Though rapid depletion of natural resources is a global phenomenon, it is becoming
a paramount threat for developing nation like India , where 64% of its population
directly dependent on land and water resources for livelihood. Since independence,
large scale investments have been made in the agricultural sector with an emphasis
on sustainable natural resource management (NRM) and equitable distribution of benefits
to all stakeholders. But it has not yielded results of desired quantum and quality.
Government development programmes have been predominantly top-down, technocratic,
and with a blue-print approach. Further, they have been based on generalisations
and broad perceptions with scant regard for ground realities. The process of planning
and implementation has ignored the role of the greatest stakeholder, the users.
During the decades of eighties and nineties, the non-governmental organizations
(NGOs) demonstrated the importance and advantages of a participatory process that
enabled the primary stakeholders to play a decisive role in developing and managing
the resources that are of vital importance for them. Subsequently, government guidelines
for major programmes in natural resource development such as the Ministry of Rural
Development (MoRD) watershade programme & Ministry of Agriculture (WARASA) watershade
programme, Participatory Irrigation Management Programme (PIM) and, Joint Forest
Management Programme (JFM) emphasized the need for participation of stakeholders
and provided central role and resources for them. This transition from the top-down
approach to the participatory approach is nothing short of paradigm shift. The experience
during the first half of 1990s indicated that this transition is difficult and requires
an enabling environment including capacity building of key players and agencies
in the rural development sector.
It is in this backdrop that Development Support Center (DSC) took shape. It is a
response to an express demand and perceived need for capacity building support from
various NGOs. It represents a collective experience from well known NGOs in India
such as Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (I), Sadguru Water and Development Foundation
(SWDF) and Utthan-Ahmedabad.
DSC began its services in 1994 as a support organization in the field of natural
resource management. It provided various capacity enhancing services to the NGOs,
Government agencies and other stake holders at grass root level. Over a period,
the strategy of support services has been redefined.
The performance of DSC has underscored the need for and importance of a support
organization in enhancing the quality of natural resource management programs and
providing regular constructive feedback to the policy makers and implementing agencies.
The NGOs, the funding agencies and the government have recognized DSC as an agency
that provides valuable inputs towards capacity building and policy improvements
including procedure development in the field of participatory natural resource management.
During the initial decade, valuable lessons have been learnt on the intricacies
of transforming a top-down development process into a bottom-up participatory process.
Many of the lessons have been converted into policy reforms and improvements in
operational aspects of watershed development, participatory irrigation management
and joint forest management programs.
Another lesson, perhaps of equal importance, has been the growing importance of
learning mechanisms for support agencies such as DSC. It is evident from results
of DSC's research and policy advocacy work so far that innovations and improvements
that are based on sound information assimilation and analysis appeal better and
are a help in implementation. This underscores the need and importance of building
on experience and creative improvisation of ideas based on the knowledge gained
through field interventions and research studies in partnership with various implementing
agencies, government and funding agencies.
This positive experience and the potential for DSC to play a more intensive as well
as extensive role as a resource center has encouraged DSC to strengthen the organization
as a knowledge-based institution. Thus, while continuing to provide the support
services, DSC started working to consolidate the gains in the field of capacity
building, research and policy advocacy work.