The COVID-19 crisis has affected all walks of life, in particular the agriculture sector. Farmers have been the worst hit, with issues ranging from the collapse of logistics and labor interruptions leading to severe disruptions to the supply chain; post-harvest management problems; and cash crunches, among other challenges.
The pandemic poses an even greater risk in the context of Uttar Pradesh (UP) as regions like Bundelkhand are already considered to be one of India’s infamous hotspots for frequent droughts and other related miseries. Given the lockdown scenario, the threat of loss of livelihood and resulting economic insecurity has forced migrants in the State to return to their villages from urban centers. Unskilled and semi-skilled migrant laborers remain the most vulnerable to and economically impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. The Hon. Chief Minister of UP also flagged these issues particularly with regard to reverse migration and the urgent need to provide livelihoods to all migrants in the State.
In this context and supplementing the Government of UP’s proactive measures to address the most pressing challenge of providing livelihoods and economic security to the last mile, the 2030 Water Resources Group (2030 WRG) designed two initiatives in consultation with members of its UP Multi-Stakeholder Platform (MSP). These include:
- The Participatory Rural Agricultural Advancement through Increased Incomes (PRAGATI) Project was conceptualized by 2030 WRG and is focused on building resilient blocks across UP, one gram panchayat (GP) at a time. The project aims to provide livelihoods and achieve water, agricultural, and economic security for all farmers in the project area.
- 2030 WRG has also partnered with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who in collaboration with the Government of UP has set up the UP COVID-19 Economic Recovery Alliance (UP CERA). The key objective of UP CERA is to create a platform for facilitating collaboration among key development partners on the COVID-19 response for livelihoods and economic recovery.
Both initiatives, apart from being geared toward facilitating economic recovery and resilience, are focused on leveraging all available government schemes and benefits for this purpose. The idea is to call for an integrated approach that builds on indigenous infrastructure and institutional capacity strengthening for expanding water and livelihood opportunities for all those who have been the hardest hit by the pandemic.
Acknowledging that concerted action is required to tackle the current economic and agricultural crises, the PRAGATI Project aims to build on existing initiatives, infrastructure, and affordable technology with the Government of UP in the lead and with the active participation of the private sector and civil society in the spirit of multi-stakeholder partnerships. As part of 2030 WRG’s UP MSP, Project PRAGATI integrates multi-stakeholder efforts from the Government of UP, including the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) cell, Department of Rural Development (DoRD) and other relevant departments, GIZ through its Water Security and Climate Adaptation in Rural India (WASCA) program, Dalmia Bharat Foundation through its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) measures, Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan, other civil society organizations (CSOs), and relevant private sector solutions.
The design of the PRAGATI Project is such that it looks at all components of integrated water resources management, therefore making it relevant and easily replicable in any district/GP in the region. As a result, in a very short period of time, the project has been replicated from the Bundelkhand region in the Gondlamau Development Block, Sitapur District and in the Babina Development Block, Jhansi.
A key component of the PRAGATI Project has been the integration of the local administration into the project design. The contours of the project in both the Gondlamau and the Babina Development Blocks are to achieve water, agricultural, and economic security for all farmers in the project area through a multi-stakeholder design as elaborated above. 2030 WRG is also in conversation with other corporates and foundations that see potential in the project design and are keen on replicating it in other districts.
The following priority areas have been identified under the PRAGATI Project:
- Leveraging and concentrating all government schemes and benefits;
- Adopting a multi-stakeholder design to include all relevant players;
- Micro-level water management based on due analysis conducted;
- Development of water budgets / water security plans at the GP level;
- GIS-based watershed mapping and analysis;
- Community-led participatory management of water resources at the GP level; and
- Fostering gender empowerment through women-led self-help groups (SHGs).
To complement this initiative further and as outlined above, 2030 WRG has also partnered with UNDP on the UP CERA initiative. Designed to drive economic recovery, this alliance furthers the development and dissemination of solutions for economic resilience through regular dialogue with the Government of UP. The alliance also strengthens the State’s response to the disruption of rural and urban livelihoods due to the COVID-19-induced lockdown.
As Co-Coordinator of UP CERA, 2030 WRG through its UP MSP regularly shares its learnings on collective action under the leadership of the Government of UP and in active partnership with the private sector and civil society to address water- and agriculture-related challenges in UP. This is also in line with 2030 WRG’s mandate from the Government of UP to support the State in addressing water-related issues through multi-stakeholder integration.
For updates from other UP CERA partners as well as cumulative data on their collective response to COVID-19, please refer to UP CERA Newsletter Volume 5 (September 2020).