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Conserving Orans for sustainable livelihoods

Orans are a source of food fodder, water and fuel to the livestock communities living in the foothills of Aravallis. Local communities, with the support of KRAPAVIS, an NGO continue to uphold the beneficial practice of preserving Orans.

Conserving Orans for sustainable livelihoods

Meena ki Dhani, located in Alwar district of Rajasthan, is a fairly large tribal village with an approximate population of 1000 people spread across 100 households. Majority are farmers or pastoralists. The major crops grown are bajra, maize, jowar, til, chola onion, wheat, mustard, gram and barley. Due to the high involvement of many villagers in livestock farming there is a huge number of domestic animals kept by families in village. There are cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats and camels. The number of buffaloes and goats – more than a thousand each – deserves special mention.

Located in the hills surrounding the village of Meena ki Dhanni is Adaawal ki Devbani, also popularly called as Orans. The total area covered by the Oran is close to 150 hectares The Oran is rich in bio diversity. There are roughly 3420 trees reported to be currently growing in the Oran. Nearly 15 species of trees like dhak, kadamb, keekar are widespread in this Oran and are used by the villagers for the food, fodder for livestock, fuel and medicines. Wildlife like sambhar, nilgai, wild pigs and peacocks form part of the Oran. A few species like the leopard and the tiger, which used to roam these woods a few decades ago, have now disappeared.

Traditionally the upkeep of Oran was the responsibility of village  institution called Thain. With the disintegration of Thain, modern institutions like village panchayat have displayed little interest in the management of Orans. Increasingly it is found that local population have been excluded from the management of their resources, thus, leading to its degeneration.

Krishi Avam Paristhitiki Vikas Sansthan (KRAPAVIS), a Rajasthan-based voluntary organisation (NGO), founded in 1992, concerned with these issues has been working on community centered revival of Orans. KRAPAVIS has been working at three levels – at the community level in reviving Orans, at the individual level in addressing their livelihood issues and at the policy level, to bring in changes in State policies with regard to Oran management. KRAPAVIS has been working towards restoring 100 Orans encompassing 2000 hectares, covering 100 villages of Alwar, Jaipur and Dausa districts of Rajasthan.

Conserving Oran

In Meena ki Dhani, people were first organised into ‘van samiti’. A number of meetings were organised to educate the village members about the benefits of conserving the Oran and the Devbani.

People participated enthusiastically in the oran conservation programme. They first attempted to rehabilitate water storage structures. Utilising traditional water-harvesting techniques in conjunction with modern scientific expertise, water storage structures (talabs) were renovated using local material. In some places new talabs were constructed. Prior to that, geological analysis was done to decide the strategic placement of talabs. The place was also decided based on the fact that there was enough runoff contributing to it. Talabs were constructed using local materials like clay, stone/ rock, grasses and buffalo dung – which serve to keep them affordable and replicable. Pipes were laid down to agriculture fields for irrigation. Water availability and water efficiency are continuously monitored.

Protecting livelihoods

Agriculture in this region totally dependent on rainfall. Moreover, as the topography is undulating, agriculture fields are prone to soil erosion leading to loss of soil as well as water. There are other problems in agriculture such as unavailability of traditional seeds and high use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Use of chemicals besides affecting the soil has also been a causes of food poisoning in the animals fed on the agricultural waste.

To address the issue of soil erosion, structures like ‘Tak’ gully plugging, Medbandhi/ field bunding were taken up on the farming lands. Trenching, field levelling were the other activities taken up.

Orans are local micro bio-diversity reserves harboring the shrine  of a local goddess or deity. Found in the foothills of the Aravalli ranges, most Orans have sources of water, either small springs or rivulets running through them or a variety of ponds and nadis in their midst. These can cover fairly extensive areas across interspersed habitation. These local forests vary in size from a hundred to five hundred bhighas (about hundred hectares).

Orans serve as a source of fodder for livestock
Orans serve as a source of fodder for livestock

To curb the use of chemicals, farmers were motivated to practice traditional methods of cultivation which are nature friendly. Afforestation is also carried out in the land near the johads. Tree plantation has been undertaken to increase the number and variety of trees and also arrest soil erosion.

As majority of the people are also pastoralists, a number of activities were taken up to help them in livestock production – promoting breed improvement and organsing animal health camps; training local people as animal health workers to provide services at the door steps. Widespread scattering of grass seeds has been carried out to increase grass cover for the cattle to graze power.

Results

Positive changes include an increase in ground-water levels and  water retention and improvement in soil quality, increased vegetation cover and the reappearance of locally-extinct species. With water conservation activities, there is a significant increase in the level of the water table. Continued supply of water even after the monsoons has provided assured water supply for irrigation. There is more greenery in the surrounding area – more plants and trees able to survive the harsh summers. Greater volume of grasses and shrubs has enabled more animals to graze freely. Local ecosystem is restored and protected. Species like nilgai, rogia and a few varieties of monkeys are among the ones which have reappeared in the last few years.

Local communities actively engaged in maintaining water structures in the Oran
Local communities actively engaged in maintaining water structures in the Oran

The initiative has also strengthened the economic opportunities for local communities by establishing ‘Van Samiti’ and self-help groups (SHGs) for women, dealing with issues such as tree, plant and animal health, breed improvement and fodder management. Minor non-timber forest produce, such as honey, ber (fruit), grasses for basket making and clay for pottery sold in the market,  become a source of income for the women.

The property of the Oran is now common to all the villagers –  they can graze their cattle, use the water for animals and irrigation but must not cut the trees. There is a strong internal social control system within the different communities of users which enables effective sanction on the violators. There is a mechanism for conflict resolution among resource users and strong stake holdership of resource users which is evident in terms of annual contributions received for maintaining the orans.

“Yadi hamara devbani thik to sab kuch hai; yadi yah thik nahi to chara, pani aur bhojan ke lale.” (If our oran is intact we have everything; if not, we suffer from lack of fodder, water and wood” because Oran ‘Adaval’ is our livelihood) -People of Meena ki Dhani.

Orans embedding a complementary relationship amongst biodiversity, livestock and agriculture is important to the livelihoods of the resource users, meeting economic, social, cultural and spiritual needs of the community. The people continue to uphold the beneficial practice of preserving the Devabani with the support and guidance of KRAPAVIS.

Aman Singh and Aditya Gupta (Intern)
Krishi Avam Paristhitiki Vikas Sansthan (KRAPAVIS)
5 / 218, Kala Kua, Alwar – 301001
Rajasthan.
E-mauil: krapavis_oran@rediffmail.com