazing their animals on them after the harvest, or by exchange of agricultural and animal produce. Our itinerary included areas where stubble fields were grazed by herds not owned by the farmers. The herders had either been invited by the farmers or had, upon their own initiative, brought the livestock to these fields to forage on village land.

Supporting Rural Communities--Objectives

BAIF acts to encourage and support traditional farming, side-by-side with development, i.e., modernisation of agricultural methods, as long as they are congruent with the farmers' views. In order to ensure a positive reception in the villages, BAIF experts try to avoid altercations relating to the villagers' culture, tenets of creed or ideational views. For example, nourishment traditions, unequal division of arable lands, anti-social regulation of entitlement to real estate, caste prohibitions that limit integration of Others, family planning, etc. Land reform (Vinoba Bahave's campaign of the 1950-1960s) and the concerns of demography (Indira Gandhi's campaign of the 1970s) all remain relevant for India's future, but, as of yet, are beyond the scope of BAIF staff. …