SEDS, the Social Education and Development Society, was founded in 1980 by Rajen Joshua and Manil Jayasena as a grassroots development NGO, motivated by the desire to help the poorest of the poor in the drought-prone area of Anantapur District in Andhra Pradesh. In the early days, the main focus of the work was on community development by way of non-formal education and small loans to skilled target communities like cobblers, basket weavers, blanket weavers and others.

As Anantapur is the second most drought prone area in India and much of its natural resources are depleted, it soon became clear that environmental problems would have to be tackled first, if peoples’ livelihoods were to be made sustainable. Starting in 10 villages near the small town of Penukonda a scheme of pioneering work was developed which aimed to empower local communities and improve their environment. Initially small nurseries were started for homestead plantations and planting of avenue trees along village roads. Re-a-forestation and more sustainable agricultural practices were introduced. From 1990, SEDS started using a more participatory approach, through the formation of Community Based Organizations. Involving the communities more in the effort made them actual stakeholders in the development process of the region. Throughout the years the scope and area of the work increased and the fruits of the sustained efforts became visible in the greener environment and the enthusiasm of the communities.

Today, SEDS is working through an integrated rural development approach with an emphasis on women’s empowerment, watersheds, re-a-forestation and natural resource management. This is within five Mandals in the southern part of Anantapur District, in south western Andhra Pradesh namely, Penukonda, Roddam, Gorantla, Somandepalli and Chilamathur. In these 5 mandals SEDS currently supports 125 villages, being some 12000 women and their families, 980 Self Help Groups (SHGs), 120 Village Organisations (VOs) & 5 Mandal Samakyas (MMSs) .

Through its sustained efforts SEDS has made a significant impact on the lives of the people in the area and the local environment. The SEDS slogan “Towards a greener tomorrow” has become a reality.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jasper Daniel: A lonely road

‘One who’s poised on the edge of a cliff is wise to define progress as a step backwards’. I spotted this wise saying on a signboard while holidaying in the hills of Mussoorie and Landour a few months ago. Its meaning hit me tenfold when I stood at the edge of a cliff and looked around. The wise, old mountains kept a silent watch over the trucks winding their way up and down. The floating mist was serenading the flirtatious green of the trees. Birds and monkeys were living the high-life like a bunch of billionaires, singing and swaying with no care in the world. Of course progress, as we know it, would be a blunder in this God ordained perfection. But unfortunately, progress has already begun.

Every day hundreds of trees are being sacrificed on the altars of progress in our country. Officials at the top, planning these development projects, fail to consider the impact of their myopic approach on the eco-system and the future. They are also blind to the years of hard work, planning and labour of those who planted these trees. One such project is threatening the future of hundreds of trees planted by SEDS twenty years ago.

The Madakasira main road that connects Penukonda town to the SEDS farm and central office is a lonely one. All you have for company is rows of trees, performing a welcome dance to the whistling melody of the winds as you drive through. Pongamia, Neem, Bougainvillea and a host of other trees line this 20 kilometer stretch. They provide natural protection against pests for the farms on the sides of the road, and bring great relief from the scorching heat on summer days. Thanks to the new road widening project, these trees are on the verge of getting destroyed.

We all love tree-lined roads. But most of us are not aware of what it takes and how much they cost. The cost of a tree sapling today is Rs. 75. It take over 5000 saplings to cover a ten kilometer stretch. The cost of labour is Rs.100 per sapling. Add watering and maintenance and the rough estimate comes to around 35 Lakh Rupees. Driving down a tree-lined, shaded road is a pleasant and enjoyable experience. But pleasant and enjoyable experiences don’t come cheap.

It’s absolutely important for all of us to understand that it takes a lot and costs a lot to grow trees. Even with all the money pumped in, there is no guarantee for the trees to grow as desired. Natural conditions play a huge role. Drought can stunt growth. Cattle can graze away the saplings. The next time you see a tree on the side of the road or take shelter under one, say a silent thank you to those who made this miracle happen.

The trees of Madakasira are under threat. Twenty years of hard work is going down the drain right in front of our eyes. It is a tragedy. But we at SEDS believe that this is not the end. It’s a tragedy only if we give up. Only if we stop doing our duty.

Development and progress are inevitable. It is up to us to find a way to balance development and conservation. It is up to us to keep planting more trees. And for that we need your help. Can you help in some way? Can you donate the cost of one sapling (Rs.75)? Or the cost of labour per sapling (Rs. 100)? Can you share your ideas and suggestions? Can you spare some time to join us in the plantation drive? Can you spread the word about this project? It’s a lonely road that leads to change. We need you to walk this road with us, to create a change, to put back the trees on the lonely Madakasira road again.

Photo Courtesy: Jasper Daniel and Disha Kathuria