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.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Jasper Daniel: The man who made running water walk.

‘Tontyfour avers water coming, saar. No prablem’. Manjunath, the broker, concluded his sales pitch. We knew it was not true. There’s no such thing as twenty-four hours water supply in Bangalore anymore. Even some of the poshest condominiums are depending on off- the-book water tankers to get their water needs met every day.

It’s sad and unimaginable that a city planned and designed to be a garden, today, has no enough water. In contrast, a cluster of villages in Andhra’s Anantapur district - the second most drought-prone region in India, has water. That too, is unimaginable…and intriguing.

‘How’s this possible?’, I asked Rajen, the founder and father-figure at SEDS. To answer me he had to take me in his jeep to the hills of Sanipalli and Penukonda. Thanks to Rajen and his team at SEDS, the once barren landscape now has a thick, lush green cover. Thirty years ago, when Maniland Rajen Joshua started SEDS, the top item on their agenda was to bring back the trees and create new forests in the area.

‘You know what it takes to conserve water?’, Rajen asks me, ‘It takes common sense’. In those days, Rajen used to climb the hills on foot (the jeep was bought much later) to study the path of rain water. He then came with an exhaustive plan to maximize the potential of rainwater. He gave it the name ‘Watershed’. Today the term is being used world over in various water conservation projects.

Rajen took me around the forest to explain in detail everything about Watershed. Rainwater, as it flows down the hill, flows with fury. It washes off the fertile top soil. It flows with no agenda and ends up getting wasted. Sometimes even causing damage to life and crops in the surrounding villages. Rajen understood that the first thing to do was to slow down the flow of running water. So he built Gully checks and Check dams. Gully checks slow down the flow and check dams collect the water. Then the filled dams overflow at a slower pace until the water reaches the next check dam, and so on and on, till it reaches farms and other water bodies below the hills, slow and steady, like how a little child walks, holding the hands of the parent.

Along with Check dams and Gully checks, SEDS frequently builds trenches to help rainwater percolate into the soil. SEDS also builds contour bunds in farm lands to prevent soil erosion. The silt (washed-up fertile top soil) that gets collected in the tanks is distributed to the farmers during the yearly tank de-silting drive organized by SEDS.

The benefits of Watershed are many. You can come and see for yourself. Pay a visit to SEDS and we’ll take you around. Watching the sun go down from up the hills is a spectacular sight. We’d like to have you over soon. Until then remember to turn off the tap when you brush or shave. It's plain common sense.

Photo Courtesy: Ronny Smet