It takes a village
Dr. D.N. Tewari visited INBAR HQ on Monday to kick off a lecture series and share his expertise.
Greening red earth is no easy task, but Dr. D.N. Tewari has become an expert in overcoming challenges, among other things.
Dr. Tewari knew something needed to be done in the mining-ravaged Gangetic plains of northern India, an area that was once one of the most fertile areas in the world. The Kotwa and Rahimabad villages had become wastelands, forcing their residents to move elsewhere for livelihoods and income. The temperature in the area rose 10 degrees centigrade, causing cyclones and dust storms. According to Dr. Tewari, many in the area attributed these events as supernatural phenomena like ghosts, but he knew the damage was caused by humans.
To restore the land and transform the economy, Dr. Tewari, with INBAR and his NGO Utthan, brought in “savior shoots,” or bamboo, which would help bind and rehabilitate the soil and turn the red earth green again. However, Dr. Tewari knew that restoring the land was just one part of the battle. He had to provide jobs and services to the people of the area and offer a better way of life. He also needed their help to make his plan work.
Though many thought his plan was impossible, Dr. Tewari told them, “if we don’t do this, difficult land will always be difficult and disadvantaged people will always be disadvantaged.”
Since many of the men of the villages had left, he had to convince the women of the village to participate in his plan. Without the support of the village, he knew he had nothing, but if they chose to back him, big things could happen.
“Once they are convinced, then they are your people,” said Dr. Tewari.
The women finally agreed and the plans were set into action. With the help of INBAR, six bamboo nurseries were created, but these nurseries did more than just grow bamboo. They became centers of education, where one hour of every working day was devoted strictly to education.
With this tactic, the project helped 2.75 million people become literate. It also nurtured a passion for growing bamboo and other plants in the workers, and they were able to transfer their knowledge to others.
Since the start of the project in 1996, bamboo has helped to bring healthcare to 1 million infants and children. Vaccines that were readily available previously couldn’t be stored because these villages had no electricity. With the surplus of bamboo, villagers used it to produce energy, allowing them to refrigerate the vaccines that could then save lives.
Dr. Tewari, in collaboration with Utthan and INBAR, went on to rehabilitate 10 million hectares of land involving 5 million indigenous families coming out of poverty. 95,000 hectares of mined areas were turned from red dirt to green landscapes and 10,000 forest villages engaged with these projects. Where 80 percent of the population was once below the poverty line, now everyone in these villages lives above it. The cyclones have decreased as well as the temperature.
With so many dramatic changes, Dr. Tewari says that new visitors to the area don’t believe what it looked like just 15 years ago.
“One thing is sure,” he said, “without taking a lead, nothing is possible.”
Today, bamboo and rattan still help rehabilitate degraded land, store carbon and provide livelihoods and income opportunities to millions of people around the world. The INBAR/Utthan model for this project can be transferred to other areas with degraded land and modified according to the specific requirements of the people and the land.