Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development (SPWD), a national NGO has been playing a catalytic role in reversing the process of degradation of land and other related natural resources in partnership with grassroots NGOs and the community institutions. SPWD’s mission is “to prevent, arrest and reverse degradation of life support systems, particularly land and water, so as to expand livelihood opportunities in a sustainable and equitable manner through people’s participation”. SPWD’s focus is on obtaining knowledge from the grassroots level and influencing the larger systems, policies and programmes of the government as well as other concerned agencies.
SPWD’s origins in 1982 can be traced to the need to do something about land degradation, which was assuming alarming proportions by the late 70s and early 80s. The understanding was that degraded lands could be reclaimed and put to more productive use. With a livelihood focus to natural resource management, SPWD focused on identification of needs of the local communities on one hand, documentation of technologies in the field and development of appropriate institutional mechanisms to deal with the concrete issues emerging on the ground. SPWD drew its early lessons and inspiration from the Sukhomajiri, Haryana and Jawaja, Rajasthan projects which demonstrated models of equitable sharing of additional resources generated by participatory natural resource conservation action.
In the beginning, SPWD’s efforts were concentrated on initiating new action projects; commissioning of selective research studies through universities; and raising of social awareness on the existence of wastelands and the opportunities available for their rapid restoration. The foremost challenge was of defining what constitutes wastelands and the study “Estimate of Wastelands in India” was the first step in developing a terminology broadly identifying, classifying and locating different types of wastelands. This helped in prioritizing problem areas and developing programmes appropriate to different locations and problem type.
Water, land, forests, pastureland and livestock development have been the central point for an understanding of different types of ecological systems and their relationship with livelihoods. The diversity of initiatives spawned has led SPWD to develop its understanding on issues relating to ecology and livelihoods on the one hand and a concrete study of governance structures appropriate for multi layered, multi nested natural resources on the other.
SPWD has worked in collaborative projects with over hundred local voluntary agencies, across 17 States in 11 agro-climatic zones of India mainly through socio-technical interventions. SPWD’s work can be broadly categorised into four themes, with many sub-themes and cross-cutting aspects such as gender, environment benefits and climate change. The themes are (a) Forest management and governance (b) Sustainable agriculture (c) Watershed development, tank rejuvenation and water governance, and (d) Land use management.