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From drought to lush forest

Jul 14, 2008

A village in western India is a classic example of how collective resolve can bring about an amazing transformation. Like many other villages in the country it too suffered from perennial drought conditions, distress migration, illiteracy and poverty. Now it is a role model for everyone.

Pune: A little more than a decade ago, Baripada, a village located deep in the Dhule district of Maharashtra, was a non-entity. Like many others, it suffered from perennial drought conditions, migration of its male residents to cities in search of livelihoods, total illiteracy and poverty of the highest order.

Farmers

Today, the forest that surrounds the village and the green farms tell a different story. The villagers look contented and at the end of the village is a small building from within which the chant of children reciting the alphabets in Marathi can be heard.

Most people in the village would credit this transformation to the vision and work of Chaitram Pawar. Despite having a post-graduate degree in Commerce, he decided to stay back in his village.

In collaboration with the Pune-based Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, an organisation dedicated to the welfare of the tribal communities and small villages in the state, Pawar set about to bring an end to the woes of his village.

The first thing Pawar did was to enlist the support of the youth in Baripada.

“I found ten willing people and our first project, despite opposition from the village elders, was to plant trees,” said Pawar.

“I found ten willing people and our first project, despite opposition from the village elders, was to plant trees.”

He has recently been honoured with the ‘Neera Gopal’ Award in Pune, instituted in the memory of renowned Marathi author G.N. Dandekar.

The perception of the seniors in the village was that tree plantation was the job of the government and that they shouldn’t be interfering in it.

“We weren’t going to accept such arguments and so went ahead and planted trees in an area of 11,000 acres,” Pawar informed.

Unique four-rule system

Following the successful afforestation programme, the group turned to cropping. It instituted a unique four-rule system of cultivation for rice under the advice of an agriculture expert from Pune.

The main crops in the village now include rice, jowar and soyabean. There is also a significant cultivation of oil-seeds and oil-extraction machinery has also been set up.

The remains of certain wild plants are now being used to create biofuels that will provide energy and electricity to the village.

Though the village gets electricity supply from the government, the villagers are striving to set up a sustainable environment-friendly power plant.

What has worked is the set of rules formed by Pawar and his group.

“Those who cut trees are fined Rs 1,001 We have collected Rs 54,000 so far by way of fines. Bullock carts are now allowed into the forest. Collection of firewood is allowed only once in a year. There are demarcated areas for cattle grazing. We allow no one to break these rules,” Pawar said.

The afforestation programme has led to an increase in rainfall and thereby a rise in the groundwater level, thereby leading to better crop cultivation. Realising that change can only work if the development programme is holistic, the group next took up the project of education.

Setting an example

To tackle the problem of absenteeism, the group decided to impose a system that has made education up to class VI compulsory while laying down a rule under which teachers are fined Rs 50 per day of absence and students Rs 5.

Now there was no scope for teachers and parents for trading charges against each other. Needless to add, not many bunk classes any more.

A population control programme has also been successfully undertaken here. Awareness about malnutrition, as also ways to combat it is a project undertaken by doctors of the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram.

Such has been the successful turn-around in Baripada that it has prompted visitors from Canada, the US and the UK to come here for a first-hand learning experience.

Such has been the successful turn-around in Baripada that it has prompted visitors from Canada, the US and the UK to come here for a first-hand learning experience.

The village has been the recipient of many awards including an award by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Rome.

Thanks to this collective effort, Baripada has set an example for the other tribal villages in the district.

For instance, while earlier it had only a handful of wells there are now over 40 which ensure an adequate supply of water. So much so, that the village is able to supply water to five neighbouring villages.

While 15 years ago, Baripada had only 15 acres of ‘bagayat’ irrigated land, the area now has increased to 120 acres.

Nothing,” as Pawar put it, “is impossible provided you apply the right methods.”

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