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Academic, Field experiences

“Sustainable Livelihood Intervention with Kotwalia (PTG) Tribe in South Gujarat Region” – Case study

Note- It was one of the case which we wrote when I was working with AKRSP (I). We won first all India case study prize under Sitaram Rav case study competition in 2012 organised by Access livelihood initiative Delhi. We won 1 Lakh rs cash price and that we contributed to this livelihood initiative.  


Tribal are the most original living identity of any given geographical area. Their way of living, culture, heritage, livelihood, economy, and social practices gives a clear idea about ancient history of that region. In the South Gujarat region number of tribal are still have their unique identity mark on present society and they can easily identify through their set of practices which was peculiar as their identity since last hundreds of year. With every passing day tribal are struggling hard to keep their identity because of several reasons; for instance, radical changes in society unstructured employment, penetration of mass communication, and so on. At the same time few helping hands always support for nurturing the old tradition and heritage of native tribe communities. AKRSP (I) work with Kotwalia is an example that how a development initiative can bring a positive change in tribal people life who are deprived from main stream society. A context where tribal are struggling for basic amenities like food security, shelter, social inclusion, and hesitant for approach to hospitals, it was a silent but powerful call to introduce development interventions for uplift the poorest of the poor people.
It was not that in past tribal did not had any employment skill; the truth was that they were once most skill community among other tribes but because of rapid change in market demand and supply equation where they could not match with their traditional knowledge. Earlier this community was making small bamboo products and engaged to sell it to other communities for ensuring the food grains. At present they are marginalized in the society.
This start with identifying the basic development issues; it was not that AKRSPI took the first initiative that was accepted by community; it was a journey of evolution that how from first initiative to bamboo production different challenges was confronted by team. Different phases of this; starting from identification of persons for bamboo training to initiation of Common Facility Centre (CFC) is described in the case. At present the larger impacts which are realized by community that also mentioned here; it clarity indicates that in a brief time how community got number of benefits through bamboo intervention. There are several challenges face by implementing team and community also but still it is successfully functioning and now team have a shared vision about its future. All these dimensions are part of this case.
This case is a unique example that how a traditional art of a community can be beautify with professional interventions so it will ensure the win-win situation for all. It proves that sustainable social enterprise is possible with poorest of the poor community if team has a strong dedication and

community has a shared vision for its development.

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Socio-economic status of community before intervention

Kotwalias are one of the Primitive Tribal in south Gujarat region. Historically this community never had land or any other natural assets. Only 5.59% of total Kotwalia families hold agricultural land; out of them 66% families have land up to 1 acre (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar). From ancient times Kotwalias never got respect in their tribal community. Socially they were untouchable to other tribal community. Other tribal communities were not shared water, food, assets or never had any strong social relation with them. They were not allowed to attend the social functions organized by other tribal. They were given spaces to build their houses in outside the village areas. They were not allowed to share the ideas in public gathering and about social issues.

Traditionally Kotwalias had expertise in bamboo craft and it was the major source of income for them. With every passing day it was realized by community that with old practices and limited exposure it would be difficult to continue with same occupation so this force them to shift from traditional work to contract laborer in agricultural fields. In short they were confronting structured unemployment.
Over a period of time Migration to sugar cane field become their major seasonal livelihood. 95.52% of total Kotwalia families are migrating during winter season for sugar cane cutting (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar). In sugarcane cutting Kotwalia work as a bonded labor for contractor. So contract labour work became a destiny for kotwalia families.

Drudgery in sugarcane fields

Sugarcane work is mostly done in group because contractors are paying on piece rate basis (starting from sugar cane cutting to truck loading). To become a group member, it is compulsion to take advance loan (if someone do not take advance loan then there is no security of job for next year) from sugar cane contractor and repay double amount. The only repayment method is to work in sugarcane field. Their wage is paid at the end of the sugar cane cycle (sugarcane cycle last generally for 8 to 10 months).
Sugarcane work is mostly done in group because contractors are paying on piece rate basis (starting from sugar cane cutting to truck loading). To become a group member, it is compulsion to take advance loan (if someone do not take advance loan then there is no security of job for next year) from sugar cane contractor and repay double amount. The only repayment method is to work in sugarcane field. Their wage is paid at the end of the sugar cane cycle (sugarcane cycle last generally for 8 to 10 months).

After facing structured unemployment it was very clear to Kotwalias that they need to do something for survival. With their present skills and outreach, sugarcane cutting work was the only choice (better word is compulsion) for them. 97.65% of total Kotwalia families are migrating for than 4 month and more than 2 persons are migrating from 95.52 % of total Kotwalia families (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar; 2012). If due to some unavoidable reason, any Kotwalia leaves work in between, Sugarcane contractor do not pay him and also previous loan hike four times. These above mention conditions compel whole family to migrate along with cattle. During migration session their kids help parents by taking care of young siblings and fetch water from distant source. During Sugarcane season they have to stay in 3 feet by 6 feet plastic tent without basic amenities like drinking water, sanitation, and electricity. They reside in nearby field because they have to work as per timing of contractor; generally they work 14-16 hours in a day and gets on an average Rs.40 per day. There is no timing for uploading truck; the moment truck reaches, they have to upload otherwise they punished (physically, mentally, or financially). If someone suffers with health problem during work and fails to work during that period then he/she has to pay Rs.20 and 2 Kg grains per day as penalty. Contractors also charges rent (Rs.20 per day) for plastic tent. These situations make life miserable, physically and mentally. This drudgery brings death closer to them as data shows that 90.1% of total Kotwalia population is below 50 year (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar).

Consequences of migration in Kotwalias life

Kotwalia families return from the sugarcane field in monsoon session and afterwards in coming session they usually do their tradition business i.e. preparing bamboo baskets and sell it to neighboring agriculture community. For basket they use green bamboo which they bring illegally from distant forest, if they caught they were threatening, beaten and harassed by forest officials. All these livelihood activities are not sustained and only make them dependent of others. Because of migration and insecure livelihood options, not only their daily economy suffers but it has very much larger implications in their daily life. How instability in livelihood affects life that is described below

Literacy rate

Kotwalia community has very low literacy rate only 28.66%. 19.07 % are up-to 5th standards, 7.08% up-to middle standard (up-to 8th), 2.04 % secondary & rest 0.55 % are in higher category (Source: Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar). Migration is the major reason for drop out of Kotwalia kids. Kid starts helping parents from very early age. So child labor is also a problem.

Poor housing facility

As they do not have enough land to construct house so they prefer to reside in small bamboo houses. 88.25% of total Kotwalia families possessed single room (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar). During migration period also they force to live in plastic tent house without basic facilities. They never earn that much from sugar cane field to have a good housing facility. For constructing their houses they basically use bamboo mat and cow dung mixed with soil to strengthen wall and protection against external environment. Average family size of Kotwalia is 6-8 members. The entire family resides in a very small available space. 93.26% of total Kotwalia Families are residing less than 300 sq feet area (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar).

Poor nutrition uptake

Larges family size and lack of productive assets is leading to the malnutrition. Absence of proper nutrition and care during pregnancy period, this leads to high maternal mortality and child mortality rate. During migration period they uptake unhygienic food and that is same for kid also. Even though they are poor and comes under tribal welfare related social program but because of continuous movement they could not enjoy benefits of those schemes. Very few families had regular access of PDS program.

Child marriage

Early marriage is common feature in the community; the average age of marriage for a boy is 17 year and for is girl 15 year (Baseline survey). Love marriages are very common here and in many cases boy & girl leaves their respective home and return back after some time. In case of love marriage, boy’s family has to pay dowry to girl’s parents. In arrange marriage couple start living together after ring ceremony, some of them further go for marriage ceremony while some are not.

Saving and credit

Earlier the only source of credit for Kotwalia was Sugarcane contractor. They were taking credit with an annual 100 to 150 % interest rate for consumption purpose. To repay the loan amount they force work in sugarcane field.
Kotwalias were not able to take advantage of all Govt. schemes because of long migration period (normally 8 months). They were even using PDS system only for 2 to 4 months. They did not have access to health card, Ration card, and voter card.
This scenario of Kotwalia community sensitized the AKRSP (I) for bringing development initiatives to mark a positive change in their life and that spark initiated a series of development interventions.

AKRSPI intervention for bringing a spark of change

In the given scenario an external hand holding and support was much needed for Kotwalia community and that juncture AKRSP (I) started engagement with them. Since 1998-99, AKRSP (I) intervene through formation of Self Help Groups (SHGs). The basic purpose of SHG was to initiate the saving habit among Kotwalia community and bring them out of vicious debt cycle. From initial phase of first intervention to present day, AKRSP (I) could sense success and challenges at various phase.

Initial phase of learning

For providing a better choice than sugarcane cutting work and to diversify the livelihood activities of Kotwalia, AKRSP (I) in 2002 did a pilot project with 4 families by providing cattle. Community never had previous experience of rearing cattle so it was very challenging activity for Kotwalia as well as for AKRSP (I) to ensure the success of pilot. After initial up and downs finally livestock activity kicked well and attracted more families. Unfortunately this activity could not sustain for longer because they could not arranged fodder in dry season. Some of the families felt livestock rearing as difficult activity while some could not succeeded because their animal died.
Along with animal husbandry AKRSP (I) also initiated group farming as pilot with one of the Kotwalia group consisting 11 families on 11 Acre mortgage land from Panchayat. Land rent was fixed Rs.15000 annually. First year of pilot project geared very well and farmers could ensure good yield. This experience buildup their confidence on farming but again unfortunately next year due to unfavorable climatic condition, they incurred a greater loss. Their low risk bearing capacity forced them to continue with their sugarcane cutting job. Meanwhile AKRSP (I) made several efforts to convince community for adopt farming activity but no one was willing to jump again on fire.

Continuous effort with community

In 2004-05, AKRSP (I) took new initiative with Kotwalia community i.e. Fisheries. Under this initiative few Kotwalia youth were trained. Tribal Department allotted tools and kits along with some ponds. Poor knowledge about fish rearing and marketing skill forced them to withdraw from the activity.

After much brain storming and learning from prior experiences, in 2006, AKRSP (I) started working on traditional skill of kotwalias. As a pilot project AKRSP (I) facilitated 3 months training to 30 Kotwalia youths on Bamboo furniture. Afterwards trained youth started working at village level. Consistency, better product quality, and innovation on bamboo furniture, led them to get exciting offers from the market. At the same they also started getting demand for decorative items but with limited exposure to competitive market, they restricted with certain products. With passing time good demand ensured good earning from bamboo produce. This encourages other Kotwalia youth to learn Bamboo furniture work for secured livelihood. Some of Kotwalia youth learn Bamboo furniture work from trained artisan while some requested to AKRSP (I) to conduct training on Bamboo furniture.
In 2008, AKRSP (I) proposed a concept note to Tribal Development Department, Gandhinagar on Bamboo craft & furniture. All six Kotwalia villages of Bharuch District covered under bamboo project. This project was addressing three major components:
⦁ Training to 150 Kotwalia youth
⦁ Facilitate production tools & Kits in a group of 5 youth.
⦁ Ensure product development & marketing

Before implementation of project few criteria was set for selection of candidate:
⦁ All the candidates must be from poor family.
⦁ Participant age group must range 18 to 40 year.
⦁ Preference would be given to prior experience on bamboo work or carpentry
⦁ Participants must be willing to work in group
⦁ One participant from one family
After candidate selection 90 days training was facilitated a group of 25 participants on:
⦁ Information about different tools and machine and its uses
⦁ Handling of different tools and machines
⦁ Designing product diagram
⦁ Different measurement for manufacturing furniture
⦁ Quality control
⦁ Sensitization on importance of group and group work
After completion of training, tools and kits were provided in five members group. Artisans started production at village level. Final products collected from different villages were stored and marketed from Netrang, Bharuch District.
Initially AKRSP (I) as facilitating agency adopted Govt. exhibitions as prime source of selling afterwards few big shop owners show their interest in bamboo products. Team learnt after wider market expose that bamboo products are under niche category which is demanded by a certain income class; so team started to focus on standard finishing and quality products for consumer satisfaction.

In 2010, AKRSP (I) took an initiative to improve the quality & quantity of bamboo products by opening Common Facility Centre (CFC). It was decided by community and AKRSP (I) that Primary work will be done at village level; assembling and finishing would be done at CFC. Through this, final product would be standardized and quality will be improved as market standards. Simultaneously it was decided that bamboo produce will be placed in market as brand Name “Vinan”. Soon it was realized that opening of CFC was most valuable step taken by AKRSP (I) for manufacturing products. Within very short span of time “Vinan” produce started getting good customer response as well as price. All products price sharply doubled within six month. This intervention energizes Kotwalia youth.

Visible impact of bamboo project

In broader perspective various changes are visualize in Kotwalia’s life since this project implementation; now they have better choices and wider exposure. For analyzing the impact of bamboo intervention in Kotwalias daily life, we have conducted a small study with our targeted 35 artisans who were trained in bamboo project. Outcome of that study has given below under different indicators.

Livelihood Generation

The main objective of this intervention was to provide a sustainable livelihood opportunity and break vicious cycle of poverty & sugarcane labour work. Out of 150 artisan total 121, almost 81% of trained artisan opted bamboo furniture & craft. 31 left sugarcane cutting permanently.

At present 31 Artisans are working at CFC, and 50 artisans are working in “village level production centre”. 35 to 40 artisans (those artisans who were in debt trap of sugar cane contractor during rainy season) opt as seasonal work. Initially they were earning on an average of Rs.8-10 thousand per year now they are earning Rs.36-40 thousand per annum. There is a sharp increase in their income up to four times

Before intervention out or total 35 artisans, 34 worked in sugar cane field but after intervention only 13 artisans are practicing migration. Migration period also reduced significantly.

Availability of credit was the major problem. Sugar cane contractors were using this as opportunity to use them as bonded labor. AKRSP (I) and community mutually decided to have saving-credit provision for artisan. At present, out of total net profit, 40% amount is kept under Loan facility scheme as revolving fund. It was initiated with Rs.1 Lakh corpus. Under loan scheme artisan are provided loan on 12 percent interest rate. They are doing monthly saving Rs.50. Now their groups has formal link with bank. Total 22 artisans have bank account in Development Credit Bank (DCB).
Individual Artisan can avail loan for different purposes like repair and maintenance of house, marriage, child delivery, and emergency health issues up-to Rs.25000. Other issues like social function, health issues, and any other causality can avail loan Up-to Rs.15000. Up-to Rs.5000 in festive season and celebrate social events are approve to members. now artisan prefers Vinan corpus over any other credit source.
Artisan group has 100% credit recovery and saving record. It has repeatedly reinforced by AKRSPI to all artisans regarding utilization of saving for productive purposes and reduces consumption expenses for secure future.
In terms of social entitlement, they have been linked to various govt. schemes like BPL Card, artisan card, Voter identity card, and health card by linking with different departments. They have also linked to Seva Rural Jhagadiya (Bharuch, Gujarat) for medical aid at low cost. Linkages with govt. hospital have made to provide common medicine like iron pill, calcium pill etc at CFC itself. Last year 5 artisans for BPL card, 31 for artisan card, and 10 for voter identity card were facilitated for their respective entitlement. Also they sale their product under a rand name; Since last two year Kotwalia produce are sold under the brand name “Vinan” (Vinan is word commonly used for bamboo produce weaving in Kotwalia dialect).

Since beginning of the project AKRSP (I) conducted various workshops on education for Kotwalia’s children and linked them to various schemes of Tribal development department.  Initially no kotwalia family took loan for education purpose but after CFC intervention loan was also used for education purpose. It is one of the very significant impacts because now families are more established so children can continue their study without any disturbance. Families also have income to support child education and provide study material and dress. Education and health type of expenditures always supported by AKRSPI team in CFC.

Those artisans who are continuously working in CFC , at present they are earning sufficient for and it is a secured income for them against sugarcane field work. There is a significant income change has been realized by community. Per person now they earn up to 12000 Rs, far better and under much better work environment than sugarcane field.

Alcoholism is the biggest social evil among Kotwalias. 30.10 % of total Kotwalia families are spending Rs.2000 to 5000 and 45.58% of total Kotwalia Families are spending Rs.500- 2000 per Annum on intoxicants (Secondary Data Tribal Development Department Gandhinagar). To Fight against Alcoholism “Alcoholic anonymous” an organization is being contacted. Now they are working on eradication of alcoholism among Kotwalias for their better life.

On asset creation side, artisans took loan for repair maintenance of their house, 1 artisan bought motorcycle, 3 artisan for purchasing new clothes, 4 sending their kids to school, 7 artisan took loan for treatment for their belongings, 1 artisan got married marriage, 4 artisan bought chicks for their temporary business.

Success factors in bamboo project intervention

Like any other initiative and community work; this project has also seen many up and downs since first day of beginning. Tribal Development department (TDD) supported project was completed in October 2010. The success of this project motivated AKRSPI team and community to promote it at larger level as a program. There are certain factors which contributed significantly to convert the project into a program are described below:

Traditional Knowledge on Bamboo

Bamboo is naturally available material, not easy to mould because of its natural structure. Specific skill & expertise required to work on bamboo. Kotwalia community has been a long back social, economical, and cultural relation with bamboo work so it was much conventional for them to adopt bamboo furniture and craft as livelihood. After initial experiences AKRSPI could identify the core expertise and interest of community and Kotwalias also felt proud with their traditional occupation and expertise, so bamboo was heartily accepted by them.

Addressing core issues

Sugarcane cutting was never a choice for community as livelihood; it was negative outcome of void after structured unemployment. They were eager to come out of vicious cycle of the poverty and sugarcane cycle but they did not had any idea that how they could do this. Through Bamboo project AKRSP (I) provided them a much better livelihood choice. it brought three significant changes; ensured their livelihood, financial inclusion, and most important stability. Ownership of program by community proves that community has chosen this initiative as better livelihood choice.

Fund Availability at crucial time from TDD

After successful pilot project in 2006, there was fund requirement for project to replicate it and to get benefit community at larger level. TASP (tribal area sub plan Bharuch) timely appreciated AKRSP (I) effort and provided a fund to expand the activity. With previous experience on bamboo, AKRSP (I) explored an opportunity to work with new approach which made this program successful.

Community ownership & integration with professional staff

In this program there were clarity in role and responsibility among staff and community. Community was involved in production activity and profession staff in facilitator role but they never had any communication gap since first day. All the critical issues like what to produce, how to produce, and when to produce? are taken after discussion in open forum. All are answerable to each other so that there is higher level of mutuality and trust. Financially also they owned the business. At present they have group accounts and also operating signatory from community side, all these activities build their confidence and brought transparency in system which realize them untold owner of program.

Critical challenges

No program is perfect and always there are opportunities to improve it. Although bamboo initiative achieved a lot but still lot of challenges are on way. Few of the critical challenges are given below:

Inconsistent Availability of men power

Kotwalia community engaged in Sugarcane field for 8 to 10 month in a year. Sugarcane area is so vast so all families scattered in different geographical locations. It was the biggest challenge for AKRSP (I) to engage Kotwalia youth and convinces them for regular Bamboo work. Though they were seasonally working on bamboo, they did not want to take any risk to malign their rapport with contractors so it was very hard for them to trust on a new bamboo activity and its sustainability with livelihood perspective. They were also hesitating because bamboo work was largely dependent on market response. Another challenge was to leave sugarcane cutting cycle in-between so AKRSP (I) had to wait till sugarcane cycle get over. All these issues projected workers availability a major challenge for program.

Conceptual clarity and 3Rs (Role, Right & responsibility)

One major challenge was to make them understand about bamboo project, sustainability aspect, role of the community, and most important how community will get benefit through this intervention. With past experience with AKRSP (I), they had doubt on this project and its sustainability so they were not willing to take up this activity. AKRSP (I) knew this so they did intensive gap analysis of previous program and satisfied to community regarding all their genuine questions. In initial phase AKRSP (I) organized numbers of exposure visit to build confidence of community as well as team. Both realized that many organizations are working very successfully on bamboo like “Sampoorna Bamboo Kendra” Amaravati Maharastra and “Centre for Indian Bamboo Research & Technology” (CIBART Vyara, Gujarat). This entire process clear understanding on future of bamboo initiative, its scope, and sustainability of project


Community accountability was issue in initial phase of project. Accountability for tools and kits maintenance, physical production security and maintenance, timely delivery of products to customer and so on is need to be care by artisans itself. In initial days it was continuously remind by AKRSP (I) to community about their ownership on project. With passing time it was well understood by all and now it is not an issue.

Future ahead

AKRSP (I) is moving ahead to form a producer company for promoting Bamboo craft & furniture as an apex institute. It is planned that at village level informal group will be engage in primary level production. That will be further assembling in Region level center which is at present in Netrang, Bharuch. After storage and assembling of final product, Producer Company will ensure marketing in different part of Gujarat and other states.

To ensure the success of the producer company AKRSP (I), also preparing five year plan with community. This plan includes different strategies for business promotion, community development & exit protocol of AKRSP (I).
This plan will be majorly focusing on social development. A routine training schedule on different aspect to enrich their basic knowledge on material identification, material purchase, designing of produce, accounting, marketing, management has been done. Different team will also be indentified and will also make them responsible for different function involve in social enterprise. AKRSP (I) is also planning to expand this business in other area with same community so that more number of artisan will be included to provide them a choice of employment. Different agencies like IIT and NID will also be included with Producer Company to support on different aspect like designing, tools development etc. the linkages with other craft promoting agencies will be done for marketing. Website will also be developed to cater the demand of online customer.





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