One of the perks of working in the development sector is gaining steady exposure to intricate, yet localised, problems that require a nuanced understanding of the complex interplay of state policy, environmental conditions and socio-economic practices prevailing in the area. A field visit to the Osmanabad district of Maharashtra provided me one such opportunity.
Located in the parched Marathwada region of southern Maharashtra, Osmanabad is in many ways a slave of its geography. Comprising eight blocks, more than half of its geographical area lies in the lap of the Balaghat mountain range. The forest cover of the district is merely 0.81% and can be categorised as a mix of dry mixed deciduous and thorny open scrub types. Major tree varieties found here include neem, peepal, banyan, mango, tamarind, etc., among which, afforestation drives have focused disproportionately on planting neem saplings as they are not relished by stray cattle. The Bhoom tahsil is particularly blessed with attractive geography which, at times, resembles the undulating green pastures of Switzerland. Therefore, the local population has gravitated towards animal husbandry as a financially viable alternative to traditional farming dependent on vagaries of monsoon rains, which are rather erratic and almost invariably, deficient.