Development of Village Commons Owned by Dalit Communities

Common Lands, conventionally classified as wastelands, are historically neglected classes of land due to their limited capabilities to generate revenue. In the recent past encroachments and unscientific development of these lands has led to government regulation and regularization of encroachments. While, the economic contribution of these lands is limited, there are multiple environmental benefits that these lands provide. Therefore, even while diversion of common property and its regularization continues to be a subject of dialogue, an innovative approach to scientifically develop these lands while ensuring that livelihoods are strengthened and environmental benefits are enhanced was demonstrated under the SDC AFPRO Innovations and Learning Program. Titled “Improving Livelihood Conditions of Dalit Communities through Development of Common Lands”, the project was implemented in two villages Borkhed and Mangwadgaon in Maharashtra and was aimed at assisting marginal communities (landless dalit and backward communities) in improving their livelihoods. The unique approach demonstrated under this project is the development of land and water resource with financial support in the form of a revolving fund. While, improvement in the ownership of land and water development measures was the primary factor determining the adoption of this approach, key components demonstrated included establishment of systems with regard to loan distribution and repayment and structured trainings of village institutions on operation of these systems. Determination of priority fund utilizations too formed a part of the project and included treatment of lands with soil and water conservation measures, demonstration of sustainable agricultural practices etc.

The impact of the project has been documented by an independent assessment focused on assessing the viability of the social and economic strategies demonstrated under the project and their potential in being replicated as models. While, reduction in soil erosion and improvement in productivity of land resources due to activities like bunding, diversion drain, farm ponds etc; and high repayments of loans by beneficiaries and positive impacts of the project, continued adoption of the revolving fund over longer periods of time has been limited.

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