Enhancing rural Livelihoods through Participatory Watershed Development in India

Enhancing rural Livelihoods through Participatory Watershed Development in India

Livelihoods and watershed development in India

India is remarkable not only in the scale of its wastelands, and in the volume of government funds committed to reversing degradation, but especially in the attempt to link environmental improvement and poverty reduction. The government’s 1994 Guidelines for microwatershed ehabilitation envisage a high degree of participation and local autonomy in the design and implementation of rehabilitation. This paper reviews experience to date in putting the Guidelines into practice.

Policy recommendations:

  • The watershed Guidelines of the Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment (MoRAE) are an important and imaginative initiative towards institutionally and ecologically sustainable enhancement of rural livelihoods. Donors should work closely with the Union and State governments in their implementation and avoid creating parallel delivery systems
  • Problems lie not so much in any shortcomings in the Guidelines themselves as in the capacity at different levels to implement them:
    • Watershed development (WSD) is not yet being planned strategically in the context of other rural development initiatives
    • At the Project Implementation Agency (PIA) level, funding is insufficient for NGOs to attract and maintain quality staff
    • government PIAs lack adequate skills and have inappropriate incentive structures
    • At the community level, there is inadequate effort to engage weaker groups in the process of WSD. To provide the poor and women with an equitable share of benefits requires more effort and vigilance than most implementing agencies canprovide
    • Procedures for selecting (and de-selecting) villages and PIAs remain weak.


  • WSD is not a panacea: it works best where it is integrated with other means of enhancing livelihoods, and needs to be tailored tolocal agro-ecological, socio-economic and infrastructural conditions. Banks, line departments, etc. need to be engaged in this wider context. Donors can best pilot new solutions to these difficulties. Enclave projects having parallel delivery systems are an irrelevance.


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