Mahatma Gandhi, had a very clear perception of rural India and made an emphatic assertion that 'India lives in her seven and half lakh villages'. He held this conviction by saying that "If village perishes, India will perish too' and that 'the progress of the country lies in the development of majority of its rural villages, the rural economy, industry and rural skills'.
On Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary, it behoves us to reflect on his vision. Over 65% of our population still lives in rural areas, most of whom live in poverty - having fallen behind as the country has marched towards prosperity and development. For over 25 years, ACF has been committed to rural development, working in remote rural pockets that lack any semblance of development. We've seen first-hand the extent of deprivation and inequitable development.
Mahatma Gandhi's assertions hold even greater relevance today. Unless rural India prospers, this country cannot truly realise its potential as a global economic powerhouse. So how can we help rural villages prosper? What is the key to rural prosperity?
It is our belief that the key to bringing prosperity to rural India is to enable livelihoods. But livelihoods is a multifaceted issue and requires a lot more than merely imparting skills. For instance, a lack of access to water means women and girls often have to walk up to 10 km each day to fetch water. As a consequence girls are often forced to drop out of school to attend to the chore of fetching water. Lack of natural capital (water) thus denies girls and women in rural India, the opportunity to be educated and earn a livelihood. Therefore water becomes a key issue to support livelihoods - not only to support agricultural livelihoods, but income generation opportunities for women. Another very common scenario is villagers having to travel 30-50 kms to the nearest primary health care centre, without adequate roads and transportation. In such a scenario, health suffers, further impacting their ability to work and earn a livelihood.
ACF currently works in 2073 villages through a range of program services that provides rural Indians the 5 key capitals to build sustainable livelihoods.
We train farmers in sustainable farming thus enhancing their profitability, through water resource management, better quality inputs and farming techniques and have to date impacted 1.21 lakh farmers through the Better Cotton Initiative and 10000 farmers through SRI program. We help small farmers build bargaining power through collectivising them through Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) - Our 17
FPO's reports a turnover of Rs. 18.50 million. Our 2613 Women SHG's and 5 women's Federations have been a key lever of our program to empower women-encouraging them to practice regular savings, facilitate linkages with banks and providing them with the opportunity to access affordable credit as well as enable them explore opportunities for income generation and entrepreneurial activities. 46000 rural youth have received training at our 30 rural SEDI's, now placed in organised sector employment, cumulatively earning Rs. 2403 million.
The country is at a very crucial juncture in its journey towards a $5 Trillion economy, a destination we will reach only if our villages become centres of prosperity and growth. The task is gargantuan - there are 707 districts and 640,867 (2011) villages in India awaiting development. Time is of the essence and the task is achievable if we work together. Join us, in helping achieve Gandhi's vision for a prosperous rural India.