Combining Income Generation and Food Access for Vulnerable Populations in Mountains

Posted on February 16, 2010

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Evidences around the world have shown that, poverty is multi-dimensional and its causes are diverse, its manifestations and definitions are contextual, and it is not only a state of deprivation, but also a set of processes. Here, I wish to highlight the major constraints in market access and income generation for smallholder farmers in Uttarakhand Mountains of India. In Uttarakhand state, a number of developmental players like Government agencies including agriculture universities, technical institutions, public sector units and international, national and local organizations are supporting various agriculture support programs through external aid. However, evidences have shown that, at large the benefits to these projects are not sustainable in attempting the sustainable poverty reduction and livelihood security goals.

The various dissuading aspects in this are understanding among players on various aspects related to the technological innovations adopted, understanding of social phenomena, thorough knowledge of forward (market) linkages, feasible business models, proper project designs, institutional support strategy, technical know-how among facilitators, strategic project plans and effort in partnership building, among others.

It is known that, the mountains around the world have been recognized as the water towers, weather makers, rich in biological diversity, and as privileged places for spiritual and physical recreation. Irrespective of tremendous progress in lowlands areas in India, the mountain regions have gained little from technological and other agricultural advances. It is observed that, till we achieve the MDGs by 2015, the remaining half of Asia and the Pacific’s poorest people are most likely to live in remote, upland and less favored areas, and most of them will be indigenous people and women with productive potential, which will pose a complex challenge.

Despite of the fact that ‘Sustaining Himalayan Ecosystem’ is among the eight laudable missions of Government of India in its National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), there are hardly progressive efforts by government and international agencies in putting forward this important agenda on board. Here one of the constraints seem – similar agriculture policy for low and high land, which ignores mountain specific needs and problems, resulting in to failure of agricultural services such as research, extension, innovation, credit, marketing, etc. As mentioned, other major constraints in the mountains seem related to lack of adequate technical knowhow, inconsistent efforts and poor marketing facilities and processing industries.  Further, the climate change and climatic variability, among negative environmental externalities have impacted different ecosystems at large in the mountains.

Due to these reasons, the incidence of poverty is higher in most of the mountain states of India. The state of undernourishment of the population, one of poverty’s finer manifestations, is much higher than national average in several Indian mountain states, like; Assam, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Tripura. A higher percentage of wasteland has also been recorded in hill states like Manipur, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, that could be used for different productive purposes. A state wise survey in agriculture productivity shows that, there had been a decline in agriculture sector growth during 1990s till 2006. To give an overview of the problems, a survey carried out by the Government of India in 2005, revealed that, the mountain state like Uttarakhand has moderate food productivity, low food accessibility and extremely low rural infrastructure, and it is among the severely food insecure state.

Therefore, the possibilities for improving living conditions of the mountain people through innovative agriculture practices and livelihood opportunities are high. Livelihoods in the Himalaya mountain areas continue to be based primarily on subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, and the extraction of natural resources. In the light of the rapidly changing economic, social and environmental context, only innovative (and consistent) and sustainable adaptation strategies and methods can ensure a secure and improved lifestyle for the people in hills and their downstream beneficiaries.

The experts and scientists observe that, the pressure on food supply can be reduced through innovative technologies that make use of degraded and marginal land, by sustainably intensifying productions and by using appropriate farming practice. Additionally, the agricultural innovations can have both direct and indirect effects on reducing poverty, therefore, the agricultural research, extension and/or development projects are important ways in poverty reduction.

We very much hope that the ongoing efforts are sustainable in the mountains, and help in entrepreneurial and poverty reduction targets. [In Feb 2010]