Evolution of sustainable livelihood strategy for poor men and women
An experience of EIRFP (Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project)

Dr. V.S. Tomar, J.S. Gangwar, and B.K. Sahay

Paper presented at the conference Livelihoods and Poverty Reduction: Lessons From Eastern India, 25-27 September 2001, by Dr. V.S. Tomar, CEO, GVT, J.S. Gangwar, Project Manager, EIRFP, GVT and B.K. Sahay, Field Specialist (Social Development)


To download, print, or bookmark, click: http://www.anthrobase.com/txt/T/Tomar_Gangwar_Sahay_01.htm.
To cite, quote this address and the download date. Not for commercial use.
© 2001 V.S. Tomar, J.S. Gangwar, B.K. Sahay. Distributed by www.AnthroBase.com.
Do not remove this notice from digital or paper copies of this text. 



1. Project context and background
2. The evolution of the project strategy: from RNR to sustainable livelihoods
3. Project's livelihood improvement strategy

A. Poverty strategy
B. Gender strategy
4. Conclusions and the lessons

1. Project context and background

1. The Eastern India Rain Fed Farming Project is located in the Eastern Plateau (Chhotanagpur Plateau) region, which covers parts of nine dirsticts of three states: Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa. The project started work in clusters in Ranchi, Palamau and Hazaribagh districts of Jharkhand, Purulia, Birbhum and Midnapore districts of West Bengal; and Keonjhar and Dhenkanal districts, Orissa. In the year 1998, Birbhum has been dropped and Mayurbhanj (Orissa) and Singhbhum West (Jharkhand) districts added. These districts are among the poorest in the three states and are managed at state level with its state office Ranchi, Baripada and Purulia for Jharkhand, Orissa & West Bengal respectively. The project is managed by Project  Management office at Ranchi headed by Project Manager.

2. The Eastern Plateau is agro-ecologically and socio-economically one of the poorest regions in eastern India. The topography is undulated. Rainfall is 1200-1600 mm but is erratic and falls almost entirely (80-85 %) during a 3 to 4 month of  monsoon period from June to September. Even during this monsoon, spells of drought are common. The lowland and medium lands are bunded and levelled. The uplands, which account for around 40-50 % of private land holdings, are sloping, often unbunded and prone to runoff and erosion. Such soils are shallow and acidic, with very poor fertility and low water holding capacity. Very little area is irrigated.

3. The population of the nine project districts is approximately 30 million. In project villages, Scheduled Tribes, who are among the poorest communities in India, are about 52%,72% in Orissa,49% in Jharkhand and 39% in West Bengal. Out of the total population the percentage of female are 48.38%. The sex ratio in three states show that orissa has most gender positive environment with 49% of female population as compare to Jharkhand and West Bengal where percentage of female are 47.93% & 48.31% respectively. Literacy is low in project villages, which are generally poorly served by schools and other services. Women’s literacy, in particular, is generally very low. The Project has facilitated the villagers to conduct Wealth Ranking and have categoried their socio-economic status in to different category viz. Surplus, Self sufficient and Deficit. The Deficit category has further been devided in to Lower Deficit and Between Life and Death [BLAD] Category. The BLAD category includes widow, physically and mentally handicapped, Socially excluded, old & vulnerable section of the community. The overall percentage of deficit in the project area is 76.25%, a maximum 78.94% in Orissa followed by 76.37% in Jharkhand and 73.78% in West Bengal. The project has identified BLAD category in order to target the deprived, vulnerable & poorest section of the community

4. The settlement pattern in the region varies from nucleated villages to dispersed homesteads and hamlets. Villages are generally located on higher ground and in many areas they are surrounded by homestead gardens. Many villages are divided into hamlets (tolas, paras or sahis), which are generally based on caste or lineage, though they may also comprise a heterogeneous mix of groups. Households are usually nuclear families and typically comprises of 5 or 6 individuals.

5. Land is more evenly distributed than in many other parts of India, with only around 10-15% of the households in the project area being landless. The average land holding is between 1–2 ha, though there is great variation in the quality (and value) of different types of land. Irrigated land is highly valued. In many areas land has been encroached from nearby Forest Department areas. Farm sizes are declining with the rapid growth of population. Almost all households produce food for subsistence, though this is usually not sufficient to meet their needs (in about 80% of cases) and other sources of income are needed. The most important alternative income source are agricultural labour, sale of non-forest timber produce (NTFP), public works schemes, and small industrial and mining wage labour. Seasonal migration to towns for wage labour is common.

6. The farming system in the project area is based on settled subsistence agriculture, with emerging cash-based systems. Low land and medium land are cropped almost exclusively with rice in the kharif season. Rice is also the most important crop on the uplands but maize, finger millet, sorghum, pulses and oilseeds are also grown. Rabi cropping is uncommon, with only 5-10% of the total cropped area able to support a second crop, using residual moisture or irrigation. The cropping intensity is less than 100% due to the unreliable nature of upland cropping. New crop varieties are widely used in some pockets where they have been made available. Mixed cropping and inter-cropping are practised in many areas so as to minimise risks of total crop failure.

7. Animal draught power is the main means of ploughing throughout this region. The gender division of labour varies according to social group and wealth status but generally men do the ploughing. Both men and women share most other tasks. Animal manure is widely used, as is chemical fertiliser in some areas, especially in conjunction with new crop varieties and to address shortfalls in manure availability. Chemical fertilisers are little used, and may be too expensive for poorer households. The irrigated area in project villages is usually less than 10% of the total land area.

8. Livestock are an important component of farming and livelihood systems, with cattle, buffaloes, poultry, goats, sheep and pigs all present. All animals are kept for multiple purposes, which may include draught power and manure, and contributions to livelihoods through the sale of livestock products and the possibility of selling animals, while goats and to a lesser extent, poultry, are highly valued by all types of household, including the poor. They usually sell the asset in hard time and these livestock are a copping mechanism of the poor to deal with bad times and is an integral part of the livelihood stratregy of the poor. Livestock systems are typically extensive and grazing-based, with few external inputs.

9. A number of government departments operate in project districts: State Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Soil and Water Conservation, and Animal Husbandry, and others such as Education and Health. A number of government programmes also exist. These include the Swarna-jayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY) (rural employment and infrastructure programme), Indira Awas Yojana and NABARD microcredit-microenterprise schemes. Many project villages however remain untouched by these programmes before project intervention. There are also a number of NGOs active in villages near project clusters.

2. The evolution of the project strategy: from RNR to sustainable livelihoods

1. The EIRFP began its life in 1995 in all the three states as a participatory RNR project funded by the DFID and managed by the Kribhco, an Indian Fertiliser Coperative (in which the GOI has a 70% equity share) & from April 2000 the project is being managed by Gramin Vikas Trust (GVT). EIRFP was, from the beginning, poverty and gender focuses and participative. Over the years it has kept these emphases but has changed in many important respects. As a process project, the project’s  participation, gender and poverty strategies have evolved over a period of time - as the project reflected and learnt from its experiences in the field.

2. The project realises that poverty is strongly associated with lack of asset, or inability to put the asset to productive purpose. The asset in this context includes Human Capital, Physical Capital, Social Capital, Natural Capital and Financial Capital. The project participatory approach leads to increase the opportunity available to individual/ groups/ Community with the improvement and scalling up the asset for sustainable improvement of their livelihood.

3. In terms of the general approach EIRFP has developed from the “provider” project – of RNR technical knowhow and financial support to an enabler project which encourages villages to autonomously address a wide range of livelihood constraints. With the facilitation of the project villagers have undertake different  farm and non-farm activities such as crop, tree. Watershed management, livestock and income generating activities etc and further scaling up in order to increase their income to ensure  their food security. The techonology transfer has been made through community training , training of Jankar etc. The RNR focus remains because natural resources remain a main source of livelihood for people in the project area but it is not a only form of the livelihood. For example, even the poor and the landless are mainly dependent upon the village for the fuelwood and fodder requirements. However natural resources are not the only form of livelihood for the very poorest who also rely upon their wage labour. The project has therefore had to develop a differentiated approach to poverty based on existing livelihood strategies. It now also seeks to get villagers themselves to address poverty’ social as well as its economic dimensions – in particular the social exclusion and the disempowerment of women. The work with BLAD and on women’s empowerment is an indicator of this change.

4. The EIRFP-GVT is now developing itself into an agency which has specialist knowledge, experience and skills to offer - in the areas of participatory planning, participatory poverty assessments, problem analysis and workplan development,  formation of self help groups, issues of social exclusion of the most vulnerable namely its BLAD related work, and gender mainstreaming issues. Further, the project is now empowering the groups to access services and microfinances from the government through linkages to start micro-enterprises and mobilised the existing resources for the improvement of their livelihood.

5. In the last one and half years, the project has synthesised its learning and its best practices in the areas of  poverty focused and gender sensitive participatory planning and has engaged in the task of linking with other stakeholders – namely the government departments, panchayats and the NGOs to influence their workings and the policies in these areas. Over the last one and half years, the project has developed multiple programmes and strategies to influence the governments, panchayats and the NGOs for wider uptake and disseminate the project learnings – and has met with a measure of success.

3. Project's livelihood improvement strategy

The  project strategy is evolved singnificantly the  participation, poverty and Gender issue for the  improvement of the livelihood.The overall goal of the project is to improve the livelihoods of the poor men and women on Eastern Plateau, and the project has over a period of time developed and refined its poverty and gender strategy which has been discussed  below; 

A. Poverty strategy

1. The project’s poverty strategy has been around identification of the BLAD ( households living between life and death), and that of the deficit households ( that is households which do not get enough food for the whole year). However, given that the deficit is a wide category, since 1999, the project has done identification of the lower deficit category and systematised its strategy accordingly. The poverty ranking, has allowed the  project to develop a more detailed understanding of the livelihood options, constraints and risks faced by the poorer households and is therefore helping the project in formulating strategies, sensitive to the situations of such households.

2. In the poverty ranking, by and large, the villagers have identified about five well being categories within the village – the lowest and the fifth category being that of the destitute persons: either old, mentally and physically challenged and without any family support (and therefore  sometimes, unable to work on their own or manage their own lands), homeless, households with acute drinking problems, widows with young children and without family support, family members living through long periods of illnesses and sometimes living through begging in the village. This last category identified by the village through poverty ranking are also the project identified BLAD households. The lower deficit or the fourth category identified by the villagers are largely those households with very little land and largely upland or landless, sharecroppers dependent upon the sale of their labour power for a livelihood or engaged in headloading; households with less working hands in the households and couples with very young children, migrating over several months, artisans and groups with traditional skills and those belonging to the castes with lower social status within the villages. These households struggle for food for the whole year and face problems of malnourishment; Children do not go to school as family migrates over a large part of the year. The main difference made between the fourth and the third category – in project terms called the upper deficit and the lower deficit  has been the availability of the labour power in the house – that is more number of  adult working hands and therefore more livelihood and food security. Further many of the upper deficits are also engaged in petty trading and contracting of small business in nearby towns and are some how managing their food over the year. In other words, the livelihood profile of the different economic categories identified by the project through poverty ranking shows that each of these categories have a different set of the coping strategies to deal with the situation of scarcity and distress. While the very poor or lower deficit households migrate over a long periods of time or engage in very low return activity – such as headloading that is sale of fuelwood; the BLAD practically live under the condition of continous malnourishment and distress. These households also do not get access to easy loans for consumption purposes or to deal with the distress situations. The other two categories are the Self sufficient, are managing their food through out year and Surplus having somme surplus to sale. Although these two catogories are not the target group but the project facilitating the participant / group for effective utilisation of their additional resources as well as the skill in favour of the deprived poor men and women.  

3. The main strategy for the lower deficit households has been encouraging them to form their own self help group which will leads to get an access easy to loan  for variety of reason and improving their social and human capital for the improvement of their livelihood. An over view of the progress made by these category of household in the context of singnificance of formation of selfhelp group and enabling the groups to form wider linkages are being presented below;

I. Significance of the formation of self help groups

The groups have acted as a mechanism for the people to get an access to easy loans for a variety of reasons. They include consumption loans, education loans, health loans, loans for social occassions such as marriages. The case study on Birsa Vikas Samiti in  Mehru Village in Jharkhand highlights such significance. Such easy and informal access to loans have enabled the poor households in improving livelihood security.

Case Study : Birsa Vikas Samiti, Mehru village

Reasons for the Credit Taken


Baijnath used the money to purchase a bullock

Rs 300

Etwah Khajur used the money for marriage

Rs 300

Yogesh brought diesel for pumpset hired

Rs 50

Jaikumar purchased fertilisers

Rs 200

Ghansyam Kumar purchased fertilisers

Rs 400

Mazhi Dhan purchased fertilisers

Rs 200

Madra used the money for groundnut cultivation

Rs 100

Ghanshyam Dhan used the money to treat illness

Rs 100

Gandori Devi used the money to meet school expenses of the daughter

Rs 100

Lagandevi purchased a saree

Rs 100

Karma used the money to give a bribe to official who had come to make an inquiry for his possible army appointment

Rs 200

Total credit

Rs 1950

Further the strategy to work with the lower deficit and the BLAD has mainly focussed on improving the social and human capital.  Livelihood Analysis of the situations of the BLAD household reveal that they faced social exclusion to the maximum – this was due to many reasons such as people’s prejudices towards their specific disabilities – many of the Blad persons are physically and mentally challenged, or young widows  who face social constraints and prejudices specific to their cultural contexts. Thus helping the BLAD persons develop a sense of confidence and self esteem and linking them with the groups in the villages by sensitizing the groups to the situation of the BLAD has been central to EIRFP’s approach to improving their livelihoods. Secondly, emphasis has also been given to developing their human capital - skills, and confidence to undertake a income generation activity that they can manage and earn from.The progress has been reflected in the case studies on Migration and BLAD as given below:

Case study on migration

Smt. Jena Munda of Arjunvilla, Orissa is a landless belongs to BLAD usually migrate along with her family, outside for wage earning and in summer she collect forest produce for fulfilling their urgent needs and sometimes she collect tuber for eating purpose. The project intervention and facilitation for formation of group leads to become a member of group and she got some vegetable seed and came forward for share cropping. With the assistance of the project she started paddy dehusking activity and running smoothly with a balance of Rs.1600/- in bank account. She has also purchased a cow out of the profit from paddy dehusking. Thus the project intervention developed confidence among her and it leads to stopped not only migration by providing an alternate source of income for the improvement of their livelihood but provide social recognition, scalling up their capacity and access.

Case study on 'Blad'

Smt. Revati Devi of Knawasdih of Kaipara, West Bengal, is a widow with one daughter, sufferring from Leprosy. Being a Leprosy patient she was negelected by the society and struggling for her survival.

The project facilitate one of the group to find out the possible way for the improvement of her condition and agreed for a support of two goats with the help of project and further provided two additional goats through group fund. On visualisation of the urgent need of fulfilling day to day requirment an additional support in terms of short term paddy dehusking activity has been given which leads to generate reguler income for not only comsumption but she has a bank balance up to Rs.2000/- at the time of study.

Now she is on the way of establish a milestone.At the time of study she was having 10 goats and a established business with access to wider market. She has not only able to married her daughter but also got recognition in the society. She is recognising the assistence and moral support of the project in bringing in to mainstream of the development process.

II. Enabling groups to form wider linkages

Since the 1999  - the main focus of the project’s work has been upscaling the work on linkages that is enabling the project initiated groups to form – linkages with other institutions namely the government, the panchayat, the block level offices. These new linkages are enabling the groups to get microfinance and loans from the banks to start micro–enterprises. The sustainability of the groups is being strengthened in this way even after the project withdrawal. The progress is being reflected in the case study given below;

Case study on MF/ ME

Krishi Club  is one of the group of Rajhar cluster of Jharkhand.The group has been identified by the project for the pilot project under micro-finance and Micro- enterprise. The facilitation of the project leads the group to undertake poultry activity as a second generation of IGAs. The project facilitated the group for linkages with Block and Bank and provided training on poultry business. On assurance from the SBI, Hazaribag the group constructed a house for poultry birds on their on and further got a loan of Rs. 50,000/- from Bank. The group is now running the poultry business successfully and has made a repayment of Rs.15000/-. Thus the project intervention not only leads for formation of group and scalling up their skill & Capacity but running of a second generation of activity by establishing linkage with financial Institution and find out a sources of income for sustainable improvement of their livelihood.

The project is now disseminating its experience in the formation of groups to other new villages through village volunteers – called Jankars from the older villages and experienced in the formation of groups themselves. The Jankars are now playing a role of the catalyst in newer villages. The main emphasis in the newer dissemination villages is that of enabling such groups to get credit and other development programmes through linkages with the governments. Thus use of Jankar system  become most cost effective tool for sustainable improvement of the livelihood of deprived community.

B. Gender strategy

The current gender related work is an important contribution to the project’s evolving of the livelihood approach. While earlier in 1995, addressing gender issues meant only equal participation of men and women in project activities. The project has not only facilitating the women for their separate group but also looking to encourage the women to undertake women liking activities. under the current strategy  project is facilitating the practice of taking forward the gender issues through the Gender sensitization trainings (GVT) to go beyond the objectives of equal participation. They emphasise empowerment of community women. This is done through community workshops which create a space for the women to speak about their concerns. Each GST workshop leads to certain agreements between the village men and women on the issues women raise. The most common sort agreements arrived at in the GST workshops relates to changes in male behaviour – for example, in areas of wife beating, liquor consumption and more sharing of the household work. The project is currently monitoring the impact of the project’s gender strategy. This is done through gender impact monitoring tools developed over the last year. The initial results of the survey are extremely encouraging. It appears that the GST workshops have had a significant effect on the male behaviour. The impact study consulted both men and women about whether the agreements had been honoured and to what extent.

The main findings of the study are :

In addition to the above gender strategy activated in the field, the project has also formally approved a sexual harrassment policy for its staff. This has directly led to a creation of an enabling atmosphere in the project, where the women and men staff members can positively contribute to the project objectives.

While the project has met with a measure of success in widening the livelihood opportunities for the poor, the project now also realised the importance of  health and education issue in the livelihood. Some work has been done on improving literacy, by holding non formal education classes in the villages. While linkages with the health services are now being piloted in some villages, further systematic work on improving the access to health services for the poor needs to be done. Each state is now developing a state specific strategy on this.

4. Conclusions and the lessons

The project’s experience in the livelihood improvement strategy for the poor and the women shows that following strategies need to be a core or integral part of any livelihood improvement strategy to adopted in the Eastern Plateau of India: