As mentioned in most of my writing throughout the year, Anandpuri block, Banswara district and much of Southern Rajasthan consists of Adivasi farming communities, which have historically relied on agriculture for their income and livelihood. Unfortunately, the terrain in Anandpuri is not very fertile and is actually quite rocky, thus not being a great catalyst for farming. Furthermore, water scarcity can be an issue in the area which creates additional problems for the farmers of this region. As a result of the difficulties in farming and a lack of income generation many migrate to work for low wages in cities such as Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Broadly speaking, these are some of the major issues that the people in this region face. Some consequences of these difficult circumstances are poor health, malnutrition, inconsistent education, and crippling poverty. Obviously, the listed issues and their consequences are intimidating and cannot be overcome by any one intervention, scheme, or policy; thus, VAAGDHARA attempts to address issues according to priorities set by a combination of their abilities, assessment of immediate needs, resource availability, community perspective, and direction from partner organizations.
During the early stages of the organization’s conception 20 years ago, VAAGDHARA addressed health and nutrition issues in Anandpuri block through a Food for Human Development project in which the mandate of program participation required stipulations such as the distribution of grains and other food to women. The nature of problem identification and program intervention was relatively simple at this time, in that they used the tools they had to implement the requirements of the project. However, as time has passed VAAGDHARA has attempted to develop a more nuanced approach to problem identification, solution and intervention generation, and balancing the priorities of three primary stakeholders—funder, intervener (VAAGDHARA), and beneficiary.
Three primary ways by which VAAGDHARA attempts to identify relevant issues in the communities they work with are Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) meetings, secondary data such as the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), census data and other research studies, and a Community Advisory Group (CAG). The PLA meetings are especially effective in uncovering
issues and possible solutions. A project manager at VAAGDHARA offered an example of a PLA meeting where participants are taught signs of malnutrition, a participant then recognizes their child may be suffering, and upon further investigation it is discovered that the community lacks food diversity in their farming practices and diets. At this point VAAGDHARA would create a plan for seed distribution and kitchen garden implementation in this particular area. The Community Advisory Group—consisting of community leaders from the beneficiary community—comes into play further along. The group meets quarterly and offers feedback to VAAGDHARA on the status of ongoing projects and brings forward areas of concern. VAAGDHARA takes all of this collected information and creates project proposals using interventions reflective of their nutrition-based agriculture and Sustainable Integrated Farming Systems approach. The project proposals are then submitted to potential partners and funders for approval.
A lot of this may seem straightforward and easily digestible. However, it is essential to explore some of the challenges that arise due to the different priorities set by the three primary stakeholders mentioned earlier—funder, intervener, and beneficiary. According to my observations and conversations with folks at VAAGDHARA and co-fellows at other organizations, which function in similar models, there are times when the immediate needs of target communities cannot be addressed because of the guidelines and priorities set between the intervening and funding organizations. For example, there is a Wasteland Agriculture Development Initiative in which VAAGDHARA helps participant farmers develop orchards. Upon completion of the program, participants have full orchards with agri-horti-forestry plants which provide health and nutrition benefits and generate additional income. However, after the project is completed farmers often request that VAAGDHARA provide funding or materials for fencing around the orchard due to animals grazing on their plants in the summer time. Unfortunately, the project does not include a budget for this post-project fencing and VAAGDHARA is unable to provide the materials due to limited resources. This is a simple example of how a community need may not be fulfilled due to the nature of the relationships between funder, intervener, and beneficiary. One way that VAAGDHARA tries to overcome such obstacles is by linking community members with existing government schemes or programs which aim to fill the gaps. For example, in order to attain funding for the fencing VAAGDHARA may encourage a farmer to reach out to the agriculture or horticulture department.
Whether the needs are fulfilled by other institutions is not guaranteed and this is precisely where a lot of my questions regarding the structure of development work are rooted. If target communities have unmet needs, and grassroots level organizations or government programs are unable to reliably fulfil them, how can we reshape the system to ensure that the needs are met?