|| Dr. A. K. Gupta, IFS PCCF & CWLW; CEO & PD, Indo-German Project ||
- Skill and knowledge development holds the key to sustainability
The Government of Tripura, committed to the pro-poor reforms, has accorded high priority in conferring of rights to marginalized forest dwellers (ecosystem people) under The Scheduled Tribes & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights; RoFR) Act 2006 (hereinafter RoFR Act) and subsequently supporting the provision of economic activities in forest land to enhance livelihood. A total of more than 1.3 lakh ecosystem people have been accorded such rights under RoFR over more than 1.8 lakh hectare of forestland.
The issue of sustainability (financial, technical and/or Institutional) is a prerequisite for ensuring long-term benefits to these ecosystem people. The sustainability into any effort will require strong ownership among targeted beneficiaries. The ownership, in turn, is best nurtured when given demand driven interventions are attuned to socio-economic-cultural needs of local people to empower them. Empowerment can only be fostered through high level of skill and knowledge development covering varied aspects, viz., subject knowledge, planning prowess, execution and monitoring capabilities, and financial solvency, etc.
Multiple agencies, such as, governments, academia, non-governmental agencies, etc. world over have been working and joining forces for the betterment of the socio-economic conditions of marginalized communities. Many such communities and geographical pockets still need the attention of the mainstream society.
A well recognized generic problem faced by these marginalized communities is cavernous gaps in analogous and concordant skill and knowledge base. Age-old-traditional-common-sense-based skills are still main widget and devises with them, which are misfit to address current needs. As it stands, ‘there are more unemployable people in India than unemployed ones’. Thisskill and knowledge gap spreads beyond job-related skill-deficit and is a handicap factor even for farming and other traditional forms of enterprises too.
The need of the hour has necessitated an overhauling of entire skill development approaches and mechanisms atall strategic operational levels. With Government of India according utmost importance to skill development (setting up of National Skill Development Council as a thrust in this direction) and roping in many private sector players (more than 150 till date and counting) to fill in the skill and knowledge gaps, the entire scenario is poised for a change.
- Indo-German Development Cooperation (IGDC) Project: dedicated to innovations in skill and knowledge development.
With the objective to improve the natural resource conditions for supporting enhanced livelihood of the forest dweller communities, the ‘Participatory Natural Resource Management in Tripura’ (PNRMT) Project was incepted in 2009 in 70 villages under Dhalai and North Tripura districts covering about 28000 families, most of them shifting cultivators, landless tribal communities deprived of viable income sources. The Project, implemented through a Society (Natural Resource Management Society of Tripura, registered under the Societies Registration Act, 1860under Indo-German Bilateral Cooperation, is being jointly funded and implemented by KfW (German Development Bank) and Govt. of Tripura (GoT). The Project, initially incepted for six-years has since been extended for two more years to leverage and replicate notable gains made by the Project, mainly for socio-economic upliftment of beneficiaries through sustainable development of the patta land, rights over which have been vested under the RoRF Act.
In its seven years of implementation, the IGDC Project has shown exemplary achievements by fulfilling major milestones mandated under the Project implementation agreement, both in terms of quantity and quality. The achievements have been highly appreciated and taken note of as commendable at various levels, viz. KfW, GIZ, GoI (DEA), other agencies and GoT.
The IGDC Project has laid major stress on identification of gaps amongst the target population in skill and knowledge development and promoting coherent strategies to overcome and plug those gaps. As a result, sizeable number of marginalised population has been able to tide over economic backwardness in a very short span of time.
As an innovative approach, the Project has introduced skill and knowledge development aspect in all its varied broad components, viz., Administration & Institution Building and Management; Planning; Execution; Monitoring; Evaluation, and Financial Management, which conforms to the overall objective of the Project.
The Project has conducted a total of 1300 skill and knowledge based training sessions for abouot 33,000 marginalized forest dwellers, most of whom are now well set to pursue sustainable livelihood options.
2.1 Skill and Knowledge Development in Planning
To address this challenge, the Project has strategized documentation of a Village Development Plan (VDP), a comprehensive development package for a given village that has been prepared with participation from about 5600 villagers whose skills and knowledge has been upgraded to document VDP. The VDP represents a perfect ‘Convergence Planning Model’ where other existing plans at the village, block and district levels get integrated and merged to avoid duplication of efforts and ensures pooling and converging of technical, human and financial resources in a given village for achieving common goal of poverty alleviation. The implementation of VDP has ensured synergy between the fund flow and demands, thus incentivizing villagers to own, contribute (10% mandatory contribution of villagers either in kind or cash) and add values to sustain and grow the financial assistance for periods well beyond the project duration.
This skill of planning at the village, block and district levels has imparted much needed boost to the villagers who are now able to compare their own village with other villages in the district on development plank; it has led them to yearn for sustainable utiliation of more resources.
2.2 Skill & Knowledge Development in administration, institution building and management:
People’s empowerment through skill and knowledge development has reached its zenith in the Project with setting up of a special village level institution, namely, the Village Development Planning and Implementation Committee (VDPIC). This is set up in all project villages for all round mandatory involvement and participation of people, right from the planning through to execution and monitoring processes with total control over the flow of fund as well. Through VDPIC, about 1750 villagers have been skilled to plan, execute, monitor, evaluate and make financial transactions for implementation of development related activities. Synergy between Project and local elected government (gramPanchayat and village committees in Autonomous District Council areas) is reached through VDPIC chairperson who heads both the institutions. The VDPIC is linked with the local elected government for synergy and complementarity. The skilled villagers now have got a voice, choice and responsibility to decide their own priorities and choose best-suited development processes.
2.3 Skill and Knowledge Development in Execution, Monitoring & Evaluation:
The VDPIC members have been imparted skill and knowledge in execution, monitoring and evaluation of various activities enlisted in the Project through technical hands-on training and exposure visit sessions.
The skilled VDPICs are now able to allocate Project related physical and financial resources among the villagers on the principle of equitable representation and distribution of project related benefits without interventions from project officials. This has instilled a sense of confidence among the villagers of getting their dues in most just and timley manners.
As part of further imparting skills and knowledge, a 2-member subject sub-committees have been constituted within the VDPIC (on Forests, agriculture, horticulture, PWD, Electricity, Animal Resource, Rural Development, etc.)to regularly interact with line department officials to monitor& evaluate timely and effective implementation of VDP through convergence of resources from different line departments. The Project has achieved a convergence of more than INR 25,000 lakhs against the target of Rs. 3,867 lakhs.
These subject-specific, specialised sub-committees manned by skilled villagers are now successfully driving the implementation, monitoring, & evaluation of diverse range of activities within given village.
2.4 Skill and Knowledge Development in Financial Management
Towards achieving full financial inclusion and having utmost financial transparency among Project-based institutions/bodies/individuals, the Project has honed the skill and knowledge of VDPIC members through enabling training sessions for managing finances on their own. The Projectis working on ‘Direct Fund Transfer to Account’ mode for last four years. The entire fund for village-level activities is directly credited to the VDPIC bank account from the Project Management Authority. The skilled and empowered VDPIC members have further ensured ‘direct cash transfer’ to the bank accounts of individual beneficiary as per the Annual Action Plan prepared by the VDPIC itself.
The VDPIC members have been further skilled through several rounds of trainings on Accounting and Bookkeeping to prepare all the bills and vouchers for all types of interventions.
2.5 Skill and Knowledge Development of Self Help Groups (SHGs)
The Project-promoted SHGs are thoroughly nurturedin managerial and accounting good practices through multiple rounds of training sessions. The very concept of working in a cohesive group (SHG) had been an alien concept to a largely unsettled, landless ecosystem people, till such time they have been skilled into this aspect.
The skill and knowledge development in accounting and book-keeping has enabled, otherwise poorly educated SHG members, to maintain all financial and administrative records on their own, such as, cash books (for recording of all purchase and sell), meeting registers (recording of minutes of meetings and all decisions taken in the meetings held by the SHG members), loan registers (to keep track of inter-loaning), savings registers (to keep track of monthly contribution of the members and other sources of credit), etc.
These skilled SHG members from disperse community now feel empowered to produce quality products at commercial scale and market these even outside the state, hitherto unknown territories to them.
2.6 Skill and Knowledge Development formanaging Revolving Fund:
The Project has envisaged setting up of a village-based Revolving Fund (RF) facility in all 70 VDPICs through for easy, hassle-free access to credit for SHGs/Joint Liability Groups/individual entrepreneurs. The RF is being touted as a ‘Village Mini Bank managed by the Villagers’. The aspiring groups/individuals can directly apply for loan to the VDPIC.
This is also part of exit-strategy for imparting financial sustainability to the VDPIC and the village-based enterprises.
However, before setting up the RFs, main emphasis has been given to develop enabling skills and knowledge among the villagers to be able to manage RF in totality without the intervention of project authorities. This has been achieved by imparting necessary skill and knowledge to the Revolving Fund Management Committee (a specialised sub-committee under the VDPIC), which scrutinises the application and grants/rejects the loan. The Committee members have been imparted many rounds of training sessions by experts to this effect.
As a result of this, 45 village-based enterprises have already availed loan within 4 months of launch of RF facility in the Project and that too without any intervention from the Project authorities.
2.7 Skill and Knowledge Development in Enterprise Development
For availing loans (either from the Project-promoted Revolving Fund, or from any other financial institution like Banks, DRDA), the skill and knowledge of prospective villagers has been increased in preparation of a suitable business plans. More than 100 such Business Plans have now been submitted by the ecosystem people within few months for availing of loans.
2.8 Skill and knowledge based human resource development:
The Project has ensured skill and knowledge development of its various project officials and staff for effective and timely execution of interventions. Technical officers, inexperienced at the time of joining the project, are now subject matter experts due to frequent skill upgradation. Similarly, the Block Level Coordinators and Village Community Workers, selected from the project villages without any formal degree, are now an asset not only for the Project, but the services of these highly dedicated and skilled manpower are also availed of by the Health, Social Education & Social Welfare and District Administration in emergency situations like the recent Malarial outbreak that the State witnessed.
And, all this has happened only due to constant attention paid by the Project in skill and knowledge development of these villagers, who are going to be an asset for the state in implementation of such projects in future.
2.9 Skill and knowledge development in varoius land and non-land based livelihood options:
The skill and advanced knowledge development of about 12,248 forest dweller families (earlier practicing only shifting cultivation), in Project-promoted three-tier agri-horti-forestry plantation models, have undertaken scientific and settled plantations of Agr-horti-forestry crops. This skill has led them to earn an average income of Rs. 90,000 per ha within a span of 2-3 years. This is a huge jump over their near-zero income from earlier traditional cultivation (Jhum) in the pre-project period. The number of families switching over to more advanced cultivation system following skill and knowledge development is increasing on each passing day of the project and is likley to achieve cent percent success.
The skill and knowledge is also imparted among families in raising quality planting material (QPM) nurseries. Each household, associated in raising QPM has scaled up earnings in a range INR 8,500-10,000 per cycle. The families feel empowered now to even go for Hi-tech QPM nurseries having advacnce facilitations, such as, UV-protected poly-houses, sprinklers, foggers, temperature sensors with display etc. Four such QPMs have been now run by skilled villagers.
Several rounds of skill and knowledge upgradation training ssessions on pisciculture, mushroom cultivation, turmeric production, captive bamboo plantations, agarbatti stick making and rolling, etc. has helped more than 250 families to group themselves into clusters to raise their earning to about INR 50,000 per individual. These motivated entrepreneurs are looking forward to value add their products and set up market linkages to leverage the present level of earnings. They have reached to sustainability status.
2.10 Skill and knowledge development in service sectors:
The Project is providing skill and knowledge on 15 different service sector based vocational trades, viz., tailoring, two-wheeler repairing, mobile repairing, TV-CD player repairing, snacks-bakery item making, artificial flower making, natural resource-based ornament making, carpentary, masonary, etc. The trainees are evaluated on various parameters and top ten from each trade have been further imparted advanced skill training along with materials& equipment to start their enterpreneur besides facilitating in preparation of business plans for taking loan. A total of 199 such skill training sessions have been conducted for about 2400 villagers, of which, about 280 have been provided advanced skill training and materials and equipment support.
The Project now envisages to epitomize importance of skill and knowledge development through 40 Model Smart Villages (MSVs) ¾ as pivot to empowering marginalized forest dwellers in administrative and managerial prowess, technical deftness, planning finesse, execution & monitoring dexterity, and financial proficiency for earning sustainable livelihoods.