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The Staff behind the Story: Power of grassroots staff in achieving India’s development goals

This article was originally featured as a journal under the study, "Livelihoods research: Translating research into policy and practice" by IFMR LEAD. The article has been authored by Deepti Kc.

Today,both government and non-government bodies are adopting a Community Driven Development (CDD) model, which operates on the principle that the poor can effectively identify their needs; thus, when provided with adequate information, appropriate capacity and financial support, they can address problems by partnering with local governments and other supportive agencies. Such a model also promotes the services of Resource Persons who provide technical assistance to the beneficiaries. One such project that follows this model is the Bihar Rural Livelihood Project (BRLP), conducted by IFMR LEAD. 

One of BRLP’s livelihoods interventions is farm intervention in which it offers low-cost scientifically proven farming techniques that enhance the productivity of crops. Village Resource Persons (VRPs) are responsible for providing technical assistance to the farmers directly. We randomly surveyed 179 farmers that had adopted the technique at least once in the past four years. Amongst these farmers, 48% had already stopped applying the technique at the time of the survey, or had not re-applied after trying once. Not all farmers were visited by VRPs at the time when they adopted the farm technique. Interestingly, amongst those that were visited by VRPs, 58% re-applied or continued with the service, compared to 31% that were not visited. Our statistically significant result (p<0.01) showed that a participant who is guided by the grassroots staff is three times more likely to continue the service compared to the one not visited.

Additionally, VRPs’ visits also played a major role on farmers’ knowledge about farm techniques. We tested farmers’ knowledge about some innovative farm techniques such as System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Zero Budget natural farming (ZBNF). We created a ‘knowledge index’ and categorized farmers into two groups - “low” and “high”. 56% had low knowledge, and 43% high knowledge. Amongst those who were never visited by VRPs, 67% had ‘low knowledge’; and amongst those visited, 74% had ‘high knowledge’. Data indicates that farmers that were monitored by VRPs reported the increase in the productivity of crops. For example, 76% of farmers that were visited by VRPs reported the increase in yield, compared to 44% that were not visited.

We further interviewed 31 VRPs who were working in the same villages as these farmers, and tested their knowledge about innovative farm techniques. We found that knowledgeable VRPs were successful in engaging more farmers in the intervention.

In conclusion, for any development programs to be successful, implementing agencies must invest on enhancing the quality of the Resource Persons by providing more robust trainings and timely remuneration. In addition, such grassroots staff should not be incentivized solely on the number of clients they are serving as this might lead to them taking up too many clients at the same time, without actually having the competency to provide essential continuity or regularity in their follow-up activities with the existing participants.

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