The Government of Andhra Pradesh undertook a singular step to declare Rishi Valley and its surrounding area a Special Development Area (RVSDA) and constitute the Rishi Valley Special Development Authority (RVDA). This was done in January 2008 vide G.O. (Government Order) Ms No. 97 MA. The G.O has been issued under the Andhra Pradesh Urban Areas (Development) Act, 1975 (AP UADA). The main objective of this initiative is to:
- protect and conserve Rishi Valley's ecological diversity and prevent it from being degraded, through unrestrained growth;
- ensure conservation that does not compromise the livelihoods of rural communities of the area and ensures inclusive growth of all stakeholders;
- preserve Rishi Valley's cultural heritage.
The boundaries of the RVSDA define a hydrogeological unit covering an area of 5176.97 acres in the Kurabalakota Mandal of Chittoor District. The geographical extent of the RVSDA is 33 hamlets in Thettu and Kurabalakota Panchayats (including the Rishi Valley Education Centre) of Kurabalakota Mandal.
Rishi Valley Education Center (RVEC) is one of many stakeholders in what is essentially a State Government driven programme. However, due to RVEC's 80 year history at this location and convergence of environmental interests with that of the RVSDA, it plays the role of facilitator.
RVEC serves as a bridge between the rural community and the Government Departments and other agencies. It works actively with the community through (i) social mobilization, (ii) providing technical resources where required, (iii) creating awareness in the community regarding health and nutrition, efficient management of water and land and other natural resources, education, and (iv) facilitation of income-generation activities through linkages to Government programmes.
RVEC also works closely with Government Departments to ensure that relevant development programmes are effectively implemented in the RVSDA. RVEC engages actively and more or less on a day to day basis with District and Panchayat level administration.
RVEC's role is voluntary and one that has been embraced actively since the mandate of the RVSDA is in synchrony with RVEC's philosophy and ethos.
Milestones of the RVSDA Programme
Master Planning: The Master Plan and Zoning Regulations for the RVSDA prepared by the Directorate of Town & Country Planning, Andhra Pradesh in close collaboration with RVEC was approved by the Municipal Administration & Urban Development Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh. The late Mr. G.Dattatri, Retd., Planner Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority provided invaluable support in drafting this document. The formal approval and sanction was communicated vide G.O No. 466 dated 17/10/2011. Effective March 12, 2012 the RVSDA is a statutory entity.
Collectivisation: Social mobilisation was extended to cover 15 hamlets to educate the community on its rights in the context of MGNREGS, Forest Rights Act, 2006, land holdings, animal healthcare and economics of livelihood. A 14 member collective (and steadily growing) of small and marginal farmers including goatherds/shepherds are operating on their own with RVEC attending the monthly meetings on an as needed basis.
A women's Water Users' Committee (WUC) was formed at one of the hamlets where water resources have been overexploited to a greater extent than other hamlets. This is due to their high dependence on dairying as the main source of livelihood. The WUC has taken charge of cleaning drains and monitoring the water supply status in the hamlet.
A group of six households in one of the hamlets have formed a collective to share water from one borewell for agriculture.
RVEC's partner Anthra-Hyderabad provides valuable support in the collectivisation and social mobilisation activities.
Capacity Building: RVEC has supported participation of interested farmers in workshops and field training on natural farming, SRI for paddy cultivation, organic practices in flower and fruit cultivation. Following the training some farmers have begun adopting these practices on their farmlands. Farmers who grow produce organically have been added to the list of suppliers to RVEC's Dining Hall.
Water and Soil Moisture Conservation: Water and soil moisture conservation activities are underway by accessing MGNREGS funds through co-ordination with the District Watershed Management Agency, and microirrigation facilities from Andhra Pradesh Microirrigation Programme. Routine activities such as de-silting water harvesting structures, contour trenching, application of silt on farmlands etc. are underway. Drip irrigation facilities have been made available to 20 farmers for vegetable, flower and fodder cultivation.
Seeds for cultivation of millets in the area were sourced from Kadiri and distributed among interested farmers in 5 hamlets. Through this millet promotion programme water conservation efforts are proposed to be enhanced. Eighty three kilograms of seeds were distributed and the growth of the millets is being monitored by RVEC.
Revitalising Common Pool Resources (CPR): The Central Government supported IWMP programme (Integrated Watershed Management Programme) is underway in the RVSDA. This programme is being implemented by Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) with support from RVEC through its presence on the Advisory Board of the programme. Through this programme efforts are underway to bring about an integrated approach to management of CPRs (grazing lands, water bodies, forest lands) to enhance livelihood.
Community groups have been protecting a revenue hillock from grazing and fires to enable revival of grazing lands and enhance pastoralism (one of the main livelihoods in the area). Firelines to protect these hillocks are being traced through the MGNREGS.
The shepherds and goatherds collectives are taking the initiative to spread information about the need for protection of grazing lands from fires and overgrazing in communities outside of the RVSDA as well. This is being done together with creating awareness on the Forest Rights Act, 2006.
Filip to Dairying: Dairying is a major source of livelihood for several families in the RVSDA. Following three years of continuous engagement with the dairy farmers a 45 strong group is now providing close to 200 litres of high quality milk a day (close to 90% of RVEC's requirements) to RVEC. This has provided impetus to local livelihoods.
Farmers have been participating in various workshops and meetings both in the RVSDA and outside to discuss the impacts of FDI and the EU-India FTA on livelihoods of small farmers particularly dairying.
To improve animal health and milk production, the collective has set up a feed business in the RVSDA based on locally available grains, oil seeds etc. This is also aimed at stimulating production of indigenous varieties of grains, pulses and oilseeds and promote self-sufficiency.
Enriching Education: RVEC has been supporting the work of the Zilla Parishad High School (ZPHS) located at Thettu on an as needed basis. The school is currently being supported by the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan and has become completely self-sufficient in terms of infrastructure and staffing. Volunteer teachers from the Rishi Valley School actively supported the ZPHS for close to 3 years in the teaching of English, Maths, Social Studies, Science, Hindi and Telugu. This engagement continues now as an enrichment support English, Dance, Drama, Music and Art.
Research: The RVSDA programme has also provided an opportunity for RVEC to engage in research and analysis with support from the America India Foundation in the form of Research Fellows. Two fellows worked closely with the RVSDA team in RVEC to document and develop the livelihood enhancement approach being adopted.
RVEC's engagement with the community is made possible through the financial, technical and moral support of its vast community of friends and well-wishers.
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