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Editor’s note: In Context is a new series designed to inform and educate you on Heifer’s work in each country we have a presence. Every two weeks we’ll tackle a different country and examine unique situations related to hunger and poverty, how Heifer works to address them as well as take some time to explore local culture and traditions.

Written by Avni Malhotra, Country Representative, Heifer India

Population: 1.2 Billion

Native greeting: Namaskar (Salutations)

Capital: New Delhi

Official language: There are 16 official languages but Hindi and English are the most widely spoken

Local currency: Indian Rupee

The Republic of India is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with more than 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world. Home to the ancient Indus Valley civilization and a region of historic trade routes and vast empires, the Indian subcontinent was identified with its commercial and cultural wealth for much of its long history. Four of the world's major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism—originated here, while Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam arrived in the first millennium and shaped the region's diverse culture. Gradually annexed by the British East India Company from the early 18th century and colonized by the United Kingdom from the mid-19th century, India became an independent nation in 1947 after a struggle for independence which was marked by a non-violent resistance led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

India is a federal constitutional republic with a parliamentary democracy consisting of 28 states and seven union territories. A pluralistic, multilingual and multiethnic society where more than 400 languages are spoken, India is also home to a diversity of wildlife in a variety of protected habitats.

Economically India has the world's eleventh largest economy by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by purchasing power parity. Since the introduction of market-based economic reforms in 1991, India has become one of the fastest growing major economies in the world, but the country continues to face severe poverty, illiteracy, corruption and public health related challenges.

The figure related to how many are poor in India has been a subject of debate. According to the latest government figures 29.8% of the population was poor in 2009-10. But studies show different estimates made by different methods. A more recent study states that the population living below $ 2 a day is 75.6% of the 1.2 billion.

Poverty in India is a major issue. Rural Indians depend on unpredictable agriculture incomes, while urban Indians rely on jobs that are, at best, scarce. Since its independence, the issue of poverty within India has remained a prevalent concern. More than 75% of poor people reside in villages.

For these poor people who live in the rural areas, agriculture is their main source of income. Developments in this sector thus impact the rural poor. In the 1960s India had a revolution in agriculture that boosted its productivity, popularly known as the “Green Revolution”. In the 1980s another breakthrough was the cooperative movement in the dairy sector, popularly known as the “White Revolution” or Operation Flood. Since then, India is waiting for a breakthrough that will enhance production to feed the growing population. The imbalance between the production and consumption of food leads to a tentativeness which results in disturbances in the supply chain leading to rises in prices of essential commodities. Also enhanced productivity is required to feed the growing numbers, especially the marginalized populations.

The Structure of the society lends itself to discrimination. As has been described earlier, the society is pluralistic and the long history is witness to the fact that at some point or another one or the other community dominated and ruled the country. Thus, there is a long history and many factors that divide this nation socially. This is a major weakness in the economy, that growth is not perceived as being sufficiently inclusive for many groups, especially Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and minorities. In addition to gender inequality also remains a pervasive problem and some of the structural changes taking place have an adverse effect on women. For these marginalized groups [SC and ST, minority and women], the rate in decline in poverty has not accelerated along with the growth. The absolute number of people living under the poverty line has also not decreased (320 million in 1993-1994 to 302 million in 2004-2005).

In India, women as a whole have a lower status than their male counterparts. They are not only subjected to the rigors of traditional social structure but are also neglected in terms of food and health care from early childhood. Gender inequality is therefore distinct from other forms of economic and social inequalities. It dwells not only outside the household but also centrally within it. Gender inequality has adverse impact on development goals as it reduces economic growth. It hampers the overall well-being because it blocks women from participation in social, political and economic activities. This can adversely affect the whole society. India has witnessed gender inequality from its early history due to its socio-economic and religious practices that resulted in a wide gap between the position of men and women in the society.

Though there is reduction in gender discrimination by the efforts made by government policies but still there are loopholes in the society and policy implementation at the grass root level to address gender issues. As persistent gender inequalities continue we need to rethink concepts and strategies for promoting women's dignity and rights.

India is among the world’s most disaster prone areas with a population of more than one billion. The geographical statistics of India show that almost 57% of the land is vulnerable to earthquakes; 28% to drought; 8% to cyclones and 12% to floods.

Heifer Approach 

Livestock portfolio: Goats, chickens and cows

Technology portfolio: Rain water harvesting tanks, improved cooking stoves, microcredit lending programs and self help groups

Issues addressed: Women's empowerment and livelihood promotion

The main focus has been to work with communities that have the greatest need for assistance. The program tries to encompass all the interrelated forces within a community in order to ensure full participation and build solidarity.

Heifer projects are implemented through NGO partners. This allows for a continuous and two-way flow of information, resources and support among the project groups, project partners and Heifer. Prior to Heifer’s involvement in the community, the partner NGO facilitates the community members to form self-help groups which undertake savings and credit activities and hold monthly meetings.

Women are the direct project participants through whom the entire family benefits. This mechanism aims to empower women to end the deep-rooted gender discrimination in the society.

The 12 Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development are the time-tested principles that enable the community to assess and realize its own potential to achieve holistic development. Passing on the Gift is the main value that encourages participants to share their inputs and learning with others similar to them.

Building on the valuable experience of working with the communities, Heifer has learnt that real development goes beyond distributing physical inputs and technical trainings and thus propagates the Values based Holistic Community Development (VBHCD) model. This model recognizes the need to empower communities for a sustainable and self-reliant society. It builds on the strengths and values that are innate in every culture and society and encourages people to see themselves as having strengths and values rather than seeing themselves in a situation of hopeless poverty.

Using livestock and technical trainings as entry tools Heifer forms a relationship with the community and then works as a catalyst for holistic transformation, according to the community’s vision. The model addresses the interrelated elements of poverty, enabling individuals to take charge of their individual and community development. Once the project participants begin to take charge of their own development, the program’s impact becomes boundless and goes beyond the initial inputs.



Falguni Vyas

Falguni (sounds like "balcony") Vyas is from Atlanta, Georgia and began working with Heifer International in Little Rock as a copywriter in 2011. She received her master's degree at Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Italy and her bachelor's degree at Franklin College Switzerland in Lugano, Switzerland. She does not like writing about herself in the third person.