Gramothan Yojna - a true model of Sustainable Development in India
Gramothan Research Centres (GRCs) serve as resource centres for about 100 villages surrounding the each centre. The main aim of these GRCs is to make village community economically self-reliant and develop villages as centre of economic activity. The idea is a step ahead from the idea of PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) promoted by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and adopted by Govt. of India. The main focus remains on Knowledge, Electronics & Economic Connectivity to 100 villages.
The beginning of Gramothan Yojana
Though rural development has been the focus of the Punchamukhi Yojna of Ekal Abhiyan from the very beginning, the subject was restricted to education of children. In 2012, the Gramothan Yojna came in to existence and Dr. Lalan Kumar Sharma was asked to lead. The rural development became a mass movement. The challenges were so huge whose solution were not easy. There were various difficulties such as the changing lifestyle of the villagers, changing agricultural framework, priority of machinery to manual work and livestock in agribusiness practices, malnutrition, end of customary businesses, especially rural art and craft, less resource villages, migration of youth and unemployment; all these problems were crying for immediate attention. An integrated program was required to address all of these difficulties.
Firstly, the situation demanded that people did not migrate but stayed in their villages. To deal with this challenge, it was imperative that the villages met the livelihood needs and the people were made resourceful with proper training. As all these issues were inter-linked to each other, a holistic methodology was the need of the hour, and thus an integrated program was born: Gramothan Resource Centre (GRC).
Gramothan Resource Center
The facility was developed to provide training for villagers along with demonstration, production and marketing guidance for rural farmers, women, boys and girls.
Overall, the Gramothan Yojna has three significant dimensions:
- Expansion of Cow-Based Agriculture and Agriculture-Based Rural Enterprises - Organic Farming
- Permanent solution to malnutrition - Poshan Vatika Abhiyan
- Technical training - To fulfill the technical needs of the villages
One of the fundamental aims of all these training programs is to make villages, comfortable places for living and to make individuals skilled enough to live a healthy life. In the last seven to eight years, the Gramothan Yojna has addressed numerous commitments in the field of sustainable development.
These three dimensions of Gramothan yojna have revolutionized the rural areas especially the tribal and plateau regions.
Setting up of Cow-Based Agriculture and Agriculture-Based Village Enterprises
Indian agribusiness as well as farmers have been hard hit for decades. Chemical farming turned the earth infertile; air and water were polluted; the groundwater level depleted and water went out of reach for poor people. Blood pressure, diabetes, heart ailments became a normal phenomenon because of poisonous food, large-scale commercial farming led to absence of dietary food and malnutrition was rampant. Large-scale commercial cultivation drove away animal-based farming from the village. To address each of these rural ills, Gramothan Yojna emphasized the setting up of Cow-Based Agriculture and Agriculture-Based Village Enterprises.
Spread of Organic Farming
With the slogan of Chemical-Free Soil and Poison-Free Food Products, a concentrated training system of Organic Farming and an assortment of village to village publicity schemes began. Organic farming began on about 1.32 lakh hectares of land. Gausalas of Indian breed cows on all 14 GRCs were set up. So far, over one lakh farmers were trained consistently in a project to make vermi-compost, cow-based pest-controller (kit-niyantrak) - Jivamrit. Today, numerous villages have become complete organic villages in various parts of the nation. Farming has now become profitable because of low farming expenses due to organic farming. The people who had migrated from the village earlier have now come back to their villages to make organic farming their life mission. From little farmers to big corporate cultivators, all of them are motivated by Ekal Gramothan Yojna and are changing over to organic farming. Through different GRCs, Kisan Clubs have been set up for various produce throughout the country - Organic Turmeric Farmer Club, Organic Basmati Kisan Club, Organic Vegetable Production Kisan Club, and so on.Organic farming, as it is growing, has additionally begun safeguarding and supporting all Water-Land-Forest-Animals in the villages. Interestingly, even in urban areas, there has been a growing enthusiasm for organic food. Two years ago, Ekal Gramothan Foundation through a different organization registered to promote the organic production of farmers, started Ekal Gramothan Utpad Foundation (EGUF). Today, numerous organic products of the Gramothan Yojna enjoy a good patronage throughout the country under the brand name Ekal Gold. Products such as organic turmeric powder have a huge demand in various metropolitan cities, and are even sought after by foreign countries like USA. Today, thousands of farmers who are self-employed have started earning Rs. 10-15 lakh every year through organic farming. Thanks to organic farming, the standard of living in villages has improved considerably. At present even in tribal villages, big two-storey houses are being constructed. Electricity, TV, Internet and modern luxuries are finding their way in every village. The Parmadih village of Jharkhand has become famous throughout the country as a village of multi-millionaires today. These villages are emerging as a wonderful place for research and training for students of agricultural universities, Department of Social Affairs, management institutes and authorities of many divisions of the Government.
Poshan Vatika Abhiyan (Nutritional Garden)
Poshan Vatika Abhiyan was propelled as a perpetual solution to malnutrition and anemia. Each GRC provides improved high-quality organic version of fruit-grafting plants, green vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables (saag), salads and some easy-to-use medicinal plants to farmers for the nutritional garden. In the nutritional garden, a 3-rotation and 3-tire system, i.e., 3-4 times each year and three storeys farming are done so that the family gets basic green leafy organic vegetables and organic fruits consistently and it also takes care of fodder for bovine and rain water conservation.
Up until now, in excess of 1,23,000 nutritional gardens have been set up by the Gramothan Yojana.
- Rural families, who did not have money to purchase fruits and vegetables, are today eating pure and nutritious vegetables, grown with their hard work.
- Numerous farmers, both men and women, have made the nutritional garden a permanent business.
- It has emerged as a permanent solution for malnutrition.
The effect of Poshan Vatika through GRC Jarangloi in Orissa region was analyzed by Arogya Yojana. A hemoglobin trial of 200 groups in a village was directed. The hemoglobin level of all the 97 families who had a nutritional garden a year prior showed over 10 gm, while the 103 families that did not have nutritional garden tested under 8 gm.
The most significant thing is that in such a brief timeframe, the word ' Nutrition Garden ' has been proliferated in urban communities including villages. The name of Kitchen Garden has been replaced by Nutritional Garden. The design and concept of Gramothan Yojna is currently being studied in numerous agricultural universities, and research papers are being written. Now the term Nutraceutical has also gained the same popularity as the term Pharmaceutical. Nutraceuticals are acknowledged for their health safety as natural medicine by many of the world’s renowned institutions.
It is a matter of pride for Ekal Abhiyan that the concept visualized and given shape by it has got acceptance at the scientific level and is being researched and studied.
Digitalize Rural and Tribal India Movement
Even today, the literacy rate of the rural and tribal areas in India is very low, while the country’s overall education index is 74.04% - 82.14% for male and 65.46% of female. The literacy rate in rural areas is 67.8% of which 79% is of males and 59% females. It is significant that the education index of scheduled tribe is as yet 59%. In the present changing world scenario, it is not just literacy but digital education is also important. Computer training for youth is being given through Computer Labs in GRC right from the start. Computer at door steps - Ekal on Wheels (EOW) has additionally been in place in practically all different regions.
Computer Training Lab (CTL) is additionally given in all GRCs, Integrated Village Development (IVDs) and Skill Development centers (SDCs) of the Gramothan Yojna. At present, 36 EOWs are working across the nation, out of which 26 CTLs are in operation, 3 to be registered and 7 vehicles under procurement process. A total number of 20,175 rural youngsters have so far been trained in computer skills.
In rural and tribal regions where even electricity has been rare, the monetarily handicapped youth have begun getting computer training. Maybe, this experiment is the first of its kind going on in such a major way.
- Interestingly, the total number of trainee girls are 52%, which is considerably more than the boys.
- The understudies of the school-college had computer education in their curriculum, but due to absence of computer Labs, the students could not get computer knowledge. But, at present, the school-college students, even the instructors, are getting an opportunity to learn computers, thanks to Gramothan Yojna.
- The Gramothan Yojana was awarded by HP India and KPMG with a Trailblazers Award for this initiative to take computer education to rural regions of India.
Thanks to computer-trained individuals in rural regions, transactions in villages have become easier to make. Computer-trained individuals are now connected with facilities such as e-ticketing, cybercafé, e-library, e-advertising, e-banking, even at panchayat and block level offices.
Mahila Swavalamban and Empowerment Scheme (Women Empowerment Centre-WEC)
The education, literacy, health, nutrition and social status of rural and tribal women have remained pathetic for decades. To improve the situation, they are being trained at many levels by the Gramothan Yojna.
Women Empowerment Center
Besides one WEC in all GRCs, SDCs and IVDs, taking into account the local requirements, some independent WECs are also functional. WEC focuses on training of tailoring and stitching as well as on mushroom cultivation, computer education, nutritional garden and personality development. Master Trainer Training is accessible at the master training centre for training in tailoring and stitching, specifically. Also, village Training Centres or Satellite Centres are run in various villages so that the girls and women can get training in their own village if they are not in a position to go to the Master Training Centre.
At present, 52 WECs are being run, from where 8,265 young girls and women have received training and are now earning their livelihood in their own villages.
- Today, women in villages are proud that they can also wear beautiful designer dresses with confidence. Each young girl takes oath to have a skill in her grasp before marriage, so that even after the marriage, she can independently live with confidence.
- About 70 - 80% of the young girls earn Rs. 4,000 - 5,000 every month by functioning as tailors.
- Around 30% young girls are paying their school-college fees from their earnings.
- In every village, the village money stays in the village itself because of the viability of skilled manpower.
- Because of the availability of enormous skilled young girls, the Gramothan Yojna, during the emergency time of Corona, contributed significantly to the safety of people by making masks, apron and head scarf.
- As they gain experience, the women are becoming skilled at sewing a range of items, from kids' school uniform, bag, purse, to designer women wear, catering to large urban areas. Collaborations with a number of organizations like SWARA for quality enhancement and marketing are happening. Soon, young girls trained by the Gramothan Yojana will be able to manufacture export quality design wear.
The Sculptor of these movements
Dr. Lalan Kumar Sharma’s contributions to society through the Ekal Gramothan Foundation (EGF) have been tremendous. Dr. Sharma has been associated with Ekal since 1993 through Vikas Bharti. He joined Ekal Abhiyan as a full-timer (Purnkalik) in the year 2000, inspired by Honourable Shree Shyamji Gupt. All the tremendous achievements of EGF would not have been possible but for Dr. Sharma’s consistent efforts and the blessing of all EGF executive members and other Ekal well-wishers.
Dr. Sharma is at present working as Kendriya Sah-Abhiyan-Pramukh of Ekal Abhiyan. He is also the Central Incharge of Gramothan Yojana, and has been carrying out the whole Gramothan work since its inception. Eight years ago, he had started Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, with a new articulation based on the present scenario of the country.
The Gram Swaraj Movement had achieved so many milestones which are unparalleled till date. Various programs such as the Environmental Campaign for Protection and Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Save The River Campaign, Nadi Pujan Karyakram, Programs Of Good Governance, training RTI activists from rural areas, establishing rural journalism, Save the Democracy-Matdata Jagrukta Abhiyan, Youth and Women Empowerment Programs and many massive plantation drives had been undertaken and had achieved a pan-India reach under his leadership. A total number of 72,787 RTI's were applied in which more than 70% of issues were resolved. Likewise 83,11,610 tree saplings were planted and a total of 72,400 Gram Swaraj Samithies were constituted all over the country to look after the Good Governance Programs in this period.
Born and brought up in a farmer’s family, Dr. Sharma’s exposure and experience gathered at the village level immensely served him in his rural work. He studied Forestry and Horticulture at the university level, and has a doctorate in herbal medicines. A social worker since last 30 years, all his past exposure and experience have helped him in contributing to Ekal work. These experiences he gained throughout his life are the basis of his vision of a Sustainable Development Model of Rural India. We are proud to have a person of such positive spirit and hard work, struggling day and night for this mission of Ekal Abhiyan.
September 2020 newsletter is a special edition focusing on Gramothan Yojana of Ekal Abhiyan. All articles are written by Dr Lalan Kumar Sharma.
GMY fight against Covid19
Healthcare facilities in rural areas of India have been below par since ages and the region remained even more vulnerable to the dangers posed by the onset of the pandemic Covid 19. The arrival of migrant workers from metros to villages would have made the circumstances additionally terrifying. But thanks to the comprehension and mental fortitude of the Gramothan Yojna workers and the women who were trained in tailoring centres, it can be said the provincial and rural areas kept at bay to a great extent the disastrous impact of the pandemic. Various awareness programs including different strategies for protection against the virus were put in motion by the Gramothan Yojna before the migrant workers came back to the village. Since March 2020, the drives were organized to create awareness about the virus and ways to stay safe and healthy. The practices of road blocking, sanitization, drinking hot water as well as Ayurvedic decoction (kadha) were followed in earnest. Flyers were circulated and the most revolutionary and unbelievable work was that fabric cotton mask was made available to every common man at the village level.
The stitching of cotton mask took place in several phases. The strength of the Gramothan Yojna was that around 8,000 young trained girls were available in various regions of the country. Initially, the work started on the local level, making and distributing mask by arranging fabrics. At that point when photographs of the work was shared to the EGF authorities and our members in the United States, their excitement expanded and they figured out a way to serve and secure the rural India through Ekal Vidyalaya. A member in the U.S. contributed funds for making around 5 lakh cotton masks in the second phase. In the early period before the lockdown, when all individuals were secured inside the houses, and there was a dread of catching the virus through breath, and the traffic and the shops were totally closed, about 250 full-time seva vrathi karyakartas of the Gramothan Yojna and more than 2,000 WEC- trained young girls and women bravely faced the challenge and came forward to meet the demand for sewing cotton masks in their villages. All seva vrathi karyakartas of the Gramothan Yojna, regardless whether they were from GRC, IVD, EOW or the SDC, risked their life and started working day and night by every means possible.
At a time when the shopkeepers were prohibited from opening their shops because of lockdown, the workers approached them and procured cloths from houses of the shopkeepers and delivered the goods to the girls and women in the villages for making the masks. The volunteers then distributed them by going around on motorcycles and even by walking from one village to another, going through forests, fields, steep slopes, rivers and hills, and instructed people to remain safe. A stupendous task. The volunteers made the masks available to all health workers, traffic police, paramilitary forces, banks staff, post-office workers and all others. These efforts were appreciated by the local press and media, and as a result, SBI Card collaborated with EGF in the next phase and sponsored for handbills, soaps and masks. A total of 13 lakh masks, 7,500 aprons and head scarfs for health workers were made available at the rural level PHC as well as hospitals in big cities. PPE kits were also distributed, and at some places migrant laborers were provided dry ration under a food-for-work program.
- In this lockdown period, where all businesses were shut, individuals were facing unemployment, the Gramothan Yojna provided the opportunity of work worth more than Rs. one crore to around 2,000 families at their doorsteps, by way of making masks, scarfs and aprons.
- The whole Ekal Vidyalay Abhiyan, including the Gramothan Yojana, earned prominence and social goodwill in various regions.
- Self-belief and confidence of volunteers of the Gramothan Yojana improved tremendously so much so that now they can stand up to any catastrophic challenge.
- About 21 lakh masks were distributed during this period and geo-tagged photographs of the people were taken. The arrangement to have day-by-day photographs with weekly reports helped a lot. All young girls and women of the villages were effectively paid directly through online transfer to their bank accounts.