Evolution of Strategy for Sustainable Livelihoods
An Experience from EIRFP

Binay Kumar Sahay(1)

Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project


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1. Background
2. Strategy Against "Hunger"
3. EIRFP: Project Context, Strategy & Objectives
4. RNR to Sustainable Livelihoods
5. Evolution of "Asset Based" Livelihoods Improvement Strategy

a) Social Capital
b) Human Capital
c) Financial Capital
d) Natural Capital
e) Physical Capital

6. Impact of Interventions under EIRFP
7. Conclusions

Acronyms & abbreviations

Box 1: Role of Jankar
Box 2: Group Focus Strategy "WHY"
Box 3: Participatory Approach Of Development
Box 4: Shifting towards Better Livelihood
Box 5: Benefits Of Jankar System
Box 6: Project Intervention& Impact on Different Capital
Box 7: Poverty Ranking Through PRA
Box 8: Transforming Livelihoods of poor for achieving sustainability
Box 9: Livelihoods in project (1995-2000)
Box 10: Asset Based Livelihood Approach


The author is working under EIRFP in the capacity of Specialist, Social Development since 1995. The paper "Evolution of Strategy for Sustainable Livelihoods: an Experience from EIRFP" is based on the experience under the project and discussion with community, Field Staff, National & International consultant. The Author is fully responsible for the view expressed, which doesn't necessarily reflect those of GVT, KRIBHCO or DFID.

Binay Kumar Sahay

1. Background

The eastern Plateau is one of the poorest regions in India with a population of 30 million, rainfall is 1200- 1400 mm but erratic with 80-85% during monsoon (June-Sept), drought spells are common even during the monsoon. Soils are shallow and acidic with very poor fertility and low water holding capacity. The average landholdings are 1-2 hectors with very little irrigation facilities. The land holding is also declining due to rapid population growth.

The scheduled tribes are the dominant habitants of eastern plateau and majority of them produce food for their subsistence but usually are insufficient to meet their needs. In other words majority of the tribal habitants of eastern India are living under "Hunger" situation. "Hunger" is the symptom of poverty. The cause for poverty among tribal includes; illness, social and economic exclusion, lack of voice, powerlessness, lack of representations, inadequate income & growth of human resources etc. In order words " poverty" - food insecurity is the principal cause of hunger among these tribal poor or we can say that poor people cannot find the means of getting enough food either through growing or buying it especially during "Hunger period".

2. Strategy Against "Hunger"

The strategies against poverty or elimination of "Hunger" have response to deepening the understanding of its complexity. In 1950s & 1960s, many viewed large investment in physical asset and infrastructure, as a primary means of development. In 1970s onwards awareness grew that physical asset is not enough and is as important as health & education. The year 1980 saw another shift and poverty proposed a two-part strategy - promotion of labour intensive growth through economic openness and investment in infrastructure and providing basic service to poor people in health and education. Gradually in 1990, governance and institutions moves to wards center stage. It emphasized, a strategy for attacking poverty through - promoting opportunities facilitating empowerment, enhancing security and institution by ensuring participation of marginalized community.

The concept of "Participation" has been a part of emancipatory discourse and practice in most of the developmental programme from last decade. Advocates of these concepts have claimed that they allow the representation of most marginalized group - women & poor - is a cutting edge of the poverty or "Hunger" situation.

3. EIRFP: Project Context, Strategy & Objectives

The Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project (EIRFP) is located in eastern plateau region of India , which covers a part of nine districts of three states; Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal. It conceived in 1994-95 with the support of KRIBHCO(2), Government of India and Department for International Development (DFID), U.K. and is now managed by Gramin Vikas Trust(3).

The operational area of the project in Ranchi, Hazaribagh & Palamau of Jharkhand, Purulia, Birbhum & Midnapure districts of west Bengal, Keonjhar and Dhenkenal districts of Orissa. In 1998, Birbhum (W.B.) has been dropped and Mayurbhangh (Orissa) & Singhbum (Jharkhand) districts has been added in project area. These districts are amongst the poorest districts in these states and are managed at state level with its state office at Ranchi, Baripada and Purulia for Jharkhand, Orissa & West Bengal respectively. The Project Management Unit situated at Ranchi (Jharkhand) is managing the project in all the three states. The project received relatively intensive support from a team of consultant from U.K and from DFID. The project management unit is headed by a Project Manager and have a team of technical & Social Science specialist to support the community organizers, placed at field for the facilitation & execution of works at village / cluster level. The project is working in 252 core villages grouped in 60 clusters. The Community organizers basically one from technical - Agriculture, Forestry, Livestock, Aquaculture etc and one from Social Science Background - Mostly with post graduation in Rural Development from Xavier Institute of Social Service, Ranchi & Biswa Bharati (W.B.) are posted in one cluster out of which 40% are women.

The EIRFP is oriented towards its goal of improving the livelihoods of poor men and women of eastern plateau, using participatory approaches. It envisaged on participation, poverty and gender issue for the sustainable improvement of livelihoods in these area.

4. RNR to Sustainable Livelihoods

EIRFP begain its life in all the three states as "Participatory RNR(4) Management Project". It is a process project and facilitates to undertake a participatory planning process for the development of a village. In principle local problems are identified and prioritized by villagers and they identified the developmental option for its implementation with facilitation of project staff. The programme activities cover a range of farming system components i.e. Crop, agro forestry, wasteland development, Soil & water conservation, Aquaculture, Livestock development, irrigation etc.

The community organizers are the key functionaries under the project usually facilitate the community members for the development of a plan of their village through natural resource management & institutional development. A Jankar(5) system has been evolved under the project for empowering the community and transfer and adoption of technologies for improvement of sustainable livelihoods of deprived / marginalized community. A number of Jankar on different components i.e. Crop Jankar, Tree Jankar, Aquaculture Jankar, SWC Jankar etc has been identified and trained in respective area in order to facilitate & support the community with in their villages (Box 1)

Box 1. Role of Jankar
  • Motivate the community to understand the needs for development
  • Initiate vision development of community to sustainable livelihood development
  • Facilitate the community to participate in the process i.e. Planning, Implementation, Monitoring & Evaluation of the activity / programme.
  • Adoption of suitable technologies by the community.
  • Empowerment of the community and distribution of their roles and responsibilities in development process.
  • Linkage with GOs/NGOs/Other for the development & institution building.
  • Dissemination of project approach to surrounding area in order to achieve the wider goal.

Source: Kuruksherta (India) - Feb 2002

In terms of the general approach EIRFP has developed from "Provider" project of RNR technical know-how and financial support to an enabler project, which encourages villagers to autonomously address a wide range of livelihood constraints. With the facilitation of project, villagers have undertaken different farm and non-farm activities such as crop, tree, watershed management, livestock development and different income generation activities etc and further scale-up the activities in order to increase their income, to ensure their food security. The technology transfer has been made through training & exposure of community and strengthening of Jankar system in each village. A series of community/ Jankar's training has been organized with in the village and outside the villages for this purpose.

Over the year it has kept these emphasis but has changed in many respects - as the project reflected and learnt from its experiences in the field. The RNR focus remains because Natural resource remain a main source of livelihood for people in the project area but it is not a only form of their livelihood. For example, even the poor and the landless are mainly dependent upon the village for the fuel wood and fodder requirements but have to rely upon their wage labour for other requirements. The project has therefore had to develop a differentiated approach based on existing livelihood strategies. It also seeks to get villagers themselves to address " Poverty" both social as well as economic dimensions - in particular the social exclusion and the disempowerment of women. The work with BLAD(6) and women empowerment is an indicator of this change.

Gradually the project realizes that poverty among the tribal poor is strongly associated with lack of asset, or inability to put the asset to productive purpose. The asset in this context includes; Human asset, Social asset, Natural asset, Physical asset and Financial asset. The project's participatory process leads to increase the opportunity available to individual / groups / community with the improvement & scaling -up of the asset for sustainable improvement of their livelihoods.

5. Evolution of "Asset Based" Livelihoods Improvement Strategy

In the beginning, because of its priority, due importance was given under EIRFP to RNR issues using participatory approach. With the facilitation of project the villagers have undertaken different farm & non-farm activities - a wide range of livelihoods constraints to reduce the poverty or " Hunger" situation. Gradually the project envisaged on the holistic approach for sustainable improvement of livelihoods by mobilizing the existing five capitals in and around the villages. A brief about project interventions centered on the existing capital for sustainable improvement of livelihood are being presented below;

a) Social Capital

Social capitals includes member of group, caste, networking, relationship with institution, assess to wider Institution of society etc upon which people draw pursuit of livelihoods.

The group focuses strategy of the project attempts to provide social recognition, status and security especially to the poorest and marginalized groups including women and vulnerable group of people leads to minimize the gender discriminations and encouraged them to get involved in the decision making process.

Box 2. Group Focused Strategy -"Why"
  • To get a common understanding of villagers problem and solve them.
  • To make collective planning possible.
  • To provide a mechanism for implementing activities which will create new asset or allow for better of existing one.
  • To engaged sense of collective responsibilities & system of accountability to be set up.
  • To provide a mechanism for sustainable livelihood improvement.

The project places a strong emphasis on people's participation in planning, implementation, monitoring & evaluation of the activities using six steps under participatory approach (Box 3).

Box 3. Participatory Approach of Development

Six Steps:

  • Rapport Building
  • Analysis of livelihoods & existing resources
  • Group formation
  • Group Planning
  • Participatory Impact Monitoring
  • Participatory Impact Evaluation

Formation of groups, start of income generation activities by women group, cash payment in hand to women under SWC etc are a few example under EIRFP centered on social capital. The strength of Social Capital is being also reflected in the case study presented below;

Box 4. Shifting Towards Better Livelihood (a Study of BLAD)

A little support can help cross touch hurdles - no one realized it more than Smt. Revati Mahato of Khanasdih of Kaipara, West Bengal. A widow with a marriageable daughter, that too a leprosy patient, she was discarded by the society and left to struggle for her survival.

It was at this juncture, an EIRFP came forwarded, she was given two goats with the help from project and two more goats were provided through a group fund of the villagers by realizing the community their social responsibilities. On realization of the urgent need of fulfilling day-to-day requirements, an additional support was given to her in form of short-term paddy dehusking activities that assured generation of regular income.

Here's a different story now. Dehusking activity not only help her survive, she has built up a bank balance of Rs. 2000,-. She now has 10 goats and established business with access to wider market. On the top of all those, she has been able to marry off her daughter. She has been recognized by the society.

As expected, Ravati is now all praise for the EIRFP that brought her round.

Source: GVTNEWs, Sept- Dec. 2003

b) Human Capital

The skill, ability, knowledge, willingness to work, entrepreneurial skill, good health, awareness etc are an important asset for individual or community, which helps in improvement of their livelihoods.

Enhancement of skills and capacity of men & women is one of the important interventions under the project. The community has been exposed and trained in order to develop an understanding on different aspect including the importance of group, its management, about different technology for its adoption etc. The "Jankar System" is the most suitable example of project initiation for the development of Human asset (Box-5). The project has promoted different types of Jankar i.e. Group Jankar. Crop Jankar, Tree Jankar, Aquaculture Jankar, etc in order to ensure, access to technology in and around the village and its adoption for the sustainable improvement of livelihoods.

Box 5. Benefits of Jankar System
  • Motivation of community becomes easier through Jankar System.
  • Technology can easily be transferred to the community for its adoption.
  • Confidence development among the group members to make their own plan and implement it effectively.
  • The skill / Capacity development among the Jankar reduce dependency.
  • Helps to sustain activities and groups.
  • Empowerment of women and deprived section of community for their active participation in decision making.
  • Dissemination become cost effective and sustainable.
  • Leads to integrated RNR development and improvement of livelihoods.

c) Financial Capital

Financial asset, which are available to people i.e. saving, supply to credit, regular remittance etc that provides them with different livelihood options.

The intervention under EIRFP includes facilitation of the member of groups for their contribution and generation of "Group Funds" to provide "improved security" and access to the credit at their door. There is a evidence of contribution, a part of their earning out of the activities undertaken to the group fund which has provided a working capital to diversify their activities and its scaling-up. The marginalized groups including women have easy access to credit to meet urgent subsistence, medical or emergency needs, even some working capital to create a productive asset for them. The facilitation and empowerment further leads to access to the government programmes and financial institutions to play a wider role for their livelihoods improvement.

d) Natural Capital

The Natural resources i.e. Land, water, forest, environment etc are the gift of nature to human and resource flow are useful for their livelihoods.

The project facilitated the community to undertake different farm & non-farm activities which has extended the entitlement even the marginalized section of community both men and women to the productive asset directly or through sharing arrangement. The group and Jankar play a vital role in development of natural resource using their skill and financial strength for its optimum utilization through crop, tree, and aquaculture activities based on these natural resources. It also leads for management of common property i.e. Forest, Land, Water resources, Wasteland etc through collective effort. The groups members have further diversify their farm-based activities to non-farm based activities to meet their requirements during "Hunger Period". The Social, Human & Financial Capital registered vital role in this direction and create an opportunity using the existing natural resources in and around the village to meet the subsistence requirement for the hunger situation.

e) Physical Capital

The basic infrastructure and the production equipment and means, which enable people to pursue their livelihood as call as physical capital.

The collective action leads to develop physical asset as per the need of community either through linkages with government or with the support of people to get long term benefit, construction of community hall, link roads, renovation / excavation of pond, installation of hand pumps, irrigation pumps etc and its management as well as maintenance are the example of creation of physical asset in the adopted village under EIRFP.

Box 6. Project Interventions and Impact on Different Capital
Asset / Capital Objective Types of interventions Outcomes / Impact
1. Social Capital More supportive Social Environment
  • Rapport Building & realization of existing capital with in village
  • Identification & facilitation of the deprived including BLAD
  • Facilitation for collective action / Group effort
  • Group formation and its strengthening
  • Promotion of male, female & mixed group
  • Gender Sensitization
  • Facilitation to the women for women liking activities for their participation in decision making
  • Payment in hand against SWC works
  • Promotion of activities for inclusion of BLAD
  • Group formed & institutionalized
  • Work plan for village developed
  • Empowered women
  • Participation of deprived men & women in decision-making process
2. Human Capital Awareness, skill and capacity building & transfer of technology for sustainable livelihoods
  • A series of infield training & exposure organized on different components
  • Identification of Jankar on different components their skill up gradation on different components
  • Need based training and scaling up of the activities and its diversification
  • Training of community, Jankar on groups, its management & monitoring & evaluation of activities
  • Introduction & adoption of Jankar system
  • Formation, development and strengthening of groups
  • Dissemination of process & approaches by dissemination Jankar
  • Recognition and hiring of service of Jankar by different organisation including PRI / Govt
  • Increase in technical know-how
  • More communication
  • Higher degree of awareness among the members
  • Increase in confidence
  • More children attending school
3. Financial Capital Access to Financial Resources
  • Facilitation for small saving in-group funds
  • Group fund development and its management
  • Linkages with financial institution & government programmes
  • Rise in thrift habit
  • Rise in source of loan
  • Group fund generated
  • Improved security to the deprived
  • Credit at door
4. Natural Capital Access to and better management of Natural Resources
  • Non-farm & farm activities undertaken by groups based on existing natural resources in and around the villages
  • Management of common property i.e. forest, land, water resources, wasteland etc. through collective effort
  • Introduction of technology for its adoption to improve agriculture services
  • Growth in area under forest, increase in area for crop cultivation & rise in availability of fuel woods
  • Diversification of farm and non-farm based activity and its scaling up
5. Physical Capital Access to facilities & infrastructure
  • Introduction of improved tools as per requirements
  • Creation of infrastructure as per need of community with participation of group's members
  • Linking the groups with government programmes for improved infrastructure
  • More well / hand pumps for drinking purpose created
  • Increase in irrigation facilities in and around the village
  • Improved housing condition of the deprived community in the villages

6. Impact of Interventions under EIRFP

The EIRFP envisaged on holistic approach in order to ensure sustainable improvement in livelihoods especially on marginalized section of community. The processes adopted are epicenter on Social & Human capitals to achieve its goal. The project has used capital based PRA for realizing the community about the existing capital/assets in and around the villages and also facilitate the community for well being ranking on BLAD, Deficit, Self-Sufficient & Surplus category (Box 3), to ensure the participation of target group in the process of development. Strengthening of social & human capital leads towards generation of financial capital through small savings with in the group. The up gradation of skills through training / Exposure and introduction of technology to facilitate the group members for judicious use of existing Natural resource i.e. Land, Water, forest etc., to ensure the "food Security" .

Box 7. Poverty Ranking Through PRA

1. Surplus (SUR)
More Land, Service or Business, Purchasing Capacity, More Resources for production, Sources of Loan, able to afford meals and cloths through out the year.

2. Self Sufficience (SS)
More up land, Sharing Cropping, No/ Some Wage earning, At least two meals a day through out the year, No / Limited migration.

3. Deficit (DIF)
Little Land or land less, Poor quality of Land, meal less than one year, Share cropping & Share rearing, migration, Wage earning, poor quality of house, indebtedness etc.

4. Lower Deficit (LD)
Very little land and largely upland or land less, sharecroppers dependent upon the sale of their labour power for a livelihood or engaged in head loading; households with less working hands in the households and couples with very young children, migrating over several months, artisans and groups with traditional skills and those belonging to the castes with lower social status within the villages.

5. BLAD (Between Life and Death)
Either old, mentally and physically handicapped and without any family support, homeless, households with acute drinking problems, widows with young children and without family support, family members living through long periods of illnesses and sometimes living through begging in the village.

The empowerment & participation in decision-making process has also ensured creation of infrastructure by establishing long-term linkages with government programmes.

Box 8. Transforming Livelihoods of Poor for Achieving Sustainability

CASE [ I ]

Rajhar is one of the village adopted by EIRFP - a tribal dominated village situated in Hazaribagh district of Jharkhand - spell a remote, poorest, traditional & habitant of Mahato & ST community with poor infrastructure facility in the village. The livelihood of these tribes depends upon the forest & mono-cropping practice.

One of the group "Krishi Club" of Rajhar cluster was identified by EIRFP for pilot project to promote micro-finance / micro Enterprise, leads the group to undertake a poultry activity on their upgradation of skill on poultry farming. The project facilitated the group for linkage with Block & Bank. After getting assurance from a bank, the group constructed a poultry house by using their contribution in cash and labour and further got a loan of Rs. 50,000/- to start a poultry business and are running successfully after repayment of bank loan out of the income from it.

Now the poultry business has became a primary source of income and it leads to undertake various other activities like; paddy dehusking, goatary, mate making, sattu making etc in groups. The skill and capacity of the member have improved accordingly and are now playing key role on transforming their livelihood for sustainable development.


Construction of a check dam in Muretha village of Bagda cluster is another example of creating income generation opportunity by EIRFP through effective use of Natural resource. The Muretha village is predominated by scheduled caste. The topography of village is highly undulated with sandy soil. One perennial nala exist in the village rarely used for irrigation purpose. The livelihoods of the families in surrounding village were dependent on mono-cropping.

Consequently the villagers decided for the construction of a check dam on the nala so that they can make an effective use of it. An intensive plan was developed by villages with the support of project staff to develop the area on watershed basis. The construction of check dam completed in 1999 and 45 ha. Land has been treated by field bund with the support of project .The project has also provided support in installation of lift irrigation to optimized the benefits.

The scenario has been now completely changed. The group members are taking various crops covering 70 acres on individual / Community basis and are practicing double crops including the marketable vegetable for cash generation.

Thus the participatory process adopted by the project leads a step forward for transformation of the livelihood even of the deprived men& women.

Source: GVT NEWs April-June 2002

Gradually the effort leads toward Institutional sustainability with more knowledge, capacity, confidence, greater skill &financial support &further greater access to the government programmes for judicious use of the existing Natural resources in and around the village.

EIRFP has also taken an initiative to quantify the achievements of project interventions. It has evolved a "LAST"(7) tool to measure the degree of improvement made on livelihoods components.

The result shows, that effort on community involvement & social issues, seems to have direct impact on livelihoods. On five years interval of project interventions the social & human capital has been increased by 114% & 83% where as Financial & Natural capital have grown by 77% & 69%. The result also reflected a shift of deficit to self-sufficient by 23%, 96% of vulnerable - BLAD shows some improvement of which 71% have moved to next category.

Emerging organizational structure in form of Gramin Vikas Trust [BOX: 10 ] - Combination of government system and flexibility in work as NGOs - for the management of EIRFP , the process using participatory approach and the Jankar system evolved are playing vital role under the project for sustainable improvement in Livelihoods.


Box 9. Livelihoods in Project (overall average)

7. Conclusions

The livelihood profile of the different economic categories identified by the project through poverty ranking that each of these categories have a different set of coping strategy to deal with the situation of scarcity & distress, while very poor or lower deficit house holds migrates over a long period of time or engaged in low return activities - such as head loading, sale of fuel wood etc, the BLAD particularly lives under the condition of malnourishment & distress. These households don't get access to easy loan for consumption purpose to deal with the distress situation.

The project realized that the poverty is strongly associated with lack of asset or inability to put asset for productive purpose and its scaling -up. The project strategy encouraged the community for their realization towards existing five capitals for the improvement of their livelihoods. The improvement in social & Human capital increase the opportunity available for the sustainable improvement in livelihood. This has been reflected through qualitative indicator of change such as empowerment process, social recognition, confidence among deprived section & women and scaling-up of different capital, their capacity & dealing with outside resource over the quantitative target leads towards sustainable improvement of livelihood.

Box 10: Asset Based Livelinood Approach

Acronyms & Abbreviations

EIRFP: Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project
RNR: Renewal Natural Resource
DFID: Department For International Development
GoI: Government of India
KRIBHCO: Krishak Bharati Cooperative Limited
NGO: Non-Governmental Organisation
SWC: Soil and Water Conservation
BLAD: Between Life and Death
ST: Scheduled Tribes
LAST: Livelihoods Asset Status Tracking
PRA: Participatory Rural Appraisal
GVT: Gramin Vikas Trust
FM: Financial Management
SRL: Sustainable Rural Livelihood
FI: Financial Institution


I. Diana Carney: Sustainable Rural Livelihood: What Contribution Can We Make?
II. A World Development Report (2000-01): Attacking Poverty , opportunity, Empowerment & Security
III. IFAD, AMGOC & IIRR ( 2001): Enhancing Ownership and Sustainability - A practical Book on Participation.
IV. Davis Mosse (AgREN July 1996): Local Institution and farming system development: Through from a project in Tribal western India.
V. Dr. V.S.Tomar, J.S.Gangwar, B.K.Sahay (www.anthrobase.com/Txt/T/Tomar_Gangwar_Sahay_01.htm): Evolution of Sustainable Livelihood Strategy for Poor Men & Women: An Experiences of EIRFP.
VI. Neela Mukhrejee & Team (Development Track, Delhi) Report on Livelihood Scoping Study.
VII. Binay Kumar Sahay (KURUSHETRA-India - Feb 2002) Empowering the community through Jankar System: A n Experience from EIRFP.
VIII. Surrey Akarkar, BRIDgE, Institute of Development Studies, U.K. (November 2001): Gender and Participation
IX. Binay Kumar Sahay, Stream Journal SJ 4 (2): Poverty Ranking Tools Under Participatory Rural Appraisal For Addressing The Vulnerable: An Experiences from EIRFP
X. Sarah Ladbuary & Supria Akerkar, EIRFP Consultant report.
XI. Annual Report, EIRFP (2000-2002)
XII. Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project - An Introduction.
XIII. A Guide on Participatory Approach of Development - Gramin Vikas Trust


1. Binay Kumar Sahay, the author is associated with the Eastern India Rainfed Farming Project since its inception. He is working in the capacity of Specialist, Social Development, Gramin Vikas Trust. He is a postgraduate in Rural development with more than 15 years experiences in rural development field especially for the tribal development. The paper is based on the experiences under EIRFP.

2. KRIBHCO - Krishak Bharati Cooperative Limited, a cooperative sector under Ministry of Fertilizer, Government of India.

3. Gramin Vikas Trust (GVT) - an organisation established and supported by KRIBHCO, GOI & DFID.

4. RNR - Renewal Natural Resources based project

5. Jankar - A Jankar is a paraprofessional, a female or male members of the community, who serves as an internal catalyst, information bank, service provider, trainer, disseminator and innovator. (Source: Kurukshetra (India), Feb-2002)

6. BLAD - Between life and death category of household i.e. Widow, Handicapped, Socially or mentally handicapped and Dictated etc

7. LAST: Livelihood Asset Status Tracking