Cairn Barmer Unnati brings sustainable livelihood practices and community ownership
Cairn Barmer Unnati brings sustainable livelihood practices and community ownership

By auther pic. Faiza Ruksar Arif

January 17, 2020

Cairn Barmer Unnati brings sustainable livelihood practices and community ownership

Wadi beneficiary with their plantations

Barmer is a desert region in Rajasthan characterized by harsh terrain, coarse land, and scanty rainfall. It is home to over 50,000 families out of which 80% are heavily reliant on agricultural activities for livelihood and subsistence. This has created a paradoxical situation for the residents of Barmer and Jalore districts, where they rely on rain-fed farm-based activities but cannot sustain these traditionally held agricultural practices. Thus, this segment of the population is only able to earn approximately 40,000 INR per year which is lesser than the minimum wage in the region. India is no stranger to the agrarian distress that continues to torment farmers across the country. However, in recent times, a handful of social organizations have come forward to curate and implement community-based livelihood programs to uplift and empower these farmers through sustainable modes of agricultural production. One such undertaking has been the 'Barmer Unnati Project', an initiative of Vedanta's Cairn Oil & Gas Company.


Cairn Oil & Gas is the largest private-sector producer of crude oil in India, currently producing from assets in Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat. Cairn cares about the communities it operates among and focuses on holistic socio-economic development of the areas they operate in through interventions in health, education, skills, and capacity-building training, and by creating sustainable livelihood opportunities. As part of Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, Cairn works with local communities to increase their overall wellbeing and quality of life.  Recognizing the imminent danger of harnessing oil resources from this coarse terrain in Rajasthan, Cairn Oil & Gas treats community empowerment and sustainable livelihood practices as a prerequisite to their oil extraction activities. Started in 2013, the project (agriculture and natural resources management) was undertaken in Barmer and Jalore districts of Rajasthan to promote round the year agricultural productivity for livelihood generation, doubling farmers' incomes and transferring necessary farm and non-farm-based technology to make the communities resilient and sustainable in the face of climatic vagaries. The project has four target areas: Agriculture including agro-forestry, Horticulture practices, Improvement of dairy production and Small Ruminants Rearing.


A wadi in village Bhimda developed under Barmer Unnati programme

The program has a variety of primary and secondary stakeholders ranging from dairy producers, farmers, implementing partner agencies, government agriculture and watershed departments, NABARD and District Milk Production Committee. The Barmer Unnati Project has a rigorous selection process that is criterion-based, where beneficiaries are selected through a VDC - Village Development Committee. The VDC ensures that candidates are nominated as per the eligibility criterion without any bias. While the socio-economic conditions of the beneficiaries are the primary criteria, ecological needs are also mapped when directing resources. For example, KHADINS are built only on farms that practice rain-fed farming. The selection process begins with village profiling, followed up by introducing the program and garnering the interest of farmers. Technical verification and mapping of agricultural needs are carried out in the region, eventually leading to the NOC/ Farmer registration Agreement that is signed by the selected beneficiaries.  The strength of the program lies in the role of the farmers as more than passive beneficiaries. They are active participants who are consulted every step of the way. For instance, the Nadi structure was not funded in its entirety under the CSR funds. To further the spirit of community ownership, the project was also funded to some extent by the community.


Given the magnitude of work being undertaken, a plethora of activities and initiatives have been carried out within the four core areas. Farming was improved through the introduction of farming inputs like HYV of seeds, access to fertilizers and pesticides accompanied by formal training on how to use these HYV of seeds as well as different methods of farming. On the horticulture development front, farmers were encouraged to develop orchards and training on best practices. Farmers were also linked to the markets resulting in increased agricultural produce and income. Within the irrigation endeavors, Common Property Resources were been developed as per the need and availability of structural apparatus. Nadis were renovated on old community water harvesting structures that were lying unused or degraded and the farmers were educated on how to avail these irrigation facilities and govt schemes for improvement and maintenance of irrigation facilities. There has also been significant improvement in dairy production and small ruminants rearing. The Dairy Project initiative ensured that the dairy bulk milk chillers were planned to keep in mind the involvement of the communities who practice livestock rearing and their proximity to purchasing dairy federations. Milk collection centers formed Cooperatives and Farmers received additional knowledge and training on improving the quality of milk and dairy products while also being given access to markets. Cattle health checkups have been provided to all beneficiaries and LSS (Livestock Sahayak) Para vets have been trained for providing preliminary cattle care. Creating healthier livestock has resulted in higher milk production and an increase in income through animal husbandry. Furthermore, capacity building has been conducted at various stages through a filtration process so that maximum benefit can be derived out of the investment made.


Given the herculean task of creating and maintaining sustainable modes of livelihoods in the arid district of Barmar, there was dynamic convergence development between Vedanta Cairn officials and external agencies. The initiative has been closely associated with the Rajasthan government's flagship watershed program – "Mukhyamantri Jal Swavlamban Abhiyan (MJSA). It has been implemented through partner agencies (BAIF - Development Research Foundation & SURE - Society to Uplift Rural Economy) which have project leads and field coordinators who visit intervention villages on regular basis for beneficiary selection, implementation of activities, and monitoring. Agriculture & research institutions are consulted and collaborated with to plan the farmer training sessions and demonstrations. Cairn has also entered joint ventures such as with banks like NABARD & ICICI to facilitate bank credit to farmers and  with SARAS for milk collection and also maintains strong ties with district agriculture officials to leverage govt. schemes for the watershed, Bulk Milk Cooler installation, etc.


Spillway of a Khadin constructed in Bandatalar

The total budget allocated was 8 crores INR. In 2019, the Barmer Unnati project was allocated 2.8 crores INR which was allocated meticulously across the wings of the program. Cairn also ensures that the beneficiaries give their inputs before any action is finalized. Common Property Resources such as Silvopastoral units, Nadis, Roof Water Harvesting units and Bulk Milk Chillers were set up keeping in mind that the future development or conservation of these interventions would have to be sourced from the community through the setting of Village Development Committees. Each BMC (Bulk Milk Cooler) has a dairy society that takes care of the operation and maintenance of the unit by taking a small commission from the cumulative profit collected. It is also ensured that funding is sourced from additional sources – such as the purchasing dairy federation and government. Lastly, the project creates volunteers (village trainers) known as the Cairn Agri Fellow (CAF), who are trained through this project and who in turn become the trainer for the rest of the community thus, having a ripple effect.


Vedanta Cairn's livelihood interventions span across approximately 140 villages and the efforts have resulted in the development of over 1110 Wadis (horticulture farm) with more than 80,000 fruit saplings of BerAnar, Gunda, 681 Khadins (on-farm check dams) harvesting around 2 lakh m3 of rainwater and 30,000 tons of soil annually. The project has also renovated 5 Nadis (Traditional community water bodies) harvesting around 15 lakh m3 water and meeting the potable water requirement of 11000 families and their livestock. 5 Charagahs (Silvi-pastoral units) have been created across 30 ha of land and 85 Rain Water Harvesting structures with Tanka (storage tanks). Another farm-based activity supporting this project established 7 Bulk Milk Chilling units and has connected 36 villages through setting up of computerized Milk Collection Centres which procure and sell an average of 12,500 liters of milk every day. The project has also supported 36 landless and marginal families with goat units (4 goats and 1 ram). To address the shortage of skills in agriculture and allied occupations in Barmer, the project has created a cadre of young entrepreneurial farmers.


This project is quite possibly one of the largest CSR projects to be implemented in a Drought Affected and Prone (DAP) region and has a judicious utilization of budget. The wide expanse and the level of involvement that the project has with its beneficiaries are unparalleled. The beneficiaries take up a substantial amount of ownership for each project and the usual philanthropic perception of CSR diminishes. Unlike typical CSR programs that hand over the infrastructure to the community and withdraw eventually, the emphasis of the program is to create a sense of ownership over resources and promote collective action within communities. Cairn's Barmer Unnati program has successfully amalgamated traditional practices with modern technology to create a synergy between socioeconomics and ecology in sync with the company's vision of putting people first and drives to gain the maximum benefit for both the nation and its people.


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Faiza Ruksar Arif is a content specialist and researcher based in Bangalore who has worked extensively on curating curriculum and educational programs for adolescents in Telangana. With a Master’s degree in Gender Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Faiza is on a mission to improve social realities by equipping women and other marginalized sections, with improved access to health, education and livelihood opportunities. She also dabbles in artwork and is passionate about issues pertaining to mental health and minority politics.


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