Amidst glaring failures of rural development efforts by the government,
some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have shown exemplary
performance. This paper describes the efforts and activities of
one NGO and examines the effects. It also discusses the process
by which the organisation carries out its work. Tracing the success
of the organisation to its ideology and the consequent dedication
of the field workers, the paper ventures into some generalisations
as possible lessons for rural development interventions at large.
Growth is a natural process, but development involves intervention -- a deliberate intervention to direct and accelerate growth selectively. India recognised the need for development
in her rural areas long ago and made provisions for it right from
her First Plan period. Having, thus, given due priority to rural
development, the Government of India has ever since been trying out
various strategies (Singh 1986) for achievement of the goal. These
strategies seem to have been based on distinct assumptions. For
example, the strategy manifest in programmes such as the Intensive
Agriculture District Programme, the Intensive Cattle Development
Programme and the High Yielding Varieties Programme is said to
have been based on the trickle-down assumption, meaning thereby
that the benefits of increased production would percolate or trickle
down to the poor. The results invalidated the assumption and there
followed a welfare-oriented strategy with programmes such as the
Minimum Needs, the Applied Nutrition and the Midday Meals.
While the intention in these programmes may have been to ward off malnutrition
and build human capital, the underlying assumption or implication appears to
have been: the poor are incapable of solving their problems and, therefore,
the government with its specialists and resources must identify and distribute
what is good for them. As it turned out, however, the strategy became a drain
on the government's resources, besides creating a dependency syndrome
in the people. The government then began to realise that development
would not occur until people themselves participated in it. A strategy to
involve the people,therefore, was evolved. The anti-poverty programmes of
the 1970s, namely, the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP),
the National Rural Employment Programme (NREP) and Training of
Rural Youth for Self Employment (TRYSEM), were manifestations of this
well-conceived, participative, strategy.
The soundness of the latest strategy notwithstanding, the results have
fallen far too short of the expectations. Indeed, the dependency syndrome
of the earlier welfare strategy seems to have been rekindled by the
government machinery engaged in the implementation of the new strategy!
In the face of such glaring failures of governmental intervention
in rural development, there have been encouraging results from
the efforts of some non-governmental organisations (NGOs). A study
of how these organisations operate, therefore, may be useful to
all those who are concerned with planned alleviation of poverty
in rural India. As regards the role and relevance of NGOs, the
reader may refer to Maheshwari (1987) and Roy (1987). A critical
report on these organisations is also available in Chowdhry (1987).
The present paper discusses some of the findings from the author's
field stay-and-study of the rural development work done by an NGO
at Natham, an administrative block of Tamilnad, South India.
About the Organisation
Way back in the sixties, some Sarvodaya workers recognised the
plight of most of the bhoodan allotees and realised that it did
not do any good to distribute bhoodan lands to the landless and
leave them with no wherewithal to use the land productively. With
this recognition, realisation and inner urge of a mission, a few
Sarvodaya activists got together in 1969 and helped develop about
70 acres of uncultivable bhoodan land in Sevalur-Pudukottai area
of the erstwhile Ramnad district, Tamilnad. This initial project demonstrated
that bhoodan allotees could indeed improve their lot if the necessary
support was provided. Impressed by this fact, the volunteer group
extended the scope and coverage of its work and, by 1978, it had
16 such farms in five districts of Tamilnad, covering about 800
acres of land and benefitting 364 families. It was now felt that
the bhoodan allotees of other States in India also needed such support.
To meet this need, the volunteer group considered it necessary
to have a nationwide organisation. The NGO under study was thus
born on December 30, 1978.
The long-term goal of the NGO was, and continues to be, to establish
gram swaraj (village self-rule) and through it create a sarvodaya society
-- an ideal social order in which no individual or group would be oppressed,
exploited, alienated or excluded; all persons would share the produce
of their labour; the strong would protect the weak and function
as their trustees; and each would promote the welfare of all.
The NGO is at present engaged in about 100 projects, spread over
seven States of India. These projects include six Block Development
projects. Natham is one of the six.
An Overview of the Activities
The NGO under reference is engaged in a variety of developmental
activities, both individual and group, related to agriculture,
animal husbandry, cottage industry, education and health. The
field staff regularly carries out periodic verifications of assets
with the beneficiaries and records are available at the project
office. The author was first inclined to lift the statistics from
these records and present them in a host of tables. After his
visits to the villages, however, he realised that such tables
would not reflect the real impact the project had on the people
and would be totally dumb about the processes that were part and
parcel of the developmental effort in the field.
For example, the NGO organised five National Service Scheme camps:
Students from the colleges of a nearby city were brought to the
villages and they constructed link roads in five villages, with
an average length of 1 km. This is part of statistics, all right.
Where is development? The village youth first watched their educated
city counterparts; very soon some of them offered a helping hand;
a little later, many of them joined full-swing. Later on, the
village youth began to get together in their respective villages
and voice their ideas in the gramsabha about what could be done
in and for the village. In one village, the youth initiated work
and completed a two-kilometer link road, where there had till
then been only rocks and thorny bushes. Now there are 49 youth
clubs in the block, each with its own identity and carrying out
developmental activities on their own. Two of these clubs have
purchased certain agricultural implements, such as sprayers, and
hire them out; some of the youth who are familiar with the operations,
also lend their services for a fee, in addition to renting out
the equipment. Several of these youth clubs have expressed the
idea of generating enough funds, which they would use for financing
local needs in the village at less than the market rate of interest.
One youth club is thinking of using part of its fund to assist
poor students who want to pursue their studies.
Several landless families in the block claim that they have
successfully come out of their poverty trap with a one-time timely
support from the NGO in activities these families were familiar with.
Rearing heifers, for example, on behalf of non-resident owners
was in practice for long in the area. The "owner" used
to finance purchase of a female calf, which would be reared by
the caretaker up to its first pregnancy and sold; the profit (selling
price minus loan & interest) used to be split "fifty:fifty"
between the owner and the caretaker. Now, the NGO advances a loan
to such calf-rearers at 4% interest and the "caretakers"
own the calves. This phenomenon is common in the area. Mr. Panaiyan
of Sathambadi village is one such calf-rearer. He is 35, landless
and a father of three children. He could hardly ever make both
ends meet and hence used to borrow from his neighbours frequently.
In June 1986, he approached his gramsabha (the village assembly)
and had a loan of Rs.800 advanced to him from the NGO; he bought
a crossbred calf. He took the animal along wherever he went for
his daily work and that took care of the grazing. On his way back
from work, he brought some grass home everyday. The following
March, Panaiyan sold the animal (eight months pregnant by the
temple bull) for Rs.2600. He repaid the loan and bought another
crossbred for Rs.900 to repeat the cycle on his own. Some families
have taken such support for goat-rearing and bee-keeping as sources
of supplementary income.
Small farmers who had lost hope of farming for lack of requisite
resources resumed their farming when help was available from the
NGO. The case of Mettupatti Ganapathy is illustrative: Ganapathy
had three acres of land and a rock-bedded well, which had run
almost permanently dry. He had given up farming for two years
and become a pedlar -- selling pant and blouse cloth pieces door
to door on a commission basis. This took him places, but the family
remained poor and also missed him. One day, in the gramsabha,
Ganapathy's aged father broached the subject of his family's plight,
which he said could be ameliorated if the land was cultivated.
The gramsabha recommended the case to the NGO and a loan of Rs.2000
was advanced. Ganapathy had his well deepened.
But the well could irrigate only half an acre of the land with
the help of hired bullocks, for the water in the well was so little
and Ganapathy owned no bullocks. So Ganapathy approached the NGO
through the gramsabha for another loan of Rs. 3000 so that he
could make his efforts productive and be able to pay back the
loan in instalments. He was granted the loan. Ganapathy had his
well deepened further and also bought a pair of bullocks with
the money. He began to cultivate 2.5 acres of his land. He has
sectioned this land into several patches and he raises groundnut,
chilly, tomato and millet--all in the same year. He farms eleven
months a year and says he feels happy and settled. As he talked,
showing his land and well to the author,the latter could sense
Ganapathy's feelings of achievement. Ganapathy expressed his pride
over repaying his loan in small, but regular, instalments. The
records at the project office bear out Ganapathy's claim.
There are also examples of people in the area learning to work
cooperatively. Nine lime-maker families of Poosaripatti village,
for instance, had been very badly off, unable even to buy the
raw material. Following a discussion in their gramsabha, the NGO
provided a working capital of Rs.5000 as a group loan. Work progressed
and lime production went up. But marketing became a problem. The
lime producers discussed the problem with the NGO's community
worker, who suggested formation of a cooperative marketing society
which could secure support from any bank. The suggestion was accepted
and a loan was obtained from the local bank for building a storehouse.
From then onwards,the marketing society bought all the lime produced
by the member families, stored and sold it at a margin and shared
the profit with the members, besides raising a reserve fund. All
the nine families paid back the NGO's loan and the society was
repaying the bank loan regularly.
Cooperation showed up even in realms that had till then been
typically private. For instance, several groups of four to five farmers
with contiguous land-holdings began to own a common well in one
of the plots, by paying the owner of the plot a compensation for
the land occupied by the well. They also worked out equitable
norms of water use, including an agreement not to raise water-hungry
crops. Cooperative well-owning had not even been heard of in that
part of the country till then.
The people of the block have now come to realise that most of
what they need, but cannot have by individual effort, can be had
through joint effort. There are fifty-six gramsabhas functioning
in the block now. They confidently approach the banks whenever
some loan is needed. The banks are more ready to advance loans
to gramsabhas than to individuals. The madhar sanghs (women groups),
of which there are forty-eight now in the block, also enjoy a
similar credit-worthy status.
The developmental intervention by the NGO in the block has not
smothered the people's sense of efficacy and responsibility there.
In one village, for example, a whole building was spared for a
year, free of charge, by the owner so that the village could have
the proposed school immediately. The owner did so on condition
that the village arrange for a piece of land and a shed in one
year's time. As the year was approaching its end, the gramsabha
met on the issue. The author happened to be present there and
could clearly sense the feeling of urgency that weighed on everyone
in the meeting. The land had already been earmarked and "shramdan"
(gift of labour) agreed upon, but the problem that persisted was
unavailability of a mason. Finally, one of the villagers stood
up and committed himself to procuring the mason in a week's time.
The Operational Process
The sample of cases presented in the preceding section shows that
the developmental effort of the NGO has had desirable results
-- in contrast to the government's efforts through its IRDP and
other development programmes. The difference is probably attributable
to the approach followed and the processes the approach triggers
off. The "cooperative well", for example, emerged from
lengthy discussions between the people and the NGO's community
worker, who confronted the farmers, many of whom wanted a well
each in their fields, with the poser: "You do not need wells;
what you need is water. Can we think up ways by which you can
irrigate your fields and yet save your tiny plots of land from
being swallowed up by wells?" To illustrate the intervention
process further, here is a piece of the action, typical of the
NGO's work in the block:
It is eight O'clock one evening -- a couple of months before the
next sowing season. Farmers from the neighboring hamlets are trickling
in at the temple premises of Ooralipatti, their revenue village.
It's 8:20 and they've all sat on the floor, in a spontaneous form
of what resembles a well-filled circle. One young man (the community
worker), seated about the middle, chants a short hymn that in
essence says all religions are the same and strength lies in unity.
There is silence among the ninety-five participants.
"What are we to discuss today?" asks the NGO Project
Manager, who, having been invited by the people for the meeting,
is also seated there. Simultaneous voices are heard from several
of those present. One articulate farmer suggests in a loud and
clear voice: "Why not one representative from each village,
one after another, speak out the problems faced in his village?"
"That's a good idea", seconds the NGO Project Manager.
One farmer speaks out: "Our wells are going dry; some of
them are already stone dry. Unless we deepen them, we cannot raise
anything on our lands. We have some other problems, too--seeds,
pesticides, etc., but the most urgent problem is water."
A farmer from another hamlet follows suit: "We have the same
problem -- water. Further, the price of groundnut seeds has shot
up and is unbearable. Most of us cannot continue with the "commission
agents". If we could arrange for some loans at a small interest,
it would be a great help. Our commission agents are ready to give
us seeds on credit and charge us an interest of 3 paise per rupee
per month (i.e., 36 percent per annum). But then we will be obliged
to sell our produce to them. These agents buy our groundnut always
at lower than the market price. They also keep false accounts;
some of us have been cheated thus in the past". A few more
voices in the meeting echo these problems as relevant to their
villages also. One farmer goes on to say, "Why not we have
a cooperative store to service the farmers--something like the
one they have in Sambappatti village, but specially dealing in
items of farm needs?"
Spontaneous discussions follow: "Yea, why not start something
like that? ...What can it do? ...What items to keep?.......How
much would be the initial investment? ...Where should the store
be? ...Who can be members? ...Would it (the cooperative store)
be capable of serving the varying needs of every farmer? .....For
all crops or only some crops, like cotton? ...Why not limit it
to groundnut, for that is the most capital intensive crop? ......Okay,
but how do we start the store?"
The NGO Project Manager opens his mouth now: "One of you
mentioned the Sambappatti cooperative store. Do you know how it
started? All those who wanted the store there contributed various
amounts of share capital and our NGO added to it by way of a loan
at 4% interest. The gramsabha took a building on rent and appointed
a storekeeper from among its villagers for a salary. The store
has been functioning for about a year now. The kind of store you
are thinking of can do a lot more than what the one at Sambappatti
is doing. The needs you've been discussing can be served not by
a mere shop-like store, but by a service centre--an agro-service
centre. Besides dealing in seeds, fertilisers and pesticides,
the agro-service centre can hire out implements such as modern
ploughs, dusters, sickles, stalk-pullers and sprayers. It can
be a pooling spot for your produce and thereby avoid distress
sales, which are common amongst you for lack of holding or storing
capacity. The Centre can also arrange to call up a mobile laboratory
to test your soils, ..."
"How much is a share?" inquires one of the participants.
"What's the minimum we must pay?" asks another. "I
suppose", answers someone, "we must collect enough to
..." A so-far quiet participant voices a query: "How
much can the NGO loan us?" "Five times your collection",
answers the Project Manager.
A clear and confident voice is heard: "I will spread the
word in my village, call the whole gramsabha tomorrow and prepare
a list of all who want to be members of the proposed Agro-service
Centre and also collect the shares. If the other villages also
do the same, we can soon hand over the list along with the money
and ask the NGO to open the Centre immediately. "The NGO
will not; you will do it! You will erect a shed or building, ensure
its safety, run it for your own benefit and profit and repay the
loan in instalments so as to stand completely on your own feet
year after year. Our NGO will certainly give you all the help
and guidance whenever you need it."
"Yes, that's it;" chips in one of the farmers, "that's
the way the Sambappatti store started. I talked to people there
and found out also the details of how it operates. We should now
collect the shares tomorrow or the day after and meet again here
before the week is out. Let's fix a date." Audible consultations
take place and Wednesday night is agreed upon. The farmers ask
the NGO Project Manager if he will be available for the meeting.
He says, "yes". It is now 11:45p.m. and people get up
to go home. Someone asks, "How about the deepening of wells?"
The NGO manager replies: "Discuss the point in your own gramsabhas
and come up with proposals for three or four specific wells in
each village. Our engineer will then visit the sites and assess
the viability of the cases." ... "Three or four wells
won't be enough;" said many a farmer, "there are about
200 wells around here and at least 50 of them need deepening now."
The NGO manager says: "We won't be able to help 50 wells
right away. By discussion amongst yourselves in the gramsabha,
select the most deserving cases and we shall see. Are you meeting
on Wednesday for the Agro-service Centre?" "Of course,
we are", said all in a chorus and the meeting ended.