A nationwide lockdown involving 1.3 billion people for over 3 months is an unprecedented situation that can come with its own enormous challenges. While the Coronavirus has a tremendous human cost attached to it, the lockdown as a precautionary measure has its own economical consequences. It has imposed some serious concerns and problems around not just people’s health but also their livelihood.
The 7th edition of Reality Check, hosted by Sneha Philip from India Development Review, shed some light on the impact of the pandemic on the livelihood of various rural communities including artisans, people involved with agro-tourism and street vendors. The webinar brought to the forefront voices of 3 brave individuals who are relentlessly working on the ground, to solve the livelihood challenges of these communities.
Priyadarshini Hota, a member of the Development Agency for Poor and Tribal Awakening (DAPTA), a community-based organisation in Orissa. Among many things, Priyadarshini and her team work on securing the livelihoods of the marginalised communities in Kalahandi, Orissa. As a part of their Covid response, they have been distributing dry ration and other relief items and working with migrants who are returning home to their villages from other parts of the country.
Rothell Khongsit is a part of the Indigenous Agro-Tourism Cooperative Society Ltd. in Kongthong, Meghalaya. Through this community-based agro-tourism model, Rothell and his team have managed to provide livelihood opportunities to 30 people in Kongthong.
Vikram Singh is an artisan promoter, associated with the Gramin Vikas Evam Chetana Sansthan in Barmer, Rajasthan. It’s a part of his mission to secure and promote livelihoods of the local artisans who live in the remote areas of Western Rajasthan.
Coronavirus has forced small artisans to find other jobs
Before the Coronavirus pandemic, there was a whole commercial ecosystem around the handicrafts businesses in Rajasthan. The material would be brought in from South India, the artisans would embroider and paint on the cloth and then the finished cloth would be shipped off to different markets in the cities. Due to the lockdown, transportation of raw material as well as finished cloth has been affected. The number of buyers has drastically gone down. Therefore, the artisans have had to join the various Government employment schemes and have been forced to work on construction sites. Vikram Singh brought to light these unfortunate circumstances that have forced skilled hands to pick up hoes and axes. He also says that the revival of this small-scale industry seems like a humongous, long effort that nobody is ready to talk about yet.
Priyadarshini Hota says there are about 50,000 people who have registered in Kalahandi, Orissa as reverse migrants. The region has been grappling issues like infant mortality, unemployment and now reverse migration. Out of the reverse migrants, she and her team have been assisting 2000 people with food, essentials and rehabilitation by enrolling them in Government employment schemes. They have also been mapping and working on skill-development of reverse migrants. They’re providing skill-training and upskilling girls and women like pickle and mask-making so that they can find livelihood opportunities.
Tourism comes to a stand-still; food security a priority
Rothell Khongsit says that the lockdown has put a stop to people’s livelihood altogether since they’re completely dependent on tourism. So far, they have secured the food and ration of 250 families for the last two months through donations. But more importantly, this has disclosed the importance of food security. For this, Rothell plans to spread awareness around the importance of food crops that will secure people’s foods in contingency situations like this. As versus now, where the community only grows cash crops for commercial purposes.
Turning to e-commerce for revival
A major challenge before Vikram Singh and the artisans in Rajasthan, is how to maintain the value of their products even after lockdown. The value that they had built over the years. Now the fear is, they will have to sell their products at a much cheaper rate which will be a big blow to their livelihoods. To tackle this, Vikram Singh and his organization have diverted their attention from physical markets to e-commerce. They will try to create newer markets for their products and retain the value of their products.
He also mentions how as a part of this effort, they’re trying to empower artisans in basic digital education so they can also promote and sell their products, and do not have to be dependent on any third party.
Hope even in desperate times
Rothell Khongsit admits that even though current times are dire, he values the time that the community has got to pause and plan in this lockdown. They are using this time to plan their future as an agro-tourism community and improve and renovate their infrastructure. He believes that right now is the time to plan, before the lockdown opens and it will be time for execution again.
Priyadarshini Hota says a positive outcome of this lockdown is that her organization has been able to reach many more people living remotely, limited in this lockdown and find out their needs and requirements. Because of this, a lot of people especially women got introduced to skilling and the many livelihood benefits of learning skills that will enable them to earn from their remote homes.
Based on the Panel discussion on Mantra4Change’s Reality Check Webinar series