Orissa is the second poorest state in India. Nearly 22% of the population of the state are tribals, whose position is probably the worst in the entire country. In certain development indicators, the proposed Programme area even lags behind Sub-Saharan Africa. Ecological degradation, erratic rainfall and a high risk of drought in the area have resulted in food insecurity, increasing out-migration and periodic deaths from starvation. Ecological imbalance is now seriously undermining the livelihood patterns and increasing vulnerability. A small land base, low agricultural productivity and low incomes have led to rising indebtedness, trapping tribals into a vicious circle of exploitation. The life of the tribals is increasingly vulnerable due to a persistent lack of assured entitlements to their resource base. Land alienation has deprived them of their land; forest legislation has turned them into encroachers on land they have always used; and they have also been disproportionately affected by displacement due to mining operations, irrigation projects, wildlife sanctuaries, etc. These have led to social discontent and unrest which provide fertile ground for extremist activities which only more meaningful development of the tribal areas can combat.
The purpose of the Orissa Tribal Empowerment and Livelihoods Programme is to ensure that the livelihoods and food security of poor tribal households are sustainably improved through promoting a more efficient, equitable, self-managed and sustainable exploitation of the natural resources at their disposal and through off-farm/non-farm enterprise development. To achieve this, the Programme will: (a) build the capacity of marginal groups as individuals, and grassroots institutions; (b) enhance the access of poor tribal people to land, water and forests and increase the productivity of these resources in environmentally sustainable and socially equitable ways; (c) encourage and facilitate off-farm enterprise development focused on the needs of poor tribal households; (d) monitor the basic food entitlements of tribal households and ensure their access to public food supplies; (e) strengthen the institutional capacity of government agencies, Panchayati Raj Institutions, NGOs and civil society to work effectively for participatory poverty reduction with tribal communities; (f) encourage the development of a pro-tribal enabling environment through effective implementation of the legislation governing control of, and access to, development resources by poor tribal households and through recommendation of other policy improvements; and (g) build on the indigenous knowledge and values of tribals and blend these with technological innovations to ensure a speedier pace of development.
The overall strategy of the Programme focuses on empowering the tribals and enabling them to enhance their food security, increase their incomes and improve their overall quality of life through more efficient natural resource management based on the principles of improved watershed management and more productive environmentally sound agricultural practices and through off-farm/non-farm enterprise development. A strong emphasis is placed on promoting participatory processes, building community institutions, fostering self-reliance, and respecting the indigenous knowledge and values of tribals. The Programme would adopt a flexible, non-prescriptive, process-oriented approach to enable the stakeholders to determine the scope of Programme activities, their timing, pace and sequencing.