Sahyog Sansthan

More than scientists, two men faithfully support farmers

Sahyog Sansthan
India | Founded in 1989 | Thousand Currents Partner since 2004

Heera Lal Sharma and Dr. B. L. Paliwal appear to be expert stewards of water sources in one of the driest areas of farmland in India.

But they are much more than that.

Mr. Sharma and Dr. Paliwal are not just scientists, but organizers and fellow community members to families threatened with the lack of progress in rural India. These two men are leading decades of work to create equality through economic independence, fulfilling the Ghandian vision of swaraj, or self-governance.

As India’s rural poor deal with the lack of access to secondary education, caste discrimination, and long term depletion of job opportunities – subsistence and commercial farming remain vital cornerstones of the economy. Battling waning interest from younger generations, and the constant threat of drought; maintaining sustainable farming practices become vitally important.

Sahyog Sansthan has tackled the sustainability issue through watershed management. Taking the guess work out of agrarian planning, they have been pioneering practitioners in understanding how to maintain the water table throughout multiple seasons of farming and unpredictable rainfall. Additionally, they use the process of organizing and educating farmers as an opportunity to change beliefs and practices about caste, gender, health, and nutrition.

In 2001, Sahyog began working to revive the local churnot, or common pastureland, for 97 pastoral families, which are highly dependent on natural resources for their grazing animals. The churnot was to be managed by the panchayat [or village board] for the entire community’s benefit. But it had been degraded by drought, overgrazing, soil erosion, and misuse by local officials. As you might imagine, Sahyog faced opposition at first. Community discussions about developing the 52-hectare plot of pastureland continued for almost a year.

For the following three years, the community and Sahyog implemented the project. Together they strengthened monitoring, management, and accountability systems until Sahyog handed over full management of the common pastureland to the community in 2006. Years later, the community was found to be still maintaining the developed area and the installed structures as a whole.  

That’s because Mr. Sharma and Dr. Paliwal know how to not be the “experts” themselves, but how to ensure communities are building a sustainable future for themselves.

Learn more about Sahyog Sansthan’s work on our blog.

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