Monday, 19 February 2018

Interview by Auroville Today

Auroville Today, a monthly publication on Aurovilles development, recently did an interview with SLI's director, Ramasubramanian. The interview includes a brief introduction to the institute's work and what sets this training institution apart from others. It later focusses on challenges like corruption and caste discrimination as many development schemes in India face and how SLI handles these. By giving many examples of the institute's work, Ram makes clear that the Sustainable Livelihood Institute has had - and continues too have - great impact on both government officials and members of rural comunities that participate in one the programmes.

This interview is not the first time Auroville Today published an article on the Sustainable Livelihood Institute. In February 2016 the publication introduced it in Issue No. 319.
If you are a subscriber of Auroville Today you can read the full interview here or the article from February 2016 here.

The full transcript of the interview below...

The Sustainable Livelihood Institute

The  Sustainable Livelihood Institute (SLI) initiative is a joint project of the Government of Tamil Nadu and Auroville to promote rural development based on the principles of sustainable development (see Auroville Today 319, Feb. 2016)

The SLI began running programmes three years ago. We talked to the Director, Ramasubramanian (Ram), for an update on its activities and its impact.

Auroville Today: The name suggests that the Sustainable Livelihood Institute represents a very different concept of development from the conventional one. What is that concept?
Ram: Our concept of development draws primarily on two sources. One is traditional models, the other is Auroville’s experience. I think Auroville has created a new form of economy where certain values are not compromised. You do not deplete resources, you replenish them, and you are trying to minimise the impact of inequality. So our idea of development could be articulated as not only being ecologically-sensitive but also ecologically-proactive, socially-responsible and, at the same time, economically-viable. This is what we are trying to bring together in our programmes here.
What we are doing here is continually transmitting alternatives into the mainstream but it will take a while before it changes. However, the driver of these changes is something that, increasingly, we cannot ignore.

What is this?
Climate change is already a huge reality if you live in Tamil Nadu. For the past three years we have experienced extreme weather conditions. In 2015 there were terrible floods in Chennai, in 2016 we experienced the worst drought in 140 years. Last year the state government released a report of the consequences of climate change. The signs are not good. If we continue on the present trajectory, most parts of the state will see an increase of 4 degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2050. The consequences of this have not sunk in yet. A soil biologist told me that just a 1° rise means the end of staple food as we know it today as paddy will not grow.
Then again, 82% of our groundwater is in a critical state, the forests are depleting, and much of the coastline will be inundated by sea rises in the future.
In this situation, centralised planning is an oxymoron: policy and planning has to happen at a bioregional level in alignment with the larger reality of climate change. Today, for most parts of this state, we have the data to design a solution for each bioregion, but the effort has to be to do it through the people themselves, by empowering them with the required skills and knowledge. At the same time, in SLI we are raising the awareness levels of government rural development officials on the impact of climate change and showing them some of the responses from Auroville. As a consequence, government agencies in some parts are moving from looking at rural development primarily as ‘poverty alleviation’ to ‘sustainable growth’.

So in SLI you are working with both government officials and those who live in rural communities?
Yes, we work at all levels. Every head of the Rural Development Department of Tamil Nadu’s 32 districts has visited us for an orientation programme. The middle level managers, those who design local rural area initiatives, come more frequently for regular capacity-building programmes. We also train government rural community facilitators as well as community leaders, farmers, etc.
In contrast to Auroville Village Action, we work with the whole state and we are very closely linked to the state government. We do not make interventions but are primarily purveyors of knowledge.

What kinds of programmes do you run?
We tailor the programmes to the people with which we are working. The highest level – the heads of government departments – don’t need to acquire skills, they just need to know how to think differently: we call these ‘perspective building programmes’. For the middle level managers, we have ‘management programmes’ and at the village level the programmes are mainly about imparting skills and knowledge.
We have designed 24 different types of training programmes. During the first year, our programmes were aligned with the programmes of the government rural development departments. However, we introduced certain unique features. For example, in SLI the trainers are the practitioners, the ones who, like Krishna of Solitude Farm and Bernard at Pebble Garden, are doing the work.  This already challenges one of the underlying assumptions in conventional training institutions which is that theoretical knowledge is more important than practical knowledge.
Secondly, we are emphasizing action-oriented learning, which means less classroom teaching and more hands-on experiential training. The other thing we insist upon with government officials is repeat training. One-time exposure is often not sufficient to motivate them to make changes, so they come back for a more advanced course. Also, we do follow-up visits to check which community initiatives are succeeding and which are not.
Another thing we do is we digitalise everything: from the moment a trainee arrives till the feedback, follow-up and impact stories, everything we do is entered online and is accessible. We maintain a very high level of transparency and this has given us a lot of credibility within the government.
By the second year, the villagers were calling us to say we have learned this from you and have implemented this and now we have this problem. Can we come to learn how to solve it? So now the community programmes are driven more by their needs. When somebody comes with a request, we look at the situation, we design a training for them and we send it to the authorities for approval because all these trainings are sponsored by the government.
In other words, we and the government have become facilitating agencies, linking an empowered rural community with the knowledge and skills that they need.

There are many components of sustainability, including sustainable construction, governance, economy. When you impart skills to the villages, are you trying to cover the whole range?
Yes. Our faculty consists of more than 42 Auroville units, including the Earth Institute, Sunlit Future, Village Action, Botanical Gardens, Pitchandikulam, and tailoring and food-processing units.
We have also been able to host as guest faculty thought leaders in their respective fields, from all over the state. When they come, they share this knowledge with government officials and community members. But obviously they also want to interact with Aurovilians, and this enables a cross-pollination of inspiration and ideas.

This is all very hopeful. But two big challenges that development schemes in India face are corruption and caste discrimination. How do you deal with this?
It cannot be denied that this state is probably one of the worst in respect of white-collar corruption: the rural people are exposed to a lot of corrupt practices by government officials and have to deal with it because they have no choice. However, while corruption is deeply embedded in the system, a government official has a choice to be a part of it or not.
One thing we do when officials come here is to create a space where they can honestly discuss all issues, including corruption. One participant said he resented the corruption when he joined his department fifteen years ago but he realised that he had succumbed to the system and he had become what he hated. When he left our programme, he said he realised he had a choice.
One thing that works well in getting them to reflect is we ask them to talk to a camera every day as if they were talking to themselves 20 years from now. We also ask them to write letters to themselves about the legacy they would like to leave behind.
These exercises are very powerful; for some of them it is the first time they have reflected upon themselves.
So we push them into situations that break down barriers. They do drumming circles, forest work, bodywork, clowning work and cycling. These are people who have not got out of their jeeps and cars in a long time; one of the things that we emphasise is that, “slowing down is the beginning of sustainability”.
Once, after a cycling session, a government official said, “Now that we are always travelling in jeeps and on motorbikes, we are completely isolated from the community which we are meant to be serving. What has become of us? The first thing I will do when I go back is buy a cycle for myself and start to cycle again.”

What about the influence of caste discrimination?
This is definitely an issue. For example, a government official, a community facilitator, came here for a training programme in food-processing. She was so impressed she went back to a Dalit community in her area and convinced some women to set-up a food processing enterprise.  However, they could not sell the products even in their own village because food from their community was not acceptable to other communities, castes, in the same village.
But that was not as as shocking as facing a similar response when they went to a government office to sell their products. This was humiliating for them.
We heard about this story when we went to that district for a follow-up visit. We went to the village and spoke to those women and you could see the anger and humiliation in their eyes as they described their experience of this caste-based discrimination. We told them we would ensure that the blockages would be removed and their products sold, but would they be willing first to attend a training programme with us to ensure that they make products of a quality that cannot be easily rejected in the market?
They agreed and received training. When they returned to their village, they were accompanied by two graduate students in rural development who were interning with us (we receive interns from six universities across India). The students market researched their products and presented their findings to the district authorities, who granted one lakh capital to set up the enterprise. The students then stayed on until the first cycle of production was completed and did test marketing.
The district authorities were very happy about the way we had handled this and they launched this project at a district level function.
So, through our continuous support (we continue to monitor this enterprise), we made the local problem of caste no longer economically relevant for the women because now they could sell their products elsewhere and so negotiate their space better.
But there is also a balancing act for us as facilitators of these interventions because while caste discrimination is terrible, caste is also an aspect of local identity and, as such, a means of preserving local values against the global economic onslaught on local identities.

The story demonstrates that caste discrimination is also prevalent in government officials. Can you address this when they come here or is it too sensitive?
It is very much prevalent but we cannot address it directly. What we do is we put them in a very different environment. They soon realise that this is a place where there is no caste discrimination, a place where they are given care and respect by people, like youth from the local villages, who are complete strangers. This affects even high-ranking government officials.
In the government bureaucracy there is this huge hierarchy, so if you come from a background where you are already socially discriminated against because of your caste and you are confronted by this huge government hierarchy, it only reinforces the sense of inequality. We break this sometimes without even realizing. Often, we have Joss taking officers for a morning walk in his community to show them the afforestation work. They are very impressed. But they are even more awestruck when he serves them tea afterwards, because in terms of their hierarchy, Joss would be many levels above them and he should not be “serving” them. This breaks down a conventional barrier and they begin to understand there are other ways of interacting, knowing and learning. Higher officials often complain about the lack of honest feedback, but the lower officials in the department are rote taught into practicing hierarchy out of deference. Hence, they do not share their experience honestly.

What happens when they go back to their usual work environment?
Both in local communities as well as in government, the younger ones, in particular, want to change things in their work environment, but they also express frustration at not being able to make a difference. But we tell them it is possible, you have a choice, you do not have to perpetuate this. We provide them with examples of alternatives, so they know they can challenge it, and they know that there are people here who will support them in challenging it. Often they call us and tell us they have challenged or changed something.
Each one of them is personally impacted. When we go to state government offices, people come and telling us how in their personal choices they have changed because of coming here. A very senior officer came for a programme and made his own farm organic. In one village we went to, an official took us to his house because he wanted to show us how he was composting his garbage now.
Radical change is possible in individuals but in systems like the government it cannot be radical; it has to be gentle, like a whiff of fresh air. I think we are slowly working towards building a critical mass of people in the system who talk a different language, who hold certain values as important. When ten of them sit in a room to discuss rural development and at least eight of them are using terms, values, processes, practices, they have learned here, that for me is serious impact.

So you are optimistic about the impact of SLI?
There is one village, Chinnarampatti, in Vellore district where almost 65 people have come to us for different types of training. If you go to that village, you see evidence of Auroville knowledge everywhere. There is a beautiful tree nursery created and managed by about 20 women that is supplying saplings to the Forestry Department where the plants come from Auroville nurseries. There is organic farming, a cattle camp using ethno-veterinary practices, women creating herbal cosmetics, while another group is thinking of setting up a food-processing unit. And all this happened because one man, the panchayat secretary, came here for a training, saw the value of what we were doing in Auroville and convinced his people.
For me, the most promising thing is that new initiatives are coming up all over the state based upon ideas of sustainability. One of our faculty mentioned that there are 400 dedicated organic food shops in Chennai alone. Organic farm-related shops and millet bakeries are appearing in all parts of Tamil Nadu, farmers are exchanging seeds etc. When SLI organized a seed exchange programme among local farmers, more than 600 farmers from the area visited us that day and more than 350 varieties of traditional seeds were showcased and exchanged.
At every level you see these changes happening and SLI is being seen more and more as a facilitator for such changes. There are five other government training institutes in rural development across this state and now many of the practices we use in SLI, like practitioners being trainers, have been adopted by them.
Recently, a hundred million dollar government programme was launched by the Tamil Nadu Rural Development Department. The government is recruiting 600 officials for this project from all over Tamil Nadu, and we have been asked to provide orientation and induction for all of these newly-recruited staff. This is a very significant recognition of our work.  In fact, this new government ‘rural transformation’ project and how Auroville ideas and practices of ‘’transformation’ are providing inputs into it is another interesting story in itself.
Another recognition is the number of civil society players who have heard about us and want to see what is going on here. Many of them have visited us and now there are requests to do programmes for NGOs as well. I am often asked to share our ideas with governments in other states as well. For example, a few months ago we met the Chief Minister’s team in Maharashtra and gave a presentation about SLI because they were considering doing something similar in Nagpur.
So even without broadcasting what we do and just concentrating on doing it well, people are starting to recognise us. In the larger rural development space we are still very small in terms of the numbers that we are able to process, but our impact is already quite large.

From an interview by Alan

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Dairy: Value Addition, Ethno-Veterinary & Clean Dairy Practices 12-14 February 2018

கால்நடை வேளாண்மை : பராமரிப்பு, பால் மதிப்புக்கூட்டல், மூலிகைவழி கால்நடை மருத்துவம்... 

கால்நடைகள் பராமரித்தல் மற்றும் மூலிகை வழி மருத்துவம்– என அறிமுக வகுப்போடு துவங்கிய சிறப்புவாய்ந்த இந்த பயிற்சியில்....

மாட்டு கொட்டகை அமைத்தல், மாடுகள் பராமரித்தல் மற்றும் தீவனம் தயாரித்தல் போன்ற வழக்கமான நடைமுறைகளை எவ்வாறு எளிய வழியில் கையாள்வது, செலவினங்களை கட்டுக்குள் கொண்டுவந்து வேலைப்பளுவை குறைப்பது உள்ளிட்ட முறைகளை அன்னபூர்ணா கால்நடை பண்ணையின் நேரடி பார்வை மற்றும் அங்குள்ள பயிற்றுநர்களின் ஆலோசனைகளை ஆர்வமாய் கேட்டு பயன்பெற்றனர். 

கால்நடைகளுக்கு மருத்துவம் செய்யும் முன் கால்நடைக்களுக்கு வரும் நோய்கள் மற்றும் அதன் அறிகுறிகள் பற்றிய ஓர் விரிவான அலசலோடு விவாதிக்கப்பட்டு, பயிற்றுநர்கள் வாயிலாக தெரிவிக்க பட்டது. அதோடுகூடிய மருத்துவ மூலிகைகள் அறிமுகம் மற்றும் கொடுக்கும் முறை, அளவு, பயன்பாடு போன்ற தகவலும் செவ்வனே வழங்கப்பட்டது. 

நேரடி பயிற்சியோடு கூடிய மூலிகை மருந்துகள் தயாரிப்பு கூடத்தில் பங்கேற்பாளர்களின் கைப்பட பாரம்பரிய முறையில் (அம்மி, உரல் என) மூலிகை மருந்துகள் தயாரித்தல் மற்றும் கால்நடைகளுக்கு நோய் எதிர்ப்பு சக்தியை அளிக்ககூடிய மசாலா உருண்டயை நடுக்குப்பம் பெண்கள் மையம் & அமிர்தா குழுவோடு இணைத்து கற்றுதெரிந்தனர். 

அதனை, மாடுகளுக்கான மருத்துவ முகாமில் மசால் உருண்டை, மத்தன் தைலம் போன்றவைகளை மாடுகளுக்கும் கொடுத்து மருத்துவ சேவை செய்தனர். 

பின்பு, கால்நடை தீவனம் அசோலா தயாரிப்பு மற்றும் பயன்பாடு பற்றியும், பால் மதிப்பு கூட்டு பொருட்கள் தயாரித்தல், பால் பொருட்கள் விற்பனை சாத்தியங்கள் & தொழில் திட்டமிடல் குறித்த செய்முறை பயிற்சியோடு விளக்கங்களை பெற்றதோடு ஒவ்வொருவரும் மகிழ்ச்சியோடு.. கருத்துக்களை பரிமாறிகொண்டனர். 

பயிற்றுநர்கள் : திரு. பாலா மற்றும் திருமதி. செல்வி, சேவா, மதுரை, திரு. தாமஸ், அமிர்தா குழு, திரு. லூர்து, Sun Farm குழு மற்றும் திரு. பார்த்தசாரதி 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

TNRTP - The World Bank Programme

'Transformation' is a persistent keyword at SLI. Over the past year, we have been ruminating on our own experience of the past years on impacting rural communities and asking ourselves some larger questions: What does 'transformation' mean and entail? Transformation of what, by whom and how? How is the word used in the context of 'rural' and 'development'? How does it correspond to Sri Aurobindo's 'Integral Yoga' in the context of individual and collective spiritual progress? How exactly do the several funded development projects across Asia, which have the word 'tranformation' in their title, define the term, its relevance and go about it? As we were getting busy planning to host a pan-Asia conference inviting these project holders to share lessons around this last question, SLI was invited to be part of the 'Tamil Nadu Rural Transformation Project' (TNRTP) by the Tamilnadu Government, Department of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj.
TNRTP is a six-year long pan-Tamil Nadu project covering all its 32 districts and funded by the World Bank. It approaches 'transformation' through the strengthening of the rural economy by focusing on innovative and sustainable enterprises. SLI has been approached to train, orient and offer continued support for all the staff recruited for this project both from the central office as well as from all the districts over the next six years. To get an idea about the scale of the project, SLI will be
* orienting and training 600 staff from all the districts of TN, and
* these will be in turn mentoring 3,25,000 members (from 6000 producer groups with an average of 50 members each + 1000 enterprise groups with an average of 25 members each) and 6,000 individual entrepreneurs.
The training itself has been designed to comprise three focus areas, along with the fourth one (on project implementation procedures and technicalities) to be undertaken by the officials from the Government.
Photos from
Curriculum Design Workshop for TNRTP – 2nd January 2018

1. Reflection & Unlearning: At the heart of any transformation lie self-reflection, healing, unlearning old belief-systems, ways and processes, and new ways of embodied learning. This is especially critical for people entrenched in certain conditioned and mechanistic ways of thinking and operating within the Government system, who invariably take on and often forced to carry a very poor self-image of themselves as individuals and of the institution they are a part of. A significant shift from this to a positive self-image is extremely critical to open the space for the New.
2. Aspiring & Re-imagining: Any meaningful transformative process needs to be a subjective one at its core. It needs to be an inside-out process, where individuals are inspired from within to come together to create the New. It is only when individuals identify and connect to their personal transformative and creative aspirations and potentials, and in turn align them with the aspirations and the potentials of the collective effort, they will be and offer the best of themselves. From an inner source of inspiration and strength, they become better able to to listen to the call of, to re-imagine, and to enable the birth of the New.
Our engagement (training) has been designed to have a strong focus on all these.
3. Enterprise Immersion: Poverty eradication is not about creating lone-standing jobs and enterprises. It is enmeshed with cultural, ecological, social, political structures and processes, which then need to simultaneously be acknowledged, respected, studied, understood and worked with. SLI has identified about 35  green-enterprise ecosystems in Auroville and across Tamil Nadu and also a few in neighbouring states. The trainees will be sent for a whole week to immerse in these contexts to learn about the contextual eco-system approach to developing sustainable enterprises.
Continuous Learning
Long-lasting transformation is not something that can be brought about with the euphoria generated from a single exposure to new initiatives and a one-time training. The seeds sown at the first long engagement (orientation program) need to be continually nurtured. Special online applications are being developed to enable the trainees to stay in touch with SLI  and with each other, share their insights and incremental successes as they walk along. We, from SLI, also hope to be able to use this platform to keep them updated about our learnings from across different regions of the state. Periodic reviews and repeat-programs will be organised for the trainees at SLI. Periodic visits to the villages to research and document the initiatives on the ground will be an important aspect of the work of our staff. We are also designing a mentorship program, where our resource persons, also practitioners on the field, will be available on a continued basis to mentor the trainees over the six years of the project. Building and strengthening relationships will be at the core of our work.
What better place to host this important work of rural transformative, than the enterprise centered ecosystem of Auroville, which believes in 'unending education' and abounds with sustainable initiatives and inspiring individuals! The project is expected to be kick-started in later part of April 2018 and a mock-training of the state government officials who overseeing the project will be done earlier. Over the next one year, if you see small groups of curious Tamil onlookers cycling and walking through  farms, forests and enterprises of Auroville, they are most-likely to be TNRTP trainees at SLI. We look forward to the enthusiastic support and participation of many Auroville Units in helping sow the seeds and nurture them into young saplings all the way upto growing them into young trees capable of self-care, much like the early years of Auroville where the sole mission was to recreate the forest that we now live amidst. Our dream at SLI is take that inspiration forward and create another kind of self-seeing, self-regenerative forest of committed human resources, which this land and community can be proud of.

by Sangeetha Sriram

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Advanced Nursery Techniques (7-9 February 2018)

நாற்றங்கால் வளர்ப்பு மற்றும் அதன் தொழில்நுட்பங்கள் 

நாற்றங்கள் பற்றிய மேலோட்டமான புரிதல் பல்வேறு தரப்பினர்களுக்கும் இருந்தாலும் கூட அவர்களுக்கும் இப்பயிற்சி குறித்த எதிர்பார்ப்புகள் மற்றும் தேவைகளை கண்டறிதல் தொடங்கி... 

விதை சேகரிப்பு, ஒட்டு, எரு கலவை பராமரித்தல், முளைகட்டுதல், நாற்றங்கால் பராமரிப்பு என நேரடி களத்தில் அவர்களின் கைப்பட செயல்முறையோடு பயிற்றுவிக்கப்பட்டது 

மேலும், மிகப்பெரிய வளர்ச்சியும், விழிப்புணர்வும் கண்டுவரும் வீட்டுத்தோட்டம் மற்றும் மாடித்தோட்டத்தோடு கூடிய மூலிகை தோட்டம் அமைத்தல் குறித்த வடிமைப்போடு கூடிய முற்றிலும் மேம்பட்ட திறன்மிகு பட்டறை பயிற்சியும், 

நாற்றங்கால் வளர்ப்பு மற்றும் ஒட்டுகட்டுதல் முறைகளை, இருவேறு நாற்றங்கால் பண்ணையின் பயிற்றுனர்கள் வாயிலாக பங்கேற்பாளர்கள் கற்றுதெரிந்தனர், விதை நேர்த்தி மற்றும் நாற்றங்கால் உருவாக்குதல் மற்றும் பராமரிப்பு போன்ற தொழில் வாய்ப்புகளும் தொழில் திட்டமிடல் யுக்திகளும் பயிற்றுவித்ததோடு அவர்களின் கருத்துக்களும் பகிரப்பட்டது. 

பயிற்றுநர்கள் : பிச்சாண்டிகுளம் குழு, திரு.கேசவன், திரு.பார்த்தசாரதி & திரு.சத்யராஜ்,  திரு. முத்துக்குமார், Dr.லோகநாதன், திரு.ராஜகணேஷ்

Health Food and Food Processing (6-8 February 2018)

ஆரோக்கிய உணவு மற்றும் உணவு பொருட்கள் தயாரிப்பு

மாறும் வாழ்க்கைமுறை மற்றும் உணவு முறையினால் சமுகம் மற்றும் மனித உடலுக்கு ஏற்படும் தாக்கம் குறித்த நாம் தடம் மாறிய உணவு முறை குறித்த முதற்கட்ட விழிப்புணர்வோடு தொடங்கிய இப்பயிற்சியில், 

KOFPU, Energy home ஆகிய உணவு பொருள் உற்பத்தி/ விற்பனை அங்காடிகளை பார்வைஇட்டதோடு தொழில் செய்யலாம் என்ற நம்பிக்கை ஊட்டும்... 

மூலிகை சார்ந்த உணவுப்பொருட்கள் அறிமுகம், மூலிகை சார்ந்த உணவு பொருட்கள் பல்வேறு தரம், மணம், வகைகள் என தயாரிப்பில் நேர்த்தி காணும் வழிகளையும் செய்முறைகள் குறித்த நேரடி விளக்கமும் அளிக்கப்பட்டது. 

மேலும், விலையிடல் மற்றும் செலவு வேலை, சிறுதானிய உணவு உற்பத்தி என உற்பத்தியையும் தாண்டிய தொழில் திட்டமிடுதல் என பல்வேறு தகவல்கள் இப்பயிற்சியில் இடம்பெற்றது. 

பயிற்றுநர்கள் : Dr. விஜியலட்சுமி, செல்வி. ஆனந்தி மற்றும் குழுவினர், திருமதி. பார்வதி, மீரா குழு, திரு. பார்த்தசாரதி மற்றும் திரு. ஹெர்பர்ட்.