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“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.?br> ?Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

BACK TO HIS ROOTS
The M. R. Morarka GDC Rural Research Foundation

Rajasthan, the second-largest state in India, evokes images of old havelis, folk dances, handicrafts, minakari work and camel rides. Its most noteworthy feature is that it is rich and diverse not only in culture and heritage, but also in its people, landscape and wildlife. Even today, Rajasthan has some pre-Harappan locales, such as the Kalibangan, which bear evidence of traditional agriculture and a sedentary, organised society. However, there's also a darker side to Rajasthan ?extreme weather conditions, deserts, famine, migration, sati, rapes, child abuse and female foeticide. Most of these ills boil down to one major cause ?unemployment.

Rajasthan is very close to the heart of Kamal M. Morarka, the dynamic, 55-year-old industrialist who heads the Gannon Dunkerley Group. Although born and brought up in Mumbai, Kamal Morarka is in his element when he meets the villagers of Shekhawati, one of the most backward areas of Rajasthan from where his ancestors hailed.

His initiatives with the M.R. Morarka GDC Rural Research Foundation have made a difference to the lives of many villagers. Morarka says: “I am pooling my energies into the M.R. Morarka Rural Research Foundation. The accent is on linking people with the authorities in order to fulfil the basic needs of villagers. For example, the simple task of organising farmers to avail of the government scheme to replenish dried-up wells calls for a lot of manpower. After our volunteers educate them, one such well can cater to a thousand villagers!?p style="margin-right: 5" align="justify">The Foundation works on the philosophy that more than resources, it is the resource management capabilities of the rural poor that need interventions. For the implementation of an intervention, the Foundation restricts its role to that of a catalyst, coordinator and facilitator, promoting the participation of the rural community. This is what CHANGE found unique about the Foundation.

There are innumerable NGOs and Foundations dealing in family welfare, education, environment, etc., but very few do it the way the Morarka Foundation does ? by generating employment among the rural poor in various spheres. “When we need more employment, all that this government is talking about is VRS!? Morarka says. According to him, globalisation has not helped India at all, because globalisation is all about partnership between equals and there cannot be “partnerships between people who are at the extreme ends of the economic scale?

The major intervention areas covered by the Foundation are:

Organic farming
For all these years, traditional agriculture was based on low technology and adopted a low return farming system approach, which created few employment opportunities and those too for unskilled labour only. On the other hand, organic farming, without the use of high technology, gives high returns and also creates value-added employment. Some of the important issues forming the basis of the organic farming programme are:

  • The majority of small, poor and marginal farmers are dependent on rainfall for farming.

  • Land productivity (i.e. per hectare output) is declining even with the ever increasing use of chemical fertilisers.

  • The cost of production is continuously increasing despite government subsidies in the agricultural sector.

In 1995 the Foundation made a small beginning by introducing organic farming as part of its agricultural extension programme in Juhunjhunu district. The Foundation was alone when it started, but after preliminary success, many entrepreneurs, research organisations and, above all, the National Institute of Agricultural Marketing (NIAM) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, joined this movement. Today, the Foundation organises a series of outreach programmes, interactive workshops, buyer-seller meets, etc. in high potential clusters in Rajasthan and in identified pockets in Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. It works at the grassroots level to develop an understanding of organic farming, identify farmers willing to take up organic farming and study the present status, constraints and potential of organic food production and marketing in all the clusters. It has also initiated a process to identify products and markets for organic farm produce (domestic and international), consumer perception and requirement of market information needs in organic food production and marketing.


Helping out with agriculture extension services.

The Foundation has now started organising organic farmers as Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to be federated at apex level for an integrated intervention on organic (quality) food production and marketing. These Groups are being trained in grading, cleaning, processing and consumer packaging of all farm produce with quality control measures. Efforts are also being made to introduce and promote a brand name backed by farmers, traders and consumer organisations for organic farm produce in India and abroad.

Agriculture extension services
Land productivity in desert districts is affected by problems of deforestation, exploitative farming, overgrazing, faulty land use, etc. ? the root cause of stress leading to low income levels, deprivation, poverty, famine and migration. The poor in rural areas lack the skills, and sustenance farming practised over the years has not generated surpluses even during good monsoons. Through its agriculture extension programme, the Morarka Foundation seeks to restore the overall eco-space balance to ensure sustainable livelihood. This is being attempted by organising beneficiaries and capacity-building to help the poor to take their own initiatives for sustainable land use.

A unique participatory model for delivery of extension services was evolved offering farmers overall productivity improvements and better income opportunities through resource convergence. Starting in 1995, covering 10,000 families, the Foundation has been able to attain 20-50 per cent productivity increase in over 25,000 hectares of cultivated area.

Watershed development programme
The poor and deprived in rain-fed areas were ill-equipped to adopt modern technology and new inputs to take full advantage of a rich harvest. The Morarka Foundation, therefore, expanded the scope of the watershed programme from focusing on soil and water conservation measures to mobilising private investment, a necessary condition for modern farming. To develop micro watersheds, the focus has been on enhancement of the ecological basis of production and sustenance systems in order to create adequate and sustainable livelihood opportunities in the area, thus mitigating the impact of drought and helping to reduce poverty.

The Foundation's strategies have been oriented towards ensuring equivalent gains in the interim and substantially improved gains in the long run. People have formed SHGs, which have accepted full responsibility for the project from concept to planning, implementation, supervision, maintenance of project measures and associated practices. Some of the important activities carried out are soil and water management, crop management, value addition in agriculture, energy management and animal husbandry.

Vermiculture-compost
Beginning with about a hundred worms (Eisenia Foetida), the Morarka Foundation made a sincere beginning to develop this new technology. By the end of 1996, it had a perfect package. The Foundation could reasonably predict the multiplication rate (five times in three months) and conversion rate i.e. from waste to compost (about 40-60 per cent yields). The consultative status granted by DRDA (Government of Rajasthan) for training in vermi-compost production techniques, assistance from the Department of Bio-Technology and the excellent response by entrepreneurs have enabled the Foundation to expand this programme to cover more than 5,000 farm families to date.


Encouraging vermiculture-compost.

Today, with five years of in-house research and know-how dissemination, the Morarka Foundation is the single largest producer of vermi-compost in the world. It was recently presented the "Excellence in Technology Innovation" award at the India International Trade Fair, 2001, held at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.

Water resource management
Water consumption in the context of competing claims is biased against the poor. Whereas women in slums and rural areas of Rajasthan incur a staggering opportunity cost of Rs. 400 per month for accessing water, rich households with home connections incur barely Rs. 32 per month!

The Morarka Foundation has taken up a programme to address issues of water security and water rights comprising:

  • Capacity-building of people's organisations by training them as Monsoon Managers to plan and decide water use at different levels of availability.

  • Forming opportunity cost of water as the basis for village-level decisions in case of competing claims.

  • Advocacy and counselling to ensure involvement of decision-makers in the Government in evolving new approaches.

  • Integrating modern methods of water harvesting, conservation and recharge with the traditional methods.

  • Documenting and disseminating the best practices for replication.

Sheep and wool development programme
During a survey conducted by the Morarka Foundation, it was found that 30 revenue villages spread over 17 Gram Panchayats had about 40,000 sheep. In all, 19 sheep-rearing groups with over 300 members owning more than 10,000 sheep were covered at the start of the programme. The Foundation organises beneficiaries as SHGs and does micro planning for village-level interventions to develop pasturelands. Apart from other activities, it imparts training in veterinary care and service through local entrepreneurs in wool clipping and grading for better price realisation, and in management and entrepreneurship for developing local-level skills.

Waste management
UNICEF Lucknow nominated the Morarka Foundation as a Resource Organisation in December 1999 for setting up vermi-compost units by slum dwellers as an income generating activity.
The waste collected by rag pickers from vegetable markets and fruit-processing units is being utilised to produce vermi-compost. To date over 1,000 MT of vermi-compost have been produced. All this is done through a process of sanitisation, deodorisation and accelerated decomposition.

The Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation recently shortlisted the Foundation to provide know-how for conversion of city waste into vermi-compost under Supreme Court direction for all municipal towns with a population of more than 10 lakhs as an "Appropriate Technology on Solid Waste Management".

Empowerment of the aged
This project aims to meet the basic needs of the disadvantaged elderly to improve the quality of their lives and establish institutional arrangements to reinforce their own development capacities through formation of SHGs. This programme is being supported by HelpAge India. Besides economic freedom, gainful occupation will also help build a sense of pride and meaningful existence among the target group. This programme has been implemented in 10 villages forming 14 SHGs covering 177 members.

Tourism promotion in Shekhawati
The Morarka Foundation identified potential avenues for tourism and made efforts to facilitate relevant infrastructure development, in addition to creating awareness among the local population about the significance of tourism for boosting employment. Some of its efforts towards promoting the area as a prime tourist destination include the Shekhawati festival, creating new sightseeing opportunities for tourists, the beautification of public places, the Morarka Haveli Museum, organising package tours, documentation, preservation and promotion of the cultural heritage of Shekhawati and organising competitions in traditional games and folk art forms.


Promoting tourism.

Apart from the above projects, the Morarka Foundation also strives to eradicate child labour and promote Rajasthan's traditional trades to create employment opportunities. It also takes care of other conventional areas of voluntary actions, viz. health, education, nutrition, sanitation, hygiene, welfare of the disabled, etc., which are prerequisites for overall development and progress of villages.

What do all these programmes of the M.R. Morarka GDC Rural Research Foundation add up to? According to author Carroll Quigley, there are two kinds of societies ?parasitic societies and producing societies. Whereas the former live by hunting, fishing and other activities which reduce the world's natural resources, the latter live by agriculture and pastoral activities, which seek to increase the amount of wealth in the world. This is exactly what the Foundation is doing ?creating wealth for India. The programmes project Kamal Morarka as a strong personality who, as industrialist, is not only engaged in civil, mechanical and general engineering, but is also Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, President of the World Trade Centre, Mumbai and a Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International.

He is also an erudite politician, having served the Chandra Shekhar Government as Minister of State in the PMO’s Office. When asked by a journalist of The Financial Express whether his activities with the Foundation in 123 villages of Shekhawati had political undertones, Kamal Morarka replied: "No, not at all. It is just a way of giving back something to the place where my roots are."

R.A.

 

THE TORCH

Is there a magic cutoff period when offspring become accountable for their own actions? Is there a wonderful moment when parents become detached spectators in the lives of their children and shrug, “It’s their life,?and feel nothing? When I was in my twenties, I stood in a hospital corridor waiting for doctors to put a few stitches in my son’s head. I asked, “When do you stop worrying??The nurse said, “When they get out of the accident stage.?My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing. When I was in my thirties, I sat on a little chair in a classroom and heard how one of my children talked incessantly, disrupted the class, and was headed for a career making licence plates. As if to read my mind, a teacher said, “Don’t worry, they all go through this stage and then you can sit back, relax and enjoy them.?My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing. When I was in my forties, I spent a lifetime waiting for the phone to ring, the cars to come home, the front door to open. A friend said, “They’re trying to find themselves. Don’t worry; in a few years, you can stop worrying. They’ll be adults.?My mother just smiled faintly and said nothing. I continued to anguish over their failures, be tormented by their frustrations and absorbed in their disappointments. My friends said that when my kids got married I could stop worrying and lead my own life. I wanted to believe that, but I was haunted by my mother’s warm smile and her occasional, “You look pale. Are you all right? Call me the minute you get home. Are you depressed about something??Can it be that parents are sentenced to a lifetime of worry? Is concern for one another handed down like a torch to blaze the trail of human frailties and the fears of the unknown? Is concern a curse or is it a virtue that elevates us to the highest form of life? One of my children became quite irritable recently, saying to me, “Where were you? I’ve been calling for three days, and no one answered. I was worried.?I smiled a warm smile. The torch has been passed. PASS IT ON TO OTHER PARENTS!

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