Integration is the watchword in a programme that uses a variety of methods to enhance the earning capacity of rural folks
Being able to get his three girls into an English-medium school is what Lalramthara Hauhulh likes most about having extra money in his hands. “I want them to graduate, maybe become doctors or engineers,” says the 40-year-old farmer from Zawlpui village in Serchhip district. That may have seemed a farfetched idea for Mr Hauhulh and his family a while back, but not anymore.
Mr Hauhulh has set his sights high for the future on the strength of what he has managed to secure over the recent past by being part of the ‘integrated livelihood promotion’ (ILP) programme, an initiative that covers more than 17,000 households spread across eight sub-districts of Mizoram. The evidence is in the income Mr Hauhulh has been able to pull in, which has jumped from about 200,000 a year before he joined the project to double that amount now.
Farming — particularly horticulture — piggery development, and the reinforcement of community institutions are the three pillars of the ILP programme, which kicked off in 2016 as a collaboration involving the Mizoram government and the Tata Trusts. The watchword here is integration and with solid reason.
For traditional Mizo communities low on resources, depending on a single source for income or food security is a dicey proposition. “That’s why our programme has a basket of interventions, such that we can ensure support for a family moving from point A to point B in a manner that is sustainable for them and also economically incremental,” explains Bawlte Lalrinkima, programme coordinator for Mizoram with the Northeast Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), an associate organisation of the Trusts that is charged with implementing the ILP initiative.
Making good use of the small land parcels that families in the region typically possess is vital in the context. “We are trying to maximise the disposable income families can generate from, say, an acre of land,” adds Mr Lalrinkima. “That’s why we chose to pursue horticulture, which delivers a perennial source of earning.”
NEIDA has focused on bananas, oranges, pineapple and seasonal vegetables in the farming component of the project. ‘Stabilising land use’ is the term employed to take in what happens, and it includes training farmers and equipping them with agricultural knowhow, planting new orchards and rejuvenating existing ones, supplying saplings and secateurs, cultivating winter vegetables, and helping with irrigation facilities and pest management.
In Zawlpui the Trusts have gone further still by providing two tractors to the 200-odd villagers who are in the programme. These hardy machines have been invaluable, and not just for ploughing, in a place where roads range from unpaved to non-existent. “The roads here are terrible, as you can see, and the tractors also allow us to transport our produce,” says Mr Hauhulh.
From farming to piggery development was a natural progression in the logic of the programme. “The rearing of pigs has been an ancient practice in Mizoram and elsewhere in the Northeast,” says Mr Lalrinkima. “The problem is management and hygiene. To deal with that we have introduced scientific methods of rearing pigs while keeping health and hygiene at the fore.”
Developing low-cost pigsties and providing veterinary services at rural doorsteps are part of the blend NEIDA has brewed. Add to that the feed for the pigs — which has to be of the right order to ensure quality piglets are produced — free vaccination and health camps, and ‘livelihood service providers’, a band of village youth educated in piggery development and horticulture activities.
There are 67 service providers in the initiative and their importance, especially in the piggery development portion — which has thus far covered nearly 5,900 households in 104 villages — cannot be understated. They are the first line of defence when the ever-present danger of livestock diseases comes calling, and they are also the link between the community, the state government and NEIDA.
Community institutions, the final piece in the ILP programme, may not have the obvious import of what’s happening in horticulture and piggery development, but they are crucial as well. “Mizo culture has always had strong community institutions,” says Mr Lalrinkima. “We are looking to incentivise these institutions so that they can earn some money — through retailing, the supply of inputs and the aggregation of produce.”
The financial side counts for a lot, of course, and the beneficiaries in the programme have to contribute their bit. They and the Trusts put in roughly 40% each of the cost and the remaining 20% comes from the state government and institutions such as the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.
“The households contribute in cash and kind and they are very willing to, but the issue is that they often don’t have the money,” says Mr Lalrinkima, who expects every household in the programme to have an additional income of at least 200,000 a year by 2021, the slated end of the timeline for it. “That is our quantifiable goal,” he says while expressing confidence that the initiative will be self-sustaining in the longer run.
Lalzuatliana Ralte, a 42-year-old who also hails from Zawlpui, earned nearly 300,000 last year from growing brinjal, tomato, chilly, cabbage and mustard on 2 acres of land — up from the 100,000 he made in 2016 — but he is not so sure about striking out successfully on his own. “I hope the NEIDA-state government partnership continues because we are not quite ready to do this without them,” he says.
Mr Hauhulh has no such doubts. “I know I can keep doing well even after this programme closes,” he says. “If all goes well, I’ll soon be able to build a proper, concrete house and maybe even buy a truck.”
On a dusty stretch of highway near North Mualthuam village in Lunglei district, a partnership involving the public sector National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard), the Tata Trusts and the local council has engineered a fruitful solution.
Opened in April 2017, Jerusalem Market — named so at the insistence of a former benefactor — is a secure shelter where 19 women farmers from the area sell their tasty produce: oranges, bananas and more. The market is a huge improvement on what it has supplanted, a rickety shed open to the elements and less than protective of those forced to use it to make a living.
The new Jerusalem Market, which provides separate, multi-tiered platforms and storage space as well for its exclusively female vendors, came about thanks to a push and a pitch by the village council, which tapped Nabard and the Trusts for support to build it.
“This market is a comfort for our farmer-sellers,” says Pachuau Chhawnkima, president of the North Mualthuam village council. “Their incomes have risen and we have become well-known in the district due to the development that has happened here.”