Just about 50 km from Meghalaya’s capital Shillong is Umdohbyrthih village. It was once known for its rocky terrains, streams, springs and verdant valleys. In recent years, however, its forest cover and natural resources have rapidly deteriorated.
Accessibility to knowledge
Many villages are facing a similar crisis. The State, known to have spots designated as the ‘wettest places’ on earth, is now facing a severe water crisis. Natural resource management becomes critical in this context. This is not a new concept, especially in Meghalaya where traditional practices on sustainable use of natural resources have been passed down from one generation to another. This indigenous knowledge began to slowly fade, however, owing to population growth, the quest for unsustainable developmental activities and indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources, among other factors.
Another roadblock to natural resource management was of knowledge inaccessibility among rural communities. When free access to information on an issue is not made available to communities, they begin to rely on external agencies for solving their local problems. The government wanted to see if, when provided with correct knowledge, solutions to problems can be devised and even implemented by community members themselves, with proper facilitation support. Reactivating the community’s connection to natural resources and enabling them to tackle the resource crisis became a priority for the State.
We got an opportunity to do this through the World Bank-supported Meghalaya Community-Led Landscape Management Project. We set up a cross-functional team with diverse expertise. The team worked with many facilitators and empowered them with digital infrastructure. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme became the main scheme channelising resources to impact poor households so that there was systematic convergence of all line departments such as agriculture, horticulture, soil and water conservation. The programme leverages technology and the youth population.
Leveraging technology, more than 2,000 village community facilitators have already been trained and are working towards climate change reversal. These facilitators take informed action pertaining to their environment. The idea is to bring at least 14,000-18,000 community facilitators (three from each village) to the fore. This has been made possible with the help of digital applications like Participant Digital Attestation. This app allows community cadres to record their attendance by scanning QR codes. It provides them content, training sessions and digital certification. These tools help create a free flow of knowledge without hierarchy and empower communities to overcome knowledge barriers.
To build autonomy, we use simple tools. They have been designed keeping in mind many things: creating community agency, building the capacities of all persons in the programme, and ensuring frequent interactions among them. Technology empowers us with real-time data, which in turn results in better programme governance, transparency and accountability. Communities are now able to articulate the complexities of their problems through a scientific lens and create their own natural resource management plans.
A one-stop centre
To carry forward this momentum, we are launching a Centre of Excellence in Meghalaya, a one-stop centre for natural resources management. Its mandate is to build leadership capabilities to enable close cooperation among departments, democratise access to knowledge, and continue with research and development on every aspect of natural resource management. Through our work, we intend to empower thousands of village community facilitators.
Sampath Kumar, IAS, is Commissioner and Secretary to the Chief Minister and Abhishek Srivastava is Senior Manager of Arghyam, a public charitable Bengaluru-based foundation