Networking for Combating Desertification – Experiences from Tamil Nadu

G Ravikumar

RIOD (Reseau International Dong sur la Desertification) is a Global network of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs ) and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) working towards the combat of Desertification.  It was established in 1994 with the mandate of  influencing the successful implementation of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD). The emphasis is to  to ensure  the stake holders and Civil society participation in the struggle against Desertification.

RIODs chapter in Tamil nadu is  being promoted by the ROOTS Network. ROOTS is a network of 50 Rural NGOs with activities aimed at the development of the Rural Agricultural Ecosystem – through community education, technical facilitation, information exchange and promotion  of  indigenous knowledge and practices among the small and marginal farmers of the state.

In 1996, the ROOTS network organized a consultation on }Environment and Drought Management},  to explore possible ways to mitigate the effects of Drought on the Agricultural production system in the Dry land regions of the state.  The outcomes of this  consultation (Table 1) clearly indicated that the problems of Dryland Agriculture in Tamil nadu are direct causes of the Degradation of  natural and  the human resources of the area.

Thus the network initiated the efforts of combating  Desertification by community organisations. ROOTS has become a natural ally to RIOD when it was initated in the state in 1998.

Table1 : Outcomes of the Consultation

Needs identified Actions / strategies suggested
1. Soil and water conservation

2. Biomass production /  sustainable use

3. Human resources development for direct field level action

1.Participatory planning / Joint action by all stake holders

2. Capacity Building for direct action

3. Networking and sharing information

4. Influencing policy decisions

The strategic decision implemented was that both the networks were promoted in such a way that each contributed to the other’s activities  and achievements by the sharing of knowledge, infrastructure and human resources.

 Experiences in the past have been to adopt an integrated approach to developiong and managing natural resources as well as human resources, simultaneously. (Based on the recommendations of the 1996 consultation and further activity experiences). These experiences helped in evolving suitable strategies (Table 3). Some of the learnings are:

  1. Membership Promotion

The RIOD state chapter was promoted as an affiliated body of the national network.  Though at first the membership was restricted only to NGOs,  based on the needs in Tamilnadu the membership was opened  (with a reduced rate of subscription) to farmers,  individuals, CBOs and resource organizations so as to widen the participation platform.  With these facilitating efforts  (CCD Document, 1998*) the membership sharply rose to 210 in one year, to represent  many stake holder sections of the society (Table 2).

Table 2: The membership pattern

Membership Detail *  Number % to Total
1. NGOs

2. CBOs

3. Farmers

4. Individuals

5. Resource     Organizations












 Table 3: RIOD Tamil Nadu – activities and experiences

Forms of Degradation Activities Adaptations made Contributing factor

I.Natural Resource

1. Deforestation

2. Soil erosion

3. Drought

4. Land Alienation


2. Human Resource

1 Loss of Indigenous knowledge systems

2. Lack of skills in present agricultural system

3. Lack of trained




1. Promoting


1. Opened to farmers, CBOs and individuals

2. Subscription reduced

Experiences in promoting

Roots network



2. Decentralizing



1. District level bodies promoted


2. 25% of total Subscription was

allowed for the district level use



Experiences in


Roots network


3. District level



Done by the state chapter and

planned to build capacities of district

bodies for the same in future


The learning obtained during

the process implementation and  the

feed back from the members


4. Networking for

knowledge and

information sharing


1.The knowledge sources for the

Roots network were utilized


2. Creating internal resources is



AME.  The impact of training to

Roots partners influenced efforts,

decisions and plans.


5. Capacity

building in SA and

WS Management


1.The knowledge sources for the

Roots network were utilized


2.Creating internal resources is



AME.  The impact of training to


Roots partners influenced efforts,

decisions and plans.


6.Preparing a

policy guideline for



A concept summary prepared for an

integrated WS management activity

plan was modified and utilized



AME facilitated a  training on

}SA in a WS} and in the

process the concept summary

was prepared

  1. Decentralizing management

The experiences of promoting Roots network was very useful in the promotion of the structure.  For example, decentralization of members at four Zonal levels was tried in the network but was not successful.  Based on this experience, the RIOD network was decentralized at the District level and this proved to be effective in delivering the objectives.  District level bodies are now functional in 6 districts of Tamilnadu. Flexibility was  adopted in sharing of the subscription collected from the members.  25 % of the subscription collected was  used by the district bodies.

  1. Networking for Knowledge and information resources

The knowledge and information resources generated for the members of the Roots network also fed to the planning /implementation of  RIOD activities.

The networking with biomass actors was instrumental in building capacity  of member NGOs and farmers.  Agriculture Man Ecology (AME) is one important actor who  influenced the role and activities of RIOD Tamil Nadu.

 4. Capacity Building and creating a team of trainers

The direct impact of a capacity building  training facilitated for 12 ROOTS network members on  Sustainable Agriculture (SA)  in a watershed (WS) created  interest among the RIOD members.  7 of them were trained in Integrated  Crop Management (ICM) with other ROOTSs network trainees.  Since ICM facilitates the management of all resources in agriculture (natural, human and social), it  is seen as a  tool to combat land degradation.  So there is plan to train community facilitators in WS management and SA by utilizing the knowledge resources within the network.

Plans for the immediate future

The base line work have been completed and the following tasks are planned for the current year.  This plan was prepared for the state chapter as policy guidelines for  members for implementing desertification  management activities.

  1. Strengthen the structure from below (from hamlet levels) by facilitating the district bodies in the task.
  2. Preparing a resource inventory for Tamilnadu and facilitating the communities to prepare location specific action plans
  3. Creating vertical and horizontal linkages among all stake holders
  4. Facilitating Farmer based research and the outreach of the impacts among higher level actors
  5. Translating available information (including the CCD) in Tamil for sharing with CBOs
  6. Building capacities of farmers and CBOs in need and situation specific action for combating desertification
  7. Promoting a Cultural Group to disseminate desertification information among rural audience
  8. Facilitating large scale afforestation for biomass production and promoting it’s sustainable use .

The promotion of the state chapter has been completed with contribution from various factors besides a committed team of volunteers working for it.  This accomplishment could have taken some more time but for the support role played by an experienced network in the facilitating place.


  1. CCD Document , 1998* and ** , pp  9 Article 3 – Principles (clause b and c ).  Pub: The Secretariat for the Convention to  Combat Desertification (CCD/98/2)


G.Ravi kumar,

Technical Consultant,  RIOD – TN,

PO Box No : 72

Pudukkottai – 622 001,

Tamilnadu, India.

email :


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