PLIR 4500

By Chandler Smith Post date: Aug 31, 2020


 The problem in Udaipur, India is three-faceted:
-The government is seizing common lands for “progress,” ignoring the livelihoods of many.
The disconnect between the market and projects has resulted in restrictions to implementing climate smart agriculture techniques.
Women often do not have an equal opportunity to participate in societal action and governance.

At the center of these challenges – government land seizure, environmental degradation, and unequal inclusion – stands the livelihoods of rural populations, which are fundamental in promoting a society where people can be self-sufficient and partake in the consolidation of democratic institutions.


In order to address the problems highlighted above, a project on sustainable livelihoods in the district of Udaipur was created by Seva Mandir, with substantial funding from Axis Bank Foundation. The inputs included assistance in agriculture practices, the development of market linkages to translate sustainable techniques into higher realized prices, strengthening of community institutions through training and partnership with village forest protection committees, the establishment of day care centers, and Self Help Groups on financial investment and saving. Overall, the objectives of these interventions can be summarized as the following: (1) enhancement of household income (2) improvement of production techniques to preserve natural resources (3) strengthening of collective governance in the community and (4) empowerment of women in participation of society and livelihood activities.

Lessons learned:

An emphasis on women is critical to institute development, empowerment, and inclusion. Prevailing views emphasize the role of women in the household, largely isolated from societal decision-making. By creating programs that support education and employment for women (i.e. by enabling women to pursue opportunities by offering childcare and financial assistance), Seva Mandir can shift current norms towards gender equality.
         Projects need to include a framework that ensures cooperation amongst all stakeholders. It is critical that the project’s design include both a buy-in from the community and a platform that integrates the interests of locals, civil society, government, and financial institutions. A solution will only be effective if it is crafted with the people, not just for the people.
        Projects need to extend beyond just assisting farmers in implementing sustainable practices and include actively researching and designing linkages that provide market rewards for the use of the higher cost of climate smart agriculture (CSA) techniques. By bolstering the adoption, and resulting benefits, of CSA methods, Seva Mandir can further the development of sustainable livelihoods in Udaipur villages.


With a population over one billion, India, although the world’s largest democracy, faces challenges in achieving equal societal inclusion and participation. As a country, India has unique complications that exacerbate the implementation of a “true” democracy. On a broad level, these include topics such as overpopulation, poverty, and corruption; more specifically, India is confronted by gender and caste discrimination and exclusion, religious divides, and cultural barriers. These interactions translate into a distortion of representation, as many in society – characterized by poverty, food insecurity, and resource deficiency – lack the ability to have their voice heard in government.This fundamental lack of equal representation has morphed into several problems in society, three of which are specifically relevant to the scope of this project on sustainable livelihoods. The case study will cover the background of each of the three challenges in the following order: land grabbing, environmental degradation, and exclusion of women.

First, many states in India experience land takeover, in which the government seizes common land for the ‘national interest.’ Under the current of India’s enormous growth success lies the remnants of millions of poor farmers’ livelihoods, which have been destroyed and altered in the face of mass land aggregation and the Land Acquisition Act. The implications of these land seizures in the name of ‘progress’ are monumental: much of the rural population has lost their land and livelihood resulting in amplified poverty and food insecurity. The key concern is that the rights of many are being subverted by the interests of a few through the capitulation of land, livelihoods, and legacy. The interface between land takeover and the subversion of democracy is not a new concept to India. In the 18th century, when India was a colony of the British Empire, land, a highly contested resource, as it translated directly into revenue, was commandeered by the East India Company for profit maximization. The outcomes of these policies in the highly hierarchical society of colonial India were the seizure of wealth for the interests of a few and the 1770 Bengal famine. Even following independence, instead of adapting to democratic principles, land management reinforced the colonial system of hierarchical ownership. This system has perpetuated a practice of land appropriation that enables the wealth accumulation of a few and destroys the livelihoods of the rural poor. 

Second, rural livelihoods are threatened by the degradation of natural resources. Many communities are heavily dependent upon common property resources (CPRs) for water, herd grazing, and fuel. In the wake of climate change and continued practices of industrial agriculture, the land is losing its ability to sustain and revive, resulting in a detrimental impact on water storing capacities and productivity. On one hand, the implications are lower yields, changing growing seasons, and unpredictable weather conditions; on the other hand, these environmental externalities are coinciding with land takeover to strip rural populations of the means to their survival, and evidence suggests that there is a link between increased suicide rates and temperature variations.


Lastly, women in India have historically been excluded from a role in governance and societal participation. This has especially been seen in rural villages where there is a fundamental lack of education and platforms for engagement. Perceptions of women largely embody roles as mothers, cooks, and homemakers. In a society that relies on the labor and contribution of both men and women, it is critical that women be given access to institutions and a role in decision-making. Udaipur is known as a highly patriarchal society, and gender inequality manifests in several forms: sex selection, parental removal from education after primary school, child marriage, and domestic violence. There is a reinforcing cycle between patriarchy, poverty, poor education, and gender inequality.



 Seva Mandir is leading an ongoing project on sustainable livelihoods to address the reliance on common land, environmental sustainability, and women empowerment. Created in 1968 with an initial focus on adult education, Seva Mandir has evolved to meet the emerging challenges in India that pose threats to democratic values, food security, and individual independence. Addressing the lack of representation and inclusion in the political process, Seva Mandir is committed to pursuing development and governance that is “democratic and polyarchic”.[iii] This is achieved through avenues of self-governance, education, sustainable development, and enterprise support that manifest in the empowerment of locals to work across a diversity of perspectives to accomplish inclusion in society. Today, Seva Mandir actively supports over 400,000 locals in Rajasthan, working towards their mission of a “society consisting of free and equal citizens who are able to come together and solve the problems that affect them in their particular contexts.” A growing extension of their operations includes the promotion and implementation of sustainable and climate smart agriculture (CSA) -  in order to preserve common lands and mitigate environmental degradation - and the emphasis on women empowerment.

Seva Mandir has successfully contributed the transformation of livelihoods, human capabilities, and community institutions in the district of Udaipur. Over the last several decades they have assisted in the achievement of 33,200 hectares of common and private land treated, 2200 hectares of farm land irrigated, and 190 water resource systems developed; moreover, 68,000 women have benefitted from Seva Mandir’s daycare and SHG programs.

The project model for sustainable livelihoods is five-tiered:
-  Capacity building to restore and enhance water and land resources
-  Early child care programs
-Agricultural and market linkages
Financial loans
Self-help groups (SHGs)

The outcomes include: increased agriculture and livestock productivity, women engagement in livelihood, access to affordable credit, fair markets and price, and representative local institutions. Moreover, at the end of the project, the desired impact is to increase household income by 30-50% and improve the status of women through the vehicle of increased contribution to family income.


For the scope of the sustainable livelihood project, stakeholders were divided into primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary stakeholders include the community as a whole as well as institutions such as Gram Samuh and its relevant federations. Constructed as a village assembly, the Gram Samuh plays an important role in village organization and affairs. Due to its role in decision-making, it is critical to implement the project together with the community, understanding that projects cannot just be for the people but need to be created with the people. Secondary stakeholders include Seva Mandir, Panchayat, and Udaipur UrjaInitiatives (UUI). Panchayat is a local government body that focuses on self-governance at the “development block” level; they will assist in project design and establishment, as well as assist in issue resolution. UUI is a farmer producer company with experience in the interface of agricultural price, demand, and supply; they will assist in the mapping of linkages between the market and sustainable produced crops. Tertiary stakeholders include the government and donors, such as Hindustan Zinc Limited (HZL), the Royal Bank of Scotland Foundation India (RBSFI), and Axis Bank Foundation (ABF). These are the main donors of the project who have committed to the majority of the project’s funding. ABF is the main sponsor, contributing funds for 49% of the total budget; ABF is committed to creating a sustainable socioeconomic impact in marginalized communities, especially in the areas of sustainable livelihoods and women empowerment.


As highlighted above, the project is designed to directly impact the livelihoods of those in rural villages by addressing common land, sustainable agriculture, and the roles of women. Specific actions are as follows:
·     Training farmers with a farm field school approach and assisting them with the implementation of zero-budget natural farming practices,
·         Establishing vaccination camps to reduce mortality in livestock and poultry,
·         Analyzing the value chain between the market and agriculture-livestock offerings and subsequently creating local market networks with the help of UUI that link the market with products,
·         Implementing social and water conservation designs to recharge ground water levels and creating water harvesting and irrigation systems to increase efficiency and productivity,
·         Partnering with civil society organizations designated to monitor forest protection to ensure effective management of these resources, and
·         Launching 125 Gram Samuh (GS) in villages that currently lack GS in order to build the capacity of local community governance and ensure the active role of the village in project oversight and implementation.

In this project, there is a substantial focus on crafting initiatives to transform women’s position in society. There is an emphasis on creating platforms that enable to participation and decision-making of women, both through the use of child daycare facilities to remove barriers that hinder women from working and SHGs to offer financial assistance.

The essential understanding is that women play critical roles in Udaipur and have increasingly taken on more roles in agriculture as their husbands have migrated to seek better work prospects. Currently, 72% of the agricultural workforce is women; by creating opportunities for women’s education and career development, there is an opportunity to further enable women to become more self-sufficient and pursue opportunities to advance their livelihoods and/or education. By offering platforms to assist women in this achievement, a foundation is being built to lift to status of women in society and start a trend towards their more active participation and engagement in society.



Seva Mandir’s project is still underway; it was initiated in December 2018 and is expected to last a couple more years. A case study was done towards the beginning of the project to understand the effectiveness of Seva Mandir’s previous programs and the situations that needed to be further addressed in the region. There were several key findings from the initial research.

First, the empowerment of women is key in the case of development and livelihood preservation. Research, such as that from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has shown that women are more responsible upon receiving money and invest in the future opportunities, e.g. the betterment of their family or access to educational programs.


In the villages, prevailing norms indicated that a majority believed that women’s primary role was household management and that men had the power of final decisions. Despite this, data on the project has thus far indicated that there is a growing acceptance that women have the capabilities to make major decisions and contribute significantly to livelihoods; moving forward, it is important to continue to empower women and address the prevailing perceptions of gender inequality in society. This can be done by enabling women to participate in agriculture, education, and financial workshops, so that these external programs become to norm within society.

Second, to advance collective governance in society, cooperation across the community, civil society, financial sector, and the state is critical. Through an overlap of interests, that comes from designing a project not in isolation but in an interface across stakeholders, there is increased opportunity for success as there are a variety of avenues and resources to utilize.  This project has emphasized the need to collaborate across stakeholders through diverse participation, inclusion, and funding channels. By ensuring that there is “buy-in” across different actors, a project will better cater to the needs of the targeted community and include context-specific criteria, ensuring that the project is working with people, not imposing solutions upon them.

Lastly, there is a need to go beyond simple capacity-building for climate smart agriculture and ensure that the market accounts for the cost differences of techniques. Seva Mandir’s project is centered around the development of sustainable livelihoods, accomplished partially through the implementation of CSA methods. At this point in the ongoing project, Seva Mandir discovered that there is a disconnect between the provision of sustainable tools and a continuation of CSA methods. It is easy to train farmers and assist them with the adoption of sustainable farming techniques; however, in order for there to be a preservation of this method implementation, linkages between market price and demand must established to fairly compensate farmers for their sustainable decisions. Moving forward, Seva Mandir is working to understand how the market can reward farmers for using more costly CSA techniques.