The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) in India was honoured with the JSW – The Times of India, EARTH CARE AWARDS 2014 under the category of “Community based mitigation and adaptation to climate change”.
The honour recognises the efforts of AKRSP (India), through the SCALE project, to help villagers in the tribal districts of Bharuch, Surat and Narmada to adapt to challenges posed by climate change in tribal areas of Gujarat. The Award cited AKRSP (India)’s efforts in economic development, the strengthening of community-based institutions and the development of community resources.
Established in 1984, AKRSP (India)’s programmes did not begin as climate mitigation and adaptation measures, but grew out of a need to better manage scarce natural resources, including water, food, fodder, and energy, which had been threatened both by climactic and man-made challenges.
For example, in areas impacted by drought, agriculture pests or salinity ingress, AKRSP (India) has worked to introduce alternative crops that are more resilient in the face of these changes. Alternative crops have also helped farmers raise incomes. In saline areas, it has introduced low cost technologies of groundwater recharge and water-use efficiency devices.. AKRSP has also helped farmers raise incomes through alternative sources of incomes, including organic fertiliser production, handicrafts, bamboo furniture, and other non-farm sources of income.
Climatic conditions in AKRSP (India) programme areas have also forced it to explore alternative energies, first through biogas projects and more recently through windmills and solar energy. Seeking a solution to the drudgery of rural women who spend two to three hours daily collecting fuel wood,and reduce the destruction of forests for fuelwood, AKRSP (India) first piloted biogas plants in Gujarat. AKRSP (India) has since constructed over 10,000 household biogas units, many of these attached to household toilets. The ultimate aim of the programme is to reduce the consumption of biomass and non-renewable sources such as kerosene and at the same time reduce the drudgery and indoor pollution affecting rural women
In Bihar, where the electricity supply is usually not available (despite electric lines being in place), AKRSP (India) scaled up a solar lantern programme through women self-help groups and local entreprenuers..
At the same time, AKRSP (India) was putting water conservation and sustainable natural resource management at the heart of its work. In coastal areas of Gujarat where saline water has encroached on fresh water supplies, AKRSP (India) has pioneered methods of remediation and community management of these resources. Soil and water conservation measures have built dozens of irrigation and ground water recharge systems; promoted micro-irrigation devices like drips and sprinklers; and worked to manage the critical water resources in river basins, including the construction of over 1300 check dams and irrigation tanks; and other watershed management measures. It has also planted over 12 million trees. In the process, AKRSP has improved over 46,000 hectares of land. AKRSP (India) has also built or rejuvenated 4000 drinking water supply sources and schemes, 200 percolation wells and over 10,000 roof rainwater harvesting structures. As a result of these efforts, over 70,000 women have access to potable drinking water. Its methods have been replicated in other states.
The Earth Care Award also recognised the importance – in light of more competition for resources – AKRSP (India)’s methods for addressing social inequities by working to integrate everyone, regardless of gender, caste or “tribal” origins, in the decision-making process, thereby providing a “voice” to the marginalised.
The result of these integrated programmes has been an improvement in the overall quality of life and an increase in the number of people able to remain in rural areas. In AKRSP (India) programme areas, distress migration has been reduced by 70-90 percent for farmers and by 30-50 percent for agricultural labourers, according to several research studies carried out over the years in the tribal programme areas.
The Award was a welcome addition to a programme which has received a number of awards since it was established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 1984. Field operations started in Gujarat in 1984, but have since expanded to reach over 700,000 beneficiaries in over 1700 villages in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
The Earth Care Awards seek to identify and foster actions across several sectors with special reference to mitigation and adaptation imperatives related to climate change. This is in response to the growing consciousness on climate impacts and need to identify and foster locally evolved responses. The objective is to reduce emissions, adopt approaches to protect natural resources and promote innovations for reducing impacts, emphasising appropriate environmental action.