Rural Livelihood

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National Civil Society Conference

What it takes to Eradicate Poverty
December 4 – 6, 2007

Theme Paper

Trends Shocks Seasonality Markets Credit Seasonal Migration Education Health Employment Infrastructure

Source: NADEL-ETH, SDC – 2007 (adapted).

B.N. Hiremath Professor Institute of Rural Management, Anand

India is witnessing a series of changes since early nineties. Recently, the Sensex crossed 20,000 points and simultaneously India ranked in 94th out of 118 countries in the Global Hunger Index — behind Ethiopia. Unprecedented numbers of farmer suicides, big corporate houses entering into retail business, land allocation for Special Economic Zones, boom in information technology and IT enabled services, zero growth rates in employment, are among many such events that needs introspection. In recent years the Indian government has made huge investments in development of infrastructure like roads, telecommunication, etc. It has also passed legislation to benefit rural citizens. For example, under universal service obligation, each village should have a village public telephone installed and maintained by the service providers. Also, the “Right To Information Act” passed recently was to make the government system accountable to the citizens. However, civil society organizations are often unaware of such legislation and they fail to leverage the benefits. Corporate houses, private business houses and largely urban citizens are making effective use of the provisions. Thus, the benefits are inequitably distributed between the rural and urban areas. This rural-urban divide in accessing infrastructure services coupled with inability of civil society organizations to utilize the existing provisions has contributed to the slow growth of livelihood opportunities in rural areas. Initial poverty eradication efforts in India concentrated on supply of agricultural technologies, inputs and services that were often ‘production’ orientated. However, they were not targeted towards the poor or were largely inappropriate to the needs of the poor and the benefits were mostly captured by the wealthy. Later, the approach changed towards ‘capacity-building’ in sector organisations to equip people and organisations with the skills and resources to do a better job but, overall little has changed since the new skills are not used. All these approaches tended to be sectoral and supply-driven and the results were not very encouraging. The concept of livelihoods and livelihoods analysis emerged in the mid nineties - closely associated with poverty reduction strategies. Understanding the livelihood systems of the poor is crucial to effective poverty reduction. Livelihoods of the poor can never be understood in any one-track logic - be it economic, social, technical, cultural or political. The livelihood systems are made up of very diverse elements which - taken together - constitute the physical, economic, social and cultural universe wherein the families live (Hogger, 2006). Thus, the livelihood system is more than just a set of physicoeconomic preconditions for continued existence. It also encompasses psychosocial dimensions of experience of living. The livelihoods approach puts households of the poor as its central focus. It takes holistic consideration of things that the poor might be vulnerable to, assets and resources that help them thrive and survive, policies and institutions that impact their livelihoods, how the poor respond to threats and opportunities and what sort of outcomes the poor aspire to. Agriculture and allied activities support livelihoods of nearly 70 percent of India’s rural population. In recent years, land based livelihoods of small and marginal farmers are increasingly becoming unsustainable, since their land has not been able to support the family’s food requirements and fodder for their cattle. As a result,...
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