Natural Resources & Livlihood

The vast majority of people living in the communities where MSS works rely on subsistence agriculture to survive. As such, natural resources are vital to ensure their ongoing existence. However, these resources are rapidly depleting, placing great strain on communities and resulting in ever-greater demand for those natural resources that remain. MSS works to rebuild these resources, both on private and on common lands. Through a combination of soil and water conservation, plantation, and raising awareness of new farming techniques and seeds, MSS has helped to ensure that these communities have the resources that they need to survive and to improve their livelihoods.

Soil and Water Conservation

In an effort to reverse the impact of land degradation and improve the availability of water, extensive soil and water conservation measures are carried out in the working area. These include:

  • Gully Plugs: Fast runoff rates through the rolling hills in MSS’s working area means that erosion is common and often destructive. As runoff digs through the topsoil, gullies form and fertile soil washes away. In order to curtail these losses, MSS blocks the flow of these gullies with stones and earthen matter.
  • Contour Trenches: By digging trenches into the hills above farmland, it is possible to reduce the velocity of runoff from the hills and ensure that more precipitation enters the water table.
  • Check Dams, Gabions and Anicuts: By building small stone walls called check dams across streams that carry rainwater from the hills into the valleys, it is possible to increase the rate of groundwater absorption and stop the flow of fertile materials away from agricultural lands. Moreover, the soil behind check dams is rich in minerals gathered by the stream, creating good quality fertiliser. In faster flowing areas, check dams are reinforced with steel mesh, creating gabions. At the base of streams, permanent masonry structures called anicuts are built as the final barrier to runoff. These structures are strong enough to hold back large bodies of water, greatly increasing the availability of surface and groundwater.
  • Field Bunding: Field bunds are earthen barriers built around agricultural lands to arrest the loss of fertile soil and rainwater through runoff. The bunds are made out of locally available soil and stones, keeping the cost low and maintaining soil fertility over the years. This enhanced moisture retention has been shown to increase maize yields by up to 30 percent and enables many families to grow crops in the dry season too.
  • Terracing: Similar to field bunds, terraces are built on sloping land in order to reduce water runoff. Normally several layers of terraces are built, with a field being located between each layer. MSS mainly implements Puertorican terracing, where a barrier is slowly built up over a few years by excavating soil and pushing it downhill against a mechanical or vegetative barrier, and stone wall terracing.

Dharam Bagichi

Dharam Bagichis are biodiversity parks that contain a combination of fruit, fodder and medicinal plants. The inner space has fruit and medicinal plants, with fodder plants placed along the fencing. The objectives of the park are to connect the community with vegetation, develop the biodiversity of each village and fulfill the basic medicinal requirements of the community. So far, MSS has developed 9 Dharam Bagichis.

Tree Plantation

The semi-arid climate of Southern Rajasthan, combined with pressures on land use has meant that village people are more dependent than ever on depleting local natural resources and protected forestland. In order to combat this, MSS has worked to increase the local stock of trees, fruits and medicinal plants.

One of the main methods utilised by MSS has been the plantation of wadis (small orchards). Wadis refer to a farming system in which two or more types of fruit trees suitable to the local environment are planted in a small area. Irrigated wadis are established in areas where irrigation facilities are available, whether it’s by a natural source, well or Lift Irrigation System. In MSS’s irrigated wadis, a combination of Mango and Lemon trees are planted, with each wadi having 10 of each tree type.

Families in MSS’s project villages often also have private uncultivable land known as beed. This land is usually not used for a productive purpose, with families normally only using it to extract some grass as fodder following monsoon. The dryland wadi concept has been implemented on beed land in order to make it more productive. A combination of Custard Apple and Ber trees are planted in dryland wadis.

The boundaries of farmers’ fields are often not demarcated, and when they are it is through rocks, non-marketable plants or trenches. MSS works to make these field boundaries productive through planting trees and plants such as bamboo, ber, havan, mahua, jamun, subabool, palasha, salar, neem, drumstick tree and velvet bean. These plants can be used for food for humans and livestock along with various other uses. They also help to improve the fertility of soil on beed land.

Case Study – Irrigated Wadi

Lift Irrigation

Southern Rajasthan’s arid terrain means that agricultural land often receives very little natural irrigation. Furthermore, the hilly landscapes mean that gravity-powered irrigation systems are unable to reach much of the land. Lift Irrigation Systems work to solve this problem by pumping water uphill to several different distribution chambers, from which the water flows to neighbouring fields. MSS pays for the construction of the Lift, while beneficiaries pay for the running cost and maintenance. Each Lift benefits approximately 20 households and results in farmers being able to utilise previously barren land for agricultural purposes, and grow more valuable crops on land where they were originally growing low value crops such as chickpea. A ‘Lift Committee’ made up of beneficiaries manages each lift, and their role includes managing the order that beneficiaries can access the lift, the collection of payments and the undertaking of any necessary repair work.

Animal Husbandry

Animal husbandry is an important livelihood source for tribal communities. In order to ensure that animals are protected against common diseases, MSS organises vaccination camps. These cover diseases such as Black Quarter and Haemorrhagic Septicaemia, along with deworming. Training programmes are also organised to provide farmers with a scientific understanding of animal husbandry and dairy techniques. Exposure visits have also been organised for farmers to show them examples of alternative practices. This work has provided community members with a better understanding of how to care for their animals and successfully breed them.


MSS organises a range of agricultural demonstrations using improved varieties of crops such as wheat. These demonstrations normally involve planting half the field with a local variety of crop and half the field with an improved variety of the same crop. These crops are then irrigated and tended identically, and at harvest time the two crops are measured and compared.

Similarly, MSS has been involved in providing training to farmers on ginger cultivation, usually seen as a ‘high risk, high return’ activity. Training was provided in selection of cultivation area, seed selection, ploughing, sowing, soil and water sample collection and testing, irrigation and use of fertilisers. MSS also provides input supplies, technical and advisory support and market linkages to farmers.

Finally, MSS has been involved in the implementation of vermicompost units. Farmers fill these units with their organic waste such as manure, dried leaves and any other biodegradable byproduct generated during normal farm activity. Each tank contains 5kg of earthworms that digest the waste and excrete nutrient-rich ‘castings’, which are then spread on the farmers’ fields. The nutrient content of vermicomposting can be up to six times that of regular composting.

Case Study – Wheat Demonstration

Awareness Raising and Capacity Building

Most villagers have traditionally thought that tree plantation couldn’t be adopted for livelihoods as trees are a gift from nature. In order to change this perspective, MSS has organised a large number of awareness generation programmes in project villages. Tree matrix documents are often used in these trainings, requiring villagers to list all the types of trees in their village along with their uses in medicine, fodder, soil conservation, shade, gum, timber and food. This helps local communities to understand just how valuable these trees are and how beneficial it would be to plant more.

Dalmia Pani Paryavaran Puruskar Award

In December 2012, the Honourable Governor of Rajasthan, Smt. Margaret Alva, awarded MSS with the ‘Dalmia Pani Paryavaran Puruskar’ for Mewar Division for the organisation’s dedication and efforts in the field of water and environmental conservation.