Community Participation and Sustainability Initiatives
By Rahul Kumar
Sustainability is a dynamic and continuous process of capacity building that helps to develop ownership in the community such that the benefits are available even after project completion. Project sustainability depends on a number of factors, including community participation in implementation, capacity building, and convergence with existing government schemes and programs.
The VCCS model of sustainability
In all its interventions, S M Sehgal Foundation (Sehgal Foundation) emphasizes project sustainability from the early stages of project implementation. The VCCS model of sustainability stands for (V: Village Development Committee formation, C: Capacity development of community and convergence with key government departments, C: Community awareness, and S: Sustainability of interventions and assets). The project team includes community members and builds their capacities alongside convergence with government departments over a period of time to build and enhance community ownership.
Five villages of Motipur and Meenapur block, Muzaffarpur district, Bihar, bear testimony to the sustainability of interventions. In project Gram Utthan implemented by Sehgal Foundation with support from PTC Foundation Trust, New Delhi, efforts for sustainability were made right from the start of the project in February 2018. Farmers’ groups and women’s leadership schools were formed in the project villages for community capacity building, awareness generation, and engagement with government departments. Regular meetings with members of the gram panchayat ensured their support, which proved critical in engaging with government departments, as gram panchayats are the representative voices of the community, and their empowerment translates into having their views and demands heard.
The Gram Utthan Project is aimed to contribute to the Indian Government’s vision of sustainable and inclusive growth in India by providing holistic solutions to farming families. The project has focused on agriculture and other livelihood activities along with awareness drives and capacity building of farmers, including women. In agriculture and livelihood interventions, soil testing, demonstrations of Package of Practices in crops such as wheat, paddy, potato, and maize; use of machines for sowing; and solar water pumps for regular supply of water were undertaken in the project villages. In addition, capacity building of farmers’ groups and women’s groups through field days and specialized training on crops helped to increase the knowledge base of farmers and helped them to adopt sustainable practices in agriculture. Regular training of women in Women Leadership Schools made them aware of key government programs, thereby increasing access and benefits of the programs.
Building linkages with Krishi Vigyan Kendras
Sehgal Foundation also initiated an institutional convergence with the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), which are mandated to support farmers in agriculture and are an important linkage for knowledge dissemination to farmers. An example of creating sustainable linkages between the farmer and the KVK in Saraiya, Muzzarfarpur, Bihar, was when the KVK initiated a campaign for soil testing in the village so that farmers understand micronutrient deficiency in the soil and take necessary actions for correcting it. The KVK soil-testing van came to the village for sample collection and provided farmers with the soil-testing report at a nominal cost of Rs 50. The KVK also provided the women farmers with a pair of hand maize shellers for the extraction of maize. Hand maize shellers reduce women’s drudgery especially, since most maize extraction is done by women. More maze shellers will be provided to women in the future. The KVK also provided a newly introduced variety of paddy, i.e. Neelam, to about fifty farmers to see the production and productivity and further replication of this variety on their farmland. This convergence has continued year after year, with farmer groups attending training on soil testing at the KVK, and KVK scientists interacting with farmers in village-level trainings. The KVK has provided farmers with fifty-three demonstration packages for vegetables and pulses. The KVK also shares its technical knowledge in diversified activities and responds to community queries raised through Sehgal Foundation’s rural toll-free helpline.
These KVK initiatives together with Sehgal Foundation have been welcomed by the gram panchayat and farmers. Gram panchayat encourages and motivates farmers to interact with KVK scientists and share their problems to achieve better results in the field. The acceptance of the Neelam variety and the hand maize sheller machine has been very high among community members.
The linkages with KVK and other government agencies are critical elements for the success and replication of the project. One aspect of the project is to link the farmers with research stations so that farmers are able to get quality inputs, technical knowledge, and know about recent developments in agriculture. This enables farmers to reap the maximum benefit and help in the growth of agriculture in the region. These institutional arrangements are a win-win situation for all stakeholders.
The foundation team believes that the sustainability of any project depends on the institutional support developed during project implementation. The Sehgal Foundation team established linkages with KVK so farmers can have the benefits of the research station. KVK Saraiya plays a vital role in agricultural technology transfer and will further increase the productivity and income of the farmers.
From the beneficiaries
Surendra Singh from Ratanpura village was provided the Neelam variety of paddy on a trial basis by KVK. He says, “This variety is better than the other paddy variety available in the market. The price is also much less as compared to the hybrid variety and it also takes less time and water in the production cycle. The seed can also be used for a number of seasons, which is not possible in the other seed varieties available in the market. The production is higher and now around twenty-five farmers in my village have started growing this variety of paddy.”
Yogendra Rai is a resident of Bariyar village who had his soil tested from KVK. He says that application of fertilizers without proper information about the soil texture was making the soil infertile with each passing day. Soil testing not only helped him know about the soil, but he also received information on fertilizer usage in the field by a KVK scientist on the basis of soil-testing results. This was the first time he received soil-testing results in spite of regular follow-up with the block office for soil testing he had done earlier.”
Convergence in other areas
Convergence with the government veterinary department was another significant effort of partnerships with government institutions. One integral component of the Gram Utthan project was to provide poor families with goat units for promoting off-farm livelihood opportunities. In the implementation phase, it was observed that providing medical care to the goats may not be easy and the lack of this would lead to losses. The Sehgal Foundation team developed linkages with the block-level veterinary department at Motipur, following which the veterinary department helped in organizing camps for vaccinations and provided medicines for nearly 600 goats in the village.
For making solar water pumps sustainable and taking care of the maintenance of the system, a training was provided to farmers. Exposure visits were organized for functional solar pump operators for better operations and maintenance. Six solar pumps were installed in the project area, which have provided a boon to farmers for irrigation purposes.
A total of 323 families have benefited from various government programs, including cash benefits for maternity, cooking gas connections, cash for farmers support, the housing scheme, and subsidized food. The increase in awareness of women leaders gave them confidence in applying for government programs and availing appropriate services.
The efforts for sustainability in the Gram Utthan project show that village development committees and community groups, gram panchayat and relevant government departments can together make the projects sustainable beyond the project period, enabling communities to continue to reap the benefits of projects on an ongoing basis.
(Rahul works as a program leader in Bihar at S M Sehgal Foundation)
 See https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329363738_IMPACT_ANALYSIS_OF_ACTIVITIES_OF_KRISHI_VIGYAN_KENDRA