Mahan Seva Sansthan (MSS)
The Aravalli Range in Rajasthan is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. At its foot is the Wakal River Basin. This forested area is more than 70% inhabited by tribal communities and home to the development charity Mahan Seva Sansthan (MSS) since 1989.
Traditionally living off the forests, Wakal River Basin communities supplement hunter gatherer traditions with agriculture. But with erratic rainfall, they often experience crop failure. With limited access to Basin water, polluted open wells and defunct hand pumps, lives hang in the balance.
Rajendra Gamath and Lalit Joshi initially formed MSS to improve education but realised they must address wider issues such as health, livelihoods and water security to achieve this – a family struggling to find enough water or food has no time for education.
In 2006, the Basin was hit with a harsh drought but with WaterHarvest’s support, MSS provided food, fodder, fuel and water to over 100 of the worst affected families. Later that same year, the Basin experienced devastating floods and again turned to WaterHarvest to reach 1,500 families.
Two years later when WaterHarvest sought a project partner in the Basin, MSS was the obvious choice because of their strong bond with communities and shared vision. Together, they installed lifts that transported water from the Basin up to 10 villages on higher ground and with training, over 1000 families could practice irrigation farming.
By 2012, tribal families could no longer rely on food (for eating and trading) from the shrinking forests making way for expanding populations. MSS and WaterHarvest wanted communities to have the means to grow their own produce including Custard Apple (sweet fruit) and Mahua (berries to eat, oil for cooking, bark for curing illness). The three-year project provided saplings, nurseries, ‘Wadi’s (Gujurati name for orchard), nitrogen-improving hedgerows and even fruit-processing training for women, benefitting 500 families.
Today, WaterHarvest two projects with MSS that will continue into 2018.
One ambitious project (which contributes to the nationwide ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ or ‘Clean India Mission’) aims to improve the water sanitation and hygiene (WASH) of more than 5000 people across 22 villages. By challenging traditional cultural practices of open defecation, promoting toilet use and teaching better hygiene practices, the overall health of communities will improve immeasurably. At a school level, a ‘Bal Panchayat’ (student council) was formed of 35 children to decide and deliver on activities that will teach other children about WASH.
The latest project, featured in our ‘Every Drop Counts’ appeal, is set to provide initially 50 farming families with drip irrigation systems. Moving from the traditional flood irrigation method, it uses half the water while crop strength and yield increases. Then having analysed which vegetables sell best, the project trains farmers so as a cooperative, they can sell their produce for the best price at market. To enable more families to benefit, as the first 50 earn an income, they feed a small proportion back into a ‘revolving fund’, which will invest in more systems.
Even though the partnership has achieved so much, MSS co-founder, Rajendra Gamath recognises there is always more to do and more to learn, maintaining that “education is the key”.