Empowering Rural Communities: Sustainable Livelihoods

Empowering Rural Communities: Sustainable Livelihoods

Dhruvi Shah, Executive Trustee and CEO- Axis Bank Foundation, 0

Dhruvi is a seasoned professional with 24 years of expertise spanning across Development and Corporate sectors. Presently, leading Axis Bank Foundation, her extensive background encompasses roles in retail, corporate, microfinance, and CSR at ABN AMRO/RBS. Her strengths lie in CSR, philanthropy, stakeholder engagement, strategic communication, and governance.

In an interaction with CEO Insights India magazine, Dhruvi highlighted education's role in rural livelihoods through knowledge-sharing in agriculture. She emphasized financial inclusion challenges and solutions, advocated about innovative water management for rural sustainability, stressed key elements in empowering partnerships, and addressed climate change's impact on rural resilience, advocating diverse livelihoods and ecosystem restoration. Below are the key extracts of the interaction–

How do you perceive the role of education in fostering sustainable livelihoods within rural areas?
Education or access to knowledge and capacity building is vital to building local livelihood practices to secure income in the changing context of depleting natural resources, reducing land sizes, market fluctuations, and climate change.

Traditional practices combined with modern technologies such as enhancing seed quality, multi-layer farming, vegetable cultivation, drip irrigation, system of root intensification and livestock management, enable improvement in productivity, production and lead to increase in income. Access to knowledge and practices for an agriculture practicing community is best showcased by enabling peer learning circles. Fostered by Kissan Clubs or Farmer Groups, these learning circles set a foundation of knowledge sharing among small groups of like-minded farmers in a village to demonstrate several newer methods to boost agricultural productivity and allied activities to enhance income through the produce.

First, pilots are undertaken on select farmer’s plot and progress is witnessed firsthand by other farmers. A farmer learns best from other farmers; hence the role of every farmer becomes important in educating a larger farming population in the area.

Availing knowledge by communities is not a one-time need. To cater to a consistent flow of knowledge dissemination, regular supply of information and learning needs to be channelized. Network penetration and wider access to mobiles provide a promising opportunity to create low-cost distribution channels for knowledge, along with other easily accessed channels like community radios, local television broadcasts, and newspaper. Another emerging channel included agri entrepreneurs and rural youth who are capacitated and empowered to make knowledge available to farmers. A business model is being created to ensure that appropriate knowledge is timely available to farmers.

What are the primary challenges hindering financial inclusion in rural communities, and how should they be addressed effectively?
The primary challenge in achieving financial inclusion is the historical lack of financial resources or surpluses among those traditionally excluded. Another reason entails lack of affordable access to instruments essential for financial inclusion. However, substantial progress has been made in recent years, thanks to deliberate efforts from all stakeholders focusing on financial inclusion. Despite these efforts, there remains a considerable need to ensure equal opportunities, particularly to those residing in remote parts of the country. Emphasizing financial literacy, backed by digital payments systems, are the tools that are accelerating ongoing financial inclusion efforts.
What innovative approaches can be implemented in water management to positively impact rural livelihoods?
The presence of water makes our planet unique; it’s a source of life on the planet. It is a shared resource that belongs to all the beings on the planet and is finite. With growing demand for water, its judicious use is vital. In the rural context, water resources accelerate livelihoods. For example, access to water not only increases cropping intensity by up to 300 percent but also fosters livestock, both integral to rural livelihoods. Conversely, inadequate access to water diminishes potential for generating alternate sources of livelihood for rural communities. There are many water conservation practices in rural areas that are important not only to ensure supply of water for rural livelihoods, but also in the wider context of larger water conservation and management.

Balancing supply management with effective demand management is equally important. In the rural context, several innovative practices, such as watershed development, water budgeting, demand management, micro irrigation, soil moisture conservation, mulching, crop planning, governance on water usage, landscape restoration are practiced to ensure availability and judicious use of water.

To cater to a consistent flow of knowledge dissemination, regular supply of information and learning needs to be channelized.

In your experience, what key elements contribute to successful partnerships to empower rural communities sustainably?
There are several elements that can foster meaningful partnerships that aim to empower rural communities. Partnerships based on parity in assumptions or common understanding of the problem produce better results. Similarly, patience between partners in achieving certain outcomes fuels the growth and length of the partnerships. Keeping the community at the center of all designs discussions and dialogue can lead to sustained outcomes.

How does climate change affect rural livelihood sustainability, and what strategies foster resilience in these communities?
Rural livelihoods primarily encompass agriculture, livestock, and forest produce, which heavily depend on natural resources and its quality. Changing weather patterns result in change in temperature, rainfall patterns, and precipitation resulting to shifts in the frequency of dry and wet days, increase in hailstorms, etc. The outcomes are unpredictable, with shifts in flowering patterns and fruiting cycles, leading to reduced productivity and production. Additionally, there’s an increase in health hazards for livestock. Weather vagaries have a significant impact on the income of rural household.

Developing resilience to climate change in context of rural livelihoods can have two pronged approaches – resilience of the rural households to the weather vagaries and second resilience of the landscape / natural resources on which the core livelihoods depend on. Resilience for rural households can be strengthened by ensuring multiple functional livelihoods options, to de-risk a household’s income by reducing dependencies on a single source of income. This means creating a basket of livelihood i.e., cereals, horticulture, floriculture, milch animal, poultry, duckery, piggery, spice cultivation etc., and making each of the opportunities viable in the local context.

Fostering of resilience of the landscape through ecological restoration can help reverse the loss of biodiversity, and address degradation and destruction of ecological systems. A functional ecosystem can help communities adapt to climate change. However, it is a complex and slow process that requires addressing the degradation systematically, altering the land use patterns, and shaping community-driven governance systems to ensure sustained improvement.