Thulir Cluster Programme Review – An occasion for celebrating achievements

Tamil Nadu has historically been an agricultural state that is majorly dependent on the river water and monsoon rains. It also leads in the production of other crops such as banana sugarcane, cotton, kambu, corn,  groundnut and oil seeds apart from paddy. A combination of factors such as increasing industrialization, urbanization, housing activities, and infrastructure development triggered the conversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural uses leading to the decline of the area under cultivation.

The pull and push factors are in operation against farming. While the push factor pertains to the distress conditions in which agriculturists are placed, the pull factor refers to “greater opportunities” as viewed by farmers, in urban areas, for their livelihood. Given the level of urbanisation in the State, many farmworkers are no longer dependent solely on farming for livelihood. With the vast improvement in connectivity, the practice of people in rural parts of the region going to faraway places for livelihood is no longer uncommon. This again brings in problems associated with migration and psychosocial disorders.

Caritas India facilitated Thulir (Land and Water) cluster programme for the Central Tamil Nadu Partners covering 10 districts makes efforts in addressing the land and water-related issues through a holistic approach with movement-building perspective. The Review Cum Consultation Workshop held at CMSSS, Coimbatore on19th and 20th of September, 2019 was facilitated by Dr.John Arokiaraj, Manager, Caritas India. Along with him Dr.Haridas, NRM-Manager gave technical support. In this collective learning, the partners shared their 18 months of project implementation experiences, achievements made, new learnings and challenges encountered. There were 22 participants and many replicable models were shared by them.

Social inclusion is seen as a proactive strategy that has made conscious efforts to create equal access to opportunities, common property resources, services and institutions for the underprivileged poor on par with other groups and be mainstreamed.  “We schooled farmers to practice water thrift techniques by saving run off water and using it judiciously through drip irrigation and erecting bunds and linear trenches said Azad from Coimbatore MSSS.

“We could influence the change in cropping pattern. Training given to grow millets using minimum water has encouraged small and marginal farmers to cultivate different types of millets.  If one crop failed another crop gave a good yield. As the input cost is less and profit is more, farmers are not incurring any loss” said Arockiaraj, from Sivagangai MSSS. He also said securing Form 16 from the Panchayat Office and doing mapping in the villages has enabled redeem the encroached land in the common area and we could construct community hall in that spot.

Mr.Joseph, who is steering the movement in Thalavady area said that the very success of this project can be explained with 530 farmers who were predominantly cultivating maize shifting to millet cultivation like Ragi, Thinai ,Samai, Kuthiraivali etc., bringing in a whopping extent of increased coverage from 1.5 acres to 150 acres.

In an unchanging situation where we come across short-sighted dominant vested interest forces, we do not loose hope with the system as we are able to form people led federations who are taking up the land and water protection. Trichy staff team said that, in Kunnathur Panchayat, we identified that out of 30 water bodies, only 3 are left now. We could rehabilitate them through federation support. 7 villages are getting benefited with the active southwest monsoon which brought in copious water. Efforts are on to redeem the other encroached water bodies.

Fr. Arun, Director of CMSSS and the host of this workshop said that he could experience sincerity in the presentations, the programme accompaniment of the staff and people’s ownership and their leadership in taking up this process. He added that the accompaniment of Caritas State Office has contributed significantly to the positive changes.

A significant number of 15237 members including 8147 women have started attending Grama Sabha meetings and they have presented 102 micro plans to fulfill the needs of their communities.1525 widows, 473 PwDs and 10493 children had a major stake in the project. The project also witnessed the direct involvement of 434 volunteers in the project implementation. 5666 members have mobilised an amount of  Rs.3,03,42,724/-  through various schemes. Under MGNREGS 70764 members including 23908 women were able to secure their livelihood with a cumulative income of Rs. 16,26,44,096/-.  The renovation of 82 ponds in 100 villages and digging of 343 trenches have increased the water-retaining capacity and increasing the groundwater table. Most of the activities contributed to the objective of Thulir to a greater extent.

Water bodies renovation, water thrift techniques, rainwater harvesting, well recharging, land reclamation, dissemination of knowledge, grassroot advocacy, strengthening people structures, promotion of millet cultivation, linking with MGNREGS and Government Schemes and eco friendly alternatives are the key subjects dealt with guided discussions. The explanation on “Green Protocol” by Dr.Haridas gave pointers for reflection and detailing of concepts by Dr.John helped in strategizing future interventions. The teams formulated a clear action plan. A five-member resource team from among the participants is formed to give accompaniment and knowledge building.