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Bhabesh Medhi
Date of Publish: 2018-04-30

Alternative livelihoods bring back rhythm of life to an Assam village devastated by man-elephant conflict


Vast stretches of paddy fields lying fallow in Bakrapara, a village near Rani in Assam’s Kamrup district are quite deceptive. For, when the picture of despair framed by fallow paddy fields is flipped, it reveals an untold story of hope.

Many villagers have stopped cultivating their lands and become daily wage earners as vanishing forests in the surrounding hills force herds of wild elephants to trample through their paddy fields frequently in search of food. Thanks to a project of alternative livelihoods initiated by the Institute of Advanced Study in Science & Technology(IASST) at Boragaon in Guwahati, villagers grappling with the problem of man-elephant conflict are now able to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Nearly 80 per cent of the 172 families of the village are dependent on agriculture. Dilapidated roads, lack of healthcare facilities, poor educational infrastructure speak volume about the apathy of the authorities. With the rise in incidents of man-elephant conflict, many villagers have stopped paddy cultivation over the past several years and have become daily wage earners. “Elephant depredation has increased as the forests in the surrounding hills have been destroyed. So, many villagers have stopped paddy cultivation. Some have become daily wage earners, some have gone to work in a factory or in a nearby tea garden. However, all these jobs are casual. Those, who have failed to find any job avenue have taken to selling liquor to support their families,” says Subangi Singha.

Villagers allege that the elected representatives never find time to visit and take stock of their woes. The only wooden bridge that connects the village is in a dilapidated condition and no vehicle can run on it. Pregnant women are needed to be taken on push cart or carried across by relatives. The nearest healthcare centre is 5 km off the village. The village has one primary school and a high school is about 2km away. The village lacks supply of safe drinking water and a water treatment and supply plant of Public Health Engineering set up a couple of years ago is lying defunct. “We have seen the village in this condition since my childhood days. The people at the helm remember us only at the time election,” alleges Kamala Kachari, a resident of Bakrapara.

Amid the despair, a project initiated by the IASST has brought hopes or better days for the villagers. The institute has imparted training to men and women in mushroom cultivation, rearing silkworm and black rice cultivation to help them become self-reliant by exploring these alternative livelihood options. “This project has brought fresh hopes for us,” said Rajesh Kachari.

Field Observer of the Institute, Prakash Kumar Kachari said that the Institute had initiated the project work in 2014. “The Institute first conducted a survey and study of the economic condition of the villagers. Based on the study, the villagers have been imparted training in mushroom cultivation, silkworm rearing, making vermi-compost and cultivating black rice. Initially, mushroom cultivation and eri silkworm rearing were taken up. At present 34 villagers are engaged in rearing eri silkworm, 25 are engaged in black rice cultivation and 30 villagers are engaged in mushroom cultivation. Total earning from sale of mushroom and eri cocoons last year was Rs. 61,000. Four kilograms of black rice seeds were distributed to five families last year from which they produced 420 kilograms and earned Rs. 33600.”

Photo courtesy : IASST

Preparation of a bag for growing mushroom costs Rs. 18 and mushroom harvested from one bag after 45 days fetches Rs. 180 to Rs 200, he adds.

Three hundred Eri cocoons were distributed among 34 farmers after completion of training. They produced 50,000 cocoons last year. Kamala Kachari said that while some families of the village used to rear Eri silkworm but it was not done systematically and in scientific method. Prakash Kumar Kachari informed that ten families have been imparted training in manufacturing vermicompost and the institute would also provide them everything required for commercial production. He said that the institute has initiated the project for the village with the savings from annual budget.

The lost rhythm of a village life has returned to Bakrapara with the villagers’ efforts to overcome the challenges of government apathy and manmade disaster.

Bhabesh Medhi

All photographs were taken by the author

( Bhabesh Medhi is a journalist based in Guwahati. He can be reached at bhabesh.medhi@gmail.com)



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