Desert Resource Centre (DRC) is a participatory initiative currently working in the cold and hot deserts of India on multiple land, life and living issues. Our work ranges from promoting sustainable enterprises to knowledge platforms, and collaborating with desert grassroot organizations towards forward looking impact solutions and services – common goals.
WHY DRC ?
While it’s undeniable that a wonderful breadth of research is available on desert regions, there is little that’s readily accessible to the general public—much of the knowledge is confined to valuable scholarly books and research papers that are also formidably complex. This has led to an information gap that has underlined the detachment of desert lands and the people who inhabit it. This vacuum leaves little room for valuable inputs or engagement that could potentially hypercharge the pace of sustainable development in deserts.
The DRC has arisen out of a need for a knowledge interface and action platform—one that enables the wider world to delve into the fantastic wisdom and possibilities of deserts, and also advocates for policies and administrative strategies that meet the distinctive needs of the desert people. We serve as a pivot point between research agencies, support organisations, policy officials and desert communities. On one hand, we help experts locate key information that could help address and resolve desert-related issues, and on the other, we help desert communities recognise their strengths, build their capacities and harness both.
The DRC adopts an open-source approach to inspire and facilitate a cadre of passionate changemakers, who home in on critical environmental and social action in desert regions – and do so with fuss-free innovation.
Our work ranges across a spectrum of interests: promoting sustainable enterprises; reviving pastures; preserving native vegetation; and collaborating with desert grassroot organisations towards forward-looking impact solutions and services.
We work on pastoralism, crafts, agro-ecology, energy and micro-entrepreneurship. Some of our innovative initiatives include nurturing an ecosystem for a natural dyeing enterprise, camel and goat milk value chains, and common property resource improvement towards a holistic pasture land development programme model.
We are not about sterile implementation of schemes and policies that bypass the sentiments and wisdom of desert communities. In our attempt to induce positive and necessary change in desert regions, we do not regard ourselves as empowering authorities/leaders/trailblazers.
Our work is held aloft by friendship, inclusion, consent and democratic thought. Our frequent, on-the-ground huddles with herders, farmers, agricultural scientists and students enable us to seek insights, exchange ideas, cement objectives, clarify goals, and together arrive at indigenous sustainable models of development. These collaborative sessions (always fuelled with a steady supply of sweet chai), also help us navigate through a maze of myths, time-honoured practices, and belief systems that stand in our way as both challenges and possibilities.
CELEBRATING THE DESERT LAND, LIFE, LIVING
In the Eighties, unsustainable farming practices found a surge with the unleashing of canals from Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. This paved the way for further disarray when seed and fertiliser companies recklessly pushed for chemical and water-intensive farming with utter disregard towards the distinctive physiology of deserts. Even as monsoon plays a critical role in ensuring food security in the deserts, climate change is elbowing in bigger threats.
At DRC, we aim to develop sustainable solutions to beat the long-running agricultural crisis and devise interventions that can enhance desert land productivity and preserve its unique ecology. Every initiative that we undertake is weighed against its impact on the environment and the land’s natural resource base. We work with multiple stakeholders such as farmers, students, NGOS, and traditional artisans to help them choose and adopt appropriate eco-friendly development plans and sensitise them about traditional practices that could aggravate environmental degradation.
Deserts stand at an interesting cusp today. On one hand, their sheer remoteness has helped buttress an insular environment where age-old customs, traditions and superstitious practices collectively govern community relations and social values. Modern and foreign ideas, therefore, take longer to penetrate the psyche and to dismantle long-held prejudices and orthodox, outdated value systems. On the other hand, cheaper mobile data and growing internet density have contributed to redefining people’s aspirations and quest for prosperity. There are deeper contemplations on quality of life and personal growth, especially among women and youth. However, such winds of change are countered by the deeply-entrenched social scourge of caste-based discrimination, child marriage, child mortality, female foeticide, and skewed child sex ratio..
At DRC, our long years of engagement with the desert people have made us aware that a one-size-fits-all template (of what is commonly understood as markers of ‘21st century progress’) may not be received well—or even be relevant—in desert lands. While we remain deeply committed towards improving the quality of life of every desert inhabitant through service deliveries in areas of education, healthcare, technology, animal-herder relationships, productivity of desert cattle and livelihood avenues, we do it all with respectful sensitivity and sustained efforts towards awareness and inclusion. All initiatives on social development are evaluated against tough questions on cultural values, ethnic legacy systems and mindful change. A significant length of time is devoted to research and community discussions to understand why certain life choices that may seem regressive to an urban mindset continue to prevail, and how those could be altered positively through consensus, orientation programmes, and no-holds-barred dialogue.
Ever since our inception, we have had an unremitting focus on broadening the scope of livelihood through skill sets that are indigenous to the region but deployed in novel frontiers. One of the key objectives has been to develop a spirit of enterprise among farmers and herders, and introduce them to the long-term advantages of alternative sustainable models. This has paved the way for community efforts in organic farming, solar micro grids, seed banks, composting units, and camel dairy units. The crux is to ensure self-reliance among traditional livelihood practitioners, so they can sustain their enterprises without depending on moneylenders. We have also set up a digital marketing platform to connect traditional women weavers and artisans to a global customer base. The crafts that have traditionally been a matter of legacy are now at the centre of social enterprises run by desert women, who are regularly trained to market their products offline and online through favourable marketing channels.