Environmental benefits accrued by MGNREGA

A recent study in SPWD’s project location in south Rajasthan looks at the environmental benefits accrued by MGNREGA works. MGNREGA, one of the world’s largest acts for employment generation also facilitates generation of sustainable assets for the environment. SPWD’s work in the study area focuses on the environment benefits of MGNREGA and was initiated to improve the natural resource base in the rural areas by promoting conservation, replenishment and sustainable use as a part of the employment guarantee programme.

While many studies have tried to qualify and quantify the environmental benefits according to various assessment methodologies, the present study done by Mary Eliza of TERI University develops indicators based on the resource type and the related MGNREGA works relevant to these resources. It uses a conceptual framework developed by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Leopold Environmental Matrix which allows for a comparison in the environmental benefits accrued due to implementation of MGNREGA.

The study tries to enlist the environmental services linked with MGNREGA and defines as well as measures the parameters needed to assess them. It uses a perception assessment to quantify the basic factors of water availability, fodder availability and fuelwood availability amongst the respondents apart from groundwater levels, soil erosion, surface runoff etc. It further uses an environmental matrix based result to study the level of interaction between the MGNREGA works and the indicators affected by these works. The indicators developed can be used for regional level assessment of the ecosystem benefits accrued by any environmental works.

There are many objectives of MGNREGA related to livelihood and asset creation like eradicating vulnerability through providing employment opportunities, ensuring livelihood security to rural and poor households by creation of durable assets, improved water security, soil conservation and higher land productivity, strengthening drought-proofing and flood management. In the study districts of Chittorgarh and Bhilwara there has been considerable amount of work on the asset creation related to natural resources. The works have been done majorly in the area of farming activities and hence, contribute to majorly increase in agriculture related productivity (both crop and livestock).

Chittorgarh lies in the south-eastern part of Rajasthan and is partly hilly and partly plain regime. Agricultural related activities are the main occupation of people in this region and in recent years the productivity has increased due to presence of water for irrigation throughout the year, introduction of cropping pattern by farmers and improvement in the soil conditions. Bhilwara distict also, lies nearby and has gentle slopes except for the northwestern part, which has a high slope. Bhilwara is a tribal district which has migration as the dominant form of livelihoods. Agriculture and livestock contribute as a source of income but less than daily wage work and migration. The selection of the villages for the detailed study was done on the basis of command, non-command and partially command area, full or partial level of MGNREGA works.

The environmental indicators were defined for assessing the MGNREGA works in terms of the interaction between the magnitude i.e. the intensity of the works done in the district and the importance of the works in relation to the geography and the requirement of specific MGNREGA works in the area. The matrix showed that the highest impact was from works related to water.

During the focus group discussions, women said that agriculture yields are poor owing to drought, rain and cold winter spells. The crops are also eaten up by bluebulls and to protect these, they have to guard the fields in extreme winters. This shows that although the crop yield has increased, the change in the overall balance of the ecosystem has had a major differential impact on women farmers. This change in the species number can be used as an important indicator to assess the impacts of increase in crop production as well as vegetation if any.

Also, the development of irrigation infrastructure like anicuts, check dams have led to an increase in the water availability but the access to this resource is still a major problem, especially in the non-command areas. The non-command areas may have full MGNREGA implementation, however, the access to the resources to be provided by these works still need to be addressed.

The results in terms of the household survey data clearly show that while MGNREGA works have been done in the villages, the environmental benefits associated have not been visible till now. There has been an increase in terms of fodder availability, plant products, groundwater table, water storage capacity of wells, lessening of soil erosion and surface runoff but to a lower extent. Moreover, the increase is directly linked to the availability of water (i.e. command area) as well as the presence of water resource or the frequency of MGNREGA works in the village.

The impact assessment done using the environmental matrix shows similar results. While the land, forest, crop production and vegetation resources related MGNREGA works have a very low to low impact on the environmental indicators used for the assessment, the water related works do have a low to medium as well as high positive impact on these indicators. This shows that the recent involvement of NRM related works in the policy would indeed accrue some environmental benefits. The MGNREGA works are accounting for a positive impact on the environment as shown in terms of environmental indicators used in the environmental matrix assessment. Even though this is low, after some years it would account for a high impact level.

The study suggests that MGNREGA works assessment with the help of various laboratory equipment to measure the soil moisture, organic carbon, type of soil on individual fields of farmer etc., and GIS based tools to assess the change in forest cover, composition of tree species in the forest as well as in the district after MGNREGA implementation can be an important step to look at the environmental benefits accrued.

Study author: Mary Eliza

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