ಸೋಮವಾರ, ಅಕ್ಟೋಬರ್ 3, 2016

BAIF Institute of Rural Development: Towards carrying forward Gandhian principles of Gram Swaraj

The Gramodaya training centre
at the BIRD-K campus at Lakkihalli near Tiptur.
Life was just miserable for the farmers of Upparahalli, a village in Chikkanayakanahalli taluk of Tumkur district. They toiled hard but they could hardly smile at the end of the day. They thought, agriculture, could no more be a reliable source of their daily bread.

Well, this is a decade-old story. If you visit the village now, you will be surprised to see a completely different picture altogether. You will see at least hundred self-reliant families beaming with smiles and confidence. Upparahalli has witnessed a paradigm shift with the introduction of organic farming and a reinforcement of traditional knowledge and modern techniques.

Every villager has become an expert in vermicomposting, preparing Jeevamruta, bio-pesticides, liquid fertilizers and Japan-model organic fertilizers. Brinjal, tomato, beans, bitter-gourd, ladies finger, radish, snake gourd, angular gourd… you ask for it, and you will get it in each courtyard – everything grown organically. “We are happy today. We are sure nothing will fetch us more income like vegetable. We now believe that only agriculture will save us” say the villagers.

A farmer with his rainwater harvesting pond.
Interestingly, this is not the story of only Upparahalli. You will find hundreds of such villages across Karnataka chanting the mantra of self-reliance. And the strength behind such confidence is BAIF Institute of Rural Development – Karnataka (BIRD-K), a non-profit organization that has been striving towards realizing the Gandhian concept of Gram Swaraj.

True to its vision of “building a self-reliant rural society assured of food security, safe drinking water, good health, gender equity, low child mortality, literacy, high moral values and clean environment”, BIRD-K has been following the footsteps of Mahatma since its inception in 1980. Gandhiji’s principle of Sarvodaya is well-reflected in the mission of the organization, i.e., “to create opportunities of gainful self-employment for the rural families, especially disadvantaged sections, ensuring sustainable livelihood, enriched environment, improved quality of life and good human values.”

Gandhian roots
The very origin of BIRD-K lies in the Gandhian dream of prosperity of rural India. In fact, the story of its birth can be traced back to the Nature Cure Ashram of Mahatma Gandhiji.  It was in March 1946, Gandhiji established a naturopathy centre in Urulikanchan near Pune in order to improve the quality of life of rural people, and entrusted the responsibility of continuing its activities to Manibhai Desai, a youngster active in freedom movement. Manibhai Desai used this opportunity to promote community development and sustainable livelihoods in and around the villages of the Nature Cure Centre.

Dr. Manibhai Desai
Based on this successful experience, he established Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF) in August 1967 as a Public Trust, and motivated farmers to take up agro based development as their business enterprise with sound management practices. In 1989, BAIF was renamed as BAIF Development Research Foundation to refocus on development research for rural prosperity. Today BAIF is active in 16 states across India through its various associate organizations, and BIRD-K is one among them. BIRD-K was established on May 13, 1980 in order to extend the BAIF mission in Karnataka.

Since then, BIRD-K, the non-political, secular and professionally managed organization is committed towards realizing the Gandhian dream of “welfare of all”. Cattle development was the initial preference of the BAIF since Dr. Manibhai thought dairy husbandry could be the easier and effective way of involving the rural mass in the development process. The programme was expanded to conserve natural resources for promoting holistic sustainable livelihood, while ensuring women empowerment, improved quality of life and environmental conservation. BIRD-K is based in Tiptur, 150 km away from Bangalore.

Dream of Gram Swaraj
The Gandhian philosophy of Gram Swaraj has been well articulated by the activities of the BAIF. Mahatma used to emphasize that “Gram Swaraj is the pathway to Poorna Swaraj” and also stressed that rural development must be based on the principles of Sarvodaya and Antyodaya, i.e., a win-win situation for everyone in the village. As an effort towards realizing this dream, BAIF has been making all efforts to make the villages self-reliant.

As renowned agricultural scientist Dr. M. S. Swaminathan writes, the Gandhian model of rural development has three major components, and the BAIF has been successful in bringing those components in its development approach: 
A family using drinking water
collected through roof-top rainwater harvesting.
1. Conservation and enhancement of the basic life support system comprising soil, water, biodiversity and climate. 
2. Improvement of on-farm productivity and profitability through sustainable agricultural practices. 
3. Generation of additional market-driven and value-added non-farm sources of income.

“It is this Gandhian approach that has made us to focus on creating sustainable livelihood in villages, climate resilient initiatives, women empowerment and gender equity and community health” says Mr. Pandit G. Patil, Additional Chief Programme Coordinator of BIRD-K.

Local resources
“Late Manibhaiji felt that one has to approach the villages with a neutral mind, without a pre-conceived idea and try to learn from the rural people. Each village is a different entity and we need different approaches to solve their problems. To make our programmes more participatory, we respect the traditional knowledge of the farmers and involve Gram Panchayats in the overall process,” says Mr. Mallikarjunappa K., former Chief Programme Coordinator of BIRD-K.

The tree-based farming technique initiated by the BAIF has the same idea of making the best use of the local resources. “Our philosophy is that agriculture should go along with nature. The tree-based farming may affect the yield initially, but we are keener towards the long term profits and sustainability,” he adds.

According to Mr. Patil, the method has helped farmers a lot in risk management. “The farmers who have adopted tree-based farming need not simply rely on a single crop. If one crop fails, some other produce will come to their help. It has not only improved the vegetative cover and soil fertility, but also providing fuel wood, timber, fruits and fodder. If you visit Belagumba village, you will certainly get one or other fruit in any season,” he explains.

Both Gandhiji and Manibhaiji felt that any programme will be successful only when women are brought to the forefront, and one can find active participation of women in all BAIF projects. “May it be livestock development or organic farming or rainwater harvesting, we always try to involve women to the maximum extent. We are sure our programmes will end nowhere if women do not take an active role,” stresses Mr. Mallikarjunappa.

Participatory approach
The participatory approach- a villagers’ meeting.
BIRD-K has been carrying forward the Gandhian mission through more than 15 different programmes across 22 districts of Karnataka spread in four regions, namely, Gulbarga, Dharwad, Tiptur and Mysore. Considered ‘technically competent authority’ by the government, BAIF has built a long-lasting relationship with various departments, and worked as an efficient and trustworthy implementing agency. It has taken various schemes of Departments of Rural Development & Panchayat Raj, Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Services, Agriculture, and Watershed Development, to the hundreds of villages of Karnataka. Its professionalism in programme implementation and transparency in fund management have made various banks, corporate and charity organizations sponsor the activities of the BIRD-K.

Through its livestock development programme, BIRD-K is promoting both local breeds and cross breeds, which has resulted in considerable increase in milk production in the state. ‘Parimochana’ supported by Chitrapur Math and organic farming project supported by Savayava Bhagya Yojane of the state government, have brought smiles on the faces of thousands of farmers. Under its natural resource management mission, BIRD has covered 493 villages in tree-based farming, and 21,818 hectares of land in watershed management since 1980.

‘Sachetana’ project introduced by BIRD for providing fluoride-free drinking water has caused a silent revolution, especially in Pavagada, Madhugiri and Sira taluks of Tumkur district. BIRD has helped around 7500 families in these areas to construct rain water harvesting units, as well as getting clean kitchen and herbal gardens. The ‘Navachetana’ project has empowered hundreds of families, esp. women by providing financial assistance. The organization provides necessary training towards the effective implementation of all its projects through its well-established training centers at Tiptur, Kalaghatagi and Mundaragi.

                        A view of tree-based farming.
BIRD’s 500-acre campus in Lakkihalli near Tiptur, demonstrating various applied technologies for sustainable developemt, is a great place for any farmer or a researcher to visit. Watershed development model demonstrating soil and water conservation measures, roof-top rain water harvesting, dairy, bamboo arboretum, nursery, orchard, ethno-medicinal forest, drip-irrigated coconut grove,  energy plantation, experiments with bio-fuel, various composting techniques- everything showcased in the green campus will certainly give an overall picture of the BIRD activities spread across the state.

Need for the day
“Be the change you want to see in the world” – this is the great message left by Mahatma for the human world. BAIF, completing 50 years of its walk on the footsteps of Gandhiji, has adopted the message in the true sense, and the BIRD-K has followed the same path. At a time when the Indian villages are reeling under the crises of under development and under employment, the Gandhian philosophy of Gram Swaraj should come as a beacon of light. Whatever may be the degree of industrialization in India, it cannot prosper by neglecting villages. Organizations like BAIF should set a role model for the government while designing and implementing rural development programmes.