Myrada – Experience Report 2014

July – August 2014

by Arijete Idrizi & Paolo Piffaretti

In the summer of 2014, we (Paolo and Arijete) had the opportunity to partner together for a 6-week internship experience in India – a country that we always found fascinating and wished to visit. An internship sounded like the best option to learn about the local culture and live a truly authentic experience, without sticking to the traditional touristic paths.

Among all the available internships offered by GTI, we decided to choose Myrada, an NGO managing rural development programs in the Southern Indian states of Karnataka Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Their actions cover microfinace, HIV/AIDS, Gender issues, Education, health etc… The specific focus of activities we decided to cover during our internship involved two main areas:

1. Management of natural resources and

2. Organic Farming: marketing & production

1st Project: MYKAPS

Our internship began on July 10th 2014, after a first encounter with the head-office team in Bangalore, Karnataka, where we were given some instructions and recommendations by our program manager; Maya Mascarenhas. After that, we directly went to HD Kote, a small taluk of the Mysore District to start our work with Mykaps – a spin-off organization of Myrada active in watershed development (among other things). We were escorted by Mr. Sriniwas, a field officer, who later became our translator as well – he left us at the organization’s campus where we were given our rooms (simple but safe). We both paid 500 rp per day/per person for the room (inclusive of food).

The next day we met Mykaps’ staff – who were all very happy to have us with them. They showed us the campus and explained to us their main activities through (very lengthy) PowerPoint presentations.

One of the main projects they were working on was the “integrated tank rehabilitation project” (Mission Sunehra Kal) financed by the Indian Tobacco Company as part of their social corporate responsibility programme – with the purpose of sustaining local agriculture by improving watershed management. The implementation of this project was meant to find a solution to the previous situation where tanks were being deteriorated and used under their potential capacity due to lack of maintenance and management by both users and local institutions, which ultimately resulted in silting of tank water spreads and supply channels and reduced water capacity.

Our mission consisted in assessing this project from various perspectives. After a month of intensive field research, where we interviewed many different stakeholders including farmers, local institutions, Indian Tobacco Company’s officials and Mykaps staff members, and after many visits to the rehabilitated tanks – we concluded with a comprehensive report including a sustainability assessment as well as an impact assessment of the project. Our main findings were that this “tank rehabilitation project” had an overall positive and sustainable impact since it benefits the sustenance and livelihood of the rural communities beyond the farmers themselves (especially tobacco farmers) who are the main intended beneficiaries. However we also enhanced the negative environmental impact of this programme due to the enhanced tobacco production in the region.

Overall this first month in India went well, we appreciated our mission with Mykaps and we met a lot of interesting people. However, it was sometimes difficult to work effectively due to the barrier language; our translator was quite minimalist in his way of translating people’s answers to our questions and we also thought that sometimes their responses were a bit “sugar-coated”. We also had some trouble finding available computers to work on, as all of them were used by local staff members. As a result, we often had to work during evenings, and the remaining time we would try to work with our Ipad. We would strongly recommend to future interns to bring their own laptops if they want to be able to work more efficiently.

Despite those difficulties, we really enjoyed our time in HD Kote and made some great friends. We spent a lot of time with a local Indian family living in the campus, which really treated us like their family and introduced us to their customs.

2nd Project: KVK

For our second mission, we went to Erode, Tamil Nadu; the location of Myrada-KVK, a farm science center established by the Indian Council of Agriculture. It is an organization whose activities are mainly concentrated on providing farmers with technologies and knowledge, as well as with entrepreneurial skills to help them develop technologically and economically. The organization promotes and encourages entrepreneurship through its resource and knowledge centre of agricultural technology with the goal of improving the agricultural economy of the district.

Just like in the previous organization, we also lived on the organization’s campus but the main difference was that nobody else was living there except us. Everyone in the office would leave past worktime and we would be left alone in the campus for the night. A worker was assigned to bring us some food for dinner every night. Despite our relative “solitude” we really enjoyed our evenings there and the beautiful scenery surrounding the organization’s premises.

KVK asked us to conduct a business assessment of various MSMEs, which originally benefitted from KVK’s support. For that, we had the chance to interview several small entrepreneurs who all started their business thanks to KVK’s training programs and the facilities they provided. Hence we had the chance to meet – among others – a producer of jute and natural fibers products (such as bags, shirts, caps etc..); a banana producer specialised in the production of biscuits and health mixes; a Joint Liability group specialized in value-added products made out of honey, and so on. We identified all those MSMEs strengths and weaknesses through a SWOT analysis. Our business process assessment focused on three different management levels; the normative level, the strategic level, and the operational level.

Myrada 1

From our analysis, we observed that the majority of those entrepreneurs were on the right path and had many advantages to develop themselves in a sustainable way. However, they also did face some serious threats, especially because of the lack of facilities and funds that prevented them from expanding and meeting the demand. We concluded our report with a list of suggestions as for example: – To develop relationships with Self-Help Groups in order to gather funds and labor for their expansion – To create an entrepreneur’s group made up of farmers specialized in organic farming and related value added products, to beneficiate from an integrated and orchestral performance process by keeping a better control on production and by diminishing production costs through the use of facilities provided by KVK.

The two reports we conducted were then presented again at the Head office of Myrada in Bangalore in front of the board panel. Our reports were generally well received, especially the second one, which provided them with good suggestions for their projects and highlighted some real needs.

Myrada 2

The first one however was met with a little disbelief by one of the board members who could not accept our criticism regarding the negative environmental impact of the “tank rehabilitation program” causing deforestation (because of the strongly biaised help provided to tobacco producers). Despite this little incident, other board members were delighted by our presentation and both reports were to be used by the entire staff for future projects as well.

Our internship ended on August 22nd 2014, after 6 weeks of work in two different projects. Thanks to this internship we gained some valuable hands-on knowledge on different developmental activities. We learned a lot on how NGOs work, on the impact of their projects and on the difficulties they might face. We also learned a lot of technical aspects regarding water resources management and organic farming. Obviously, it was also a real life lesson from a cultural perspective, as we had to live on the campus of our workplace; hence, we really had the chance to interact with locals and to learn about their culture, language and customs. We are proud of our achievements and are glad to have put our skills and knowledge at work for a great cause.