Prioritizing Issues of Livelihood in North East India A Lead by mifei


									Prioritizing Issues of Livelihood in North East India
A Lead Discussion Paper
- Centre for Humanistic Development

India’s Northeast is comprised of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur,
Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The region is land-locked and has
international borders except the ‘chicken neck’, a narrow corridor of 33 km on the east
and 21 km on the west connecting it with the rest of India. The total population of the
region is about 39 million (2001). The land is also inhabited by diverse ethnic groups
speaking about 250 languages and dialects.

The northeast is mostly hilly (about 70%) ; the hills cover most of the states of
Arunachal, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Nagaland, 9/10th of Manipur, half of Tripura
and 1/5th of Assam. The plains of river Brahmaputra – 730 km from east to west –
comprise 2/3rd of Assam, the most populated state (about 70%) in the region. Most of
the hills are rugged and inaccessible. Barak valley, formed by river Barak and its
tributaries covers three districts of south Assam. Plains of Tripura are the extension of
Ganga (Meghna) - Brahmaputra plain. Manipur valley is small covering only 10 percent
of the state.

The region is rich in fauna and flora and other natural resources.
Population Density (2001)

         State                Population             Land Area         Population Density
                           (in million)              (in sq. km)             (per sq. km)
Arunachal              1.09                   83743                    13
Assam                  26.65                  78438                    340
Manipur                2.29                   22327                    103
Meghalaya              2.31                   22429                    103
Mizoram                0.89                   21087                    42
Nagaland               1.99                   16579                    120
Sikkim                 0.54                   7096                     76
Tripura                3.19                   10486                    313
Northeast              38.98 (88% rural)      262185                   149
All India              1028.61(75%rural)      3287263                  313

Issues of livelihood of the poor

India’s northeast is going through a transition. No longer is the traditional way of living
addressing the problems faced by the people of the region, especially the poor and
marginalized people. The diminishing traditional social safety nets in forms of
traditional institutions; population pressure, both internal and in the form of influx;
poor public health infrastructure; erosion of homestead and access to common property
resources; increased exposure to market have raised the            cash need of a common
household and the poor household’s livelihood security and traditional coping
mechanism has gone topsy-turvy.

No longer is the traditional basket of activities of the poor and not-so-poor household
sustainable with stiff competition from mass produced goods. In such a situation, the
poor households are in a relentless pursuit of cash generating activities. Pursuit of cash
has pushed small farmers hitherto self-sufficient in nature more into cash crops and
unskilled wage labour. And both are uncertain in nature. There are apprehensions that
despite rise in overall income and reduction of      ‘absolute’ hunger, the poor household
has become more ‘vulnerable’ vis-à-vis poverty. The poor household’s chances of
slipping back into poverty are higher than before.
The ‘most’ vulnerable Groups

The most vulnerable groups & communities of the northeast could be identified as the
         Small farmers and the landless
         Upland communities1 including Jhum cultivators
         Internally Displaced persons due to ethnic conflict/ natural disaster
         The Adivasi community- totally/ partially engaged with Tea
         Communities involved in traditional occupation –artisans, weavers, bamboo/
         cane craftsperson, potters, bell/brass metal makers, fishermen
         The urban poor
         Women – also as a separate group – cash need induced activities are also
         displacing women – from their traditional control over homestead to a
         marginalized position

The places where (due to geographical and infrastructural conditions) poverty pockets
are burgeoning are;
         Mountainous or hilly regions – where population is sparse and infrastructure
         minimal - Arunachal, Nagaland, hills of Manipur, remote areas of Mizoram and
         Meghalaya, hills of Tripura and Assam, and Sikkim.
         Plains where ‘mainstream’ development is least in terms of infrastructure and
         developmental programmes; incidentally, these are also habitat of the tribal-
         Foothills of Himalayan Range in Assam and South Tripura.
         Places where people are displaced due to ethnic violence – Tripura, hills of
         Assam, Western Assam.
         Places severely affected by militancy – Manipur, Nagaland, pockets of Assam and
         Places affected by Natural disasters – flood plains of Brahmaputra, especially in
         the northern bank, where its tributaries are shifting and Surma valley in Assam.
         ‘Char’ – large (some times more than 20 km in length) sand deposits in the
         middle of the river Brahmaputra- areas of Assam.

  If a poverty line taking into account (a) higher calorie requirement, (b) higher non-food needs of clothing
and shelter for survival, and (c) higher prices obtaining in mountain and hill areas is adopted, then the
incidence of poverty in the upland would turn out to be higher than shown by current measures.
Some ‘distress’ faced by some groups, communities in some places are

Food insufficiency          acute in
                            Remote Pockets in Upland
                            Remote pockets of tribal-inhabited areas of Tripura Large
                            percentage of Internally Displaced Persons due to ethnic
                            violence now residing in Relief camps and ‘rehabilitated’
                            villages of western Assam, Hills of Assam, Tripura
                            Displaced      households    by   flood,   river   shifting   in
                            Brahmaputra valley of Assam
                            Women Headed Families, especially among Koch-Rajbonshi
                            in   western     Assam,     migrant   labour   among     ex-tea
                            communities and immigrant Muslims in Char areas
                            Families of Closed tea gardens in South Assam

Asset/landlessness          More marginalization of small farmers, some tribal people,
                            upland remote communities, land alienation and insecure
                            titles (some upland tribal and ex-tea communities in the
                            plain) or the fact that the land they own is too small or
                            unproductive. Also most farmers in the region cutting
                            across all communities and geographical sub-regions

Access to Resources         Livelihood is a function of transformation of resources.
                            Therefore, non-access to resources is a vital element in
                            perpetuation of poverty. These resources may be natural,
                            physical, technological and financial in nature. Alienation
                            from traditional societal resources like forest and grazing
                            land, low transfer of appropriate technology to the poor,
                            virtual non-access of the poor to the formal credit system,
                            low bargaining power in the market have bust the
                            livelihood options of the north-eastern poor.
Need for pro-poor institutions

But it is social structures that will determine the access to available technology and use
it beneficially. Therefore, pro-poor institutional development is a very significant need
for effective intervention of poverty reduction and livelihood generation. It goes without
saying that these institutions need to have good governance and efficient management
systems including MIS. It may be pointed out here that information dissymmetry is one
major hurdle faced by poor and not-so-poor in the region, which results in non-
adequate prices fetched at the market. The other reason for such depressed price is also
absence of bargaining power by the poor and not-so-poor in the market. Both these
issues may be addressed by the organization of the poor themselves such as broad
based cooperatives, federation of SHGs both at producers’ and markets’ points.
This will be a step ahead of the traditional capacity building continuum. It goes without
saying that for such an endeavour facilitating organizations for institutional
development support is necessary. The first step for promoting such intermediate
organization will be better understanding of the state of poverty and livelihood of the
poor in the region and the challenges they present. Therefore, capacity building of
intermediate Livelihood promoting organizations, like NGOs and repositioned traditional
institutions, is important.

Need for Technology transfer

Appropriate technologies have to be developed for and adopted in rural areas for:
        income/employment generation
        reduction of drudgery
        upgrading habitat and social infrastructure
        otherwise improving quality of life

In   the   present    context,   dominant     requirement    is   for   technologies   for
income/employment generation in the non-farm sector, i.e., for rural industrialization.
       Value-addition to rural resources
       Utilisation and up-gradation of local skills
       Sustainable farm and off-farm livelihoods
Need for policy advocacy and research

For integrated development intervention, policy advocacy and research cannot be
overlooked. The systematic research and documentation of livelihood issues in the
northeast is very patchy and inadequate. Any attempt in this regard, would be a
necessary precursor to effective policy advocacy.

End note

Livelihood generation, to be meaningful, will have to be large in scale and easily
replicable. There is also an urgent need to synergize the third sector intervention with
that of the government, for it would create greater access to funds and institutions for
such livelihood generation. This would also, in turn, lead to greater efficacy of
governmental programmes.

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