Deserts are unique in its fabric and in its being. The people-rhythm dance the elements and life here. Amidst scarcities and challenges lies the great stories of resilience, jubilations and innovations.

Maru Manthan is a vision to celebrate this uniqueness and emerging dynamics of the dunes. Visualized as an annual forum to reflect and advance on the domains and aspects of desert land, life & living. Maru Manthan believes in alternatives, innovations and dialogues.

We’ll host shared experiences of policy makers, civil society representatives, academicians, media professionals, students and community members from the remote and distant hamlets of western Rajasthan.

We look forward to co-creating this forum to celebrate and acknowledge the desert community’s resilience, achievements and values. We aim at hosting stakeholders from various strata and build a unique platform to advance discourse in the socio- cultural, public policy and changemaking spaces.

Thank you for participating in Maru Manthan

Desert Resource Centre, Urmul Group organised Maru Manthan- an annual forum to examine, introspect and analyse various issues relevant to the desert ecosystem on February 13-14, 2021 at the Urmul Seemant Samiti campus in Bajju, Bikaner district. The event saw an overwhelming participation from government and civil society representatives, policy-makers, academicians, media professionals, students and community members from the remote and distant hamlets of western Rajasthan.

The entire Urmul group, sincerely express our gratitude to you for your participation in Maru Manthan 2021. The plethora of ideas, dialogues and thoughts on arid regions and recommendations for our future interventions have greatly helped us. We shall be incorporating those in our programme designs towards advancing the alternatives and innovations for improving desert land, life and living.

The two-day forum organised at the Indo-Pak border village of Bajju in Rajasthan, hosted several panels covering a wide range of desert issues. We inaugurated the first of its kind camel milk dairy, and laid the foundation stone for Urmul natural dyeing unit. During the two days, we fondly remembered and reflected on Shri Arvind Ojha’s life and work.


Finding ‘A’ Desert Identity

Every aspect of life in the deserts, characterised by hostile and inhospitable landscape and extreme climatic conditions, is strongly delineated by its geography. A geography driven civilisation manifests an array of identities. These identities, over a period of time, evolve with the land, life and the living of the region. Deserts identities, earlier blessed with remote isolation from burgeoning urbanisation, are now being forced to either co-opt or suffer marginalisation. Post-global transformations have started showing its impact on the desert ecosystem, resulting in disruptions across cultural, societal and ecological scales. Existing divides are being further expanded by newer systems and institutions. The situation thus insinuates a challenge: what remains of the desert (way of living) and where? What defines deserts? What limits our deserts from a determinist point of view? What customs, practices and values are inherently native to the deserts? Can our varied perspectives and knowledge systems be integrated and linked to fix upon ‘a’ desert identity; a catchall collective one – one that is so expansive that it covers the entire diversity and yet maintains the distinct and uniqueness of the region?



  • Dr. Ashok Dalwai,Chief Executive Officer, National Rainfed Area Authority(NRAA),Government of India
  • Meenakshi Batra, Chief Executive Officer, Charities Aid Foundation, India
  • Tomio Shichiri, Foodand Agriculture Organisation, United Nations, Representative in India
  • Dr. Rashmi Singh, IAS, Director at Women and Child Development, NewDelhi
  • Om Thanvi, Founding Vice-Chancellor of Haridev Joshi University of Journalism and Mass Communication

Changemakers, Communities and Values in Development

As developmental practitioners and stakeholders, it is essential to come together and rethink our idea of what drives developmental change. Despite our efforts, access to services are often obstructed from reaching the remotest of villages. Have we yet figured out the specific factors that drive changes in the deserts? And how do these factors show up as systematic disparities during trying times? Our experience of the gone year has given us a lot to ponder over. What ethos would organisations imbibe in their line of work to tackle future phases of crises? What would drive communities and changemakers to further rights, development, human dignity, and democracy amidst such seemingly chaotic phases? What do we make of such phases? How should we prepare ourselves to keep up with rapid or abrupt change?


  • Ashish Kothari, Co-founder, Kalpavriksh
  • Mathew Cherian, Chief Executive Officer, Helpage India
  • Deep Chand Sankhla, Author, Publisher and Journalist
  • R.K Anil, Chief Executive Officer, NDMC CSR Foundation

Moderator: Priya Jha, Country Director, Evidence Action

Resilient Desert Livelihoods: Lessons and Preparations for Disruptions

Desert communities are marginalised in many ways. Growth opportunities are stifled by low levels of literacy and minimal knowledge of distant markets. But with developmental efforts and pockets of interventions exerted by television and tourism, age-old traditional skills are gradually being recognised for commercialisation. Traditional livelihood sectors like handicrafts, pastoralism, agriculture are undergoing a plethora of changes to upgrade themselves to the changing times. Despite this, the absence of desert-oriented support services and income alternatives often disadvantage these desert livelihood sectors from withstanding and transitioning through market crashes, social unrest, ecological crises, etc. How can value chains and alternative livelihoods be redesigned to withstand dent-making incidences like the pandemic? How do we recalibrate existing platforms to meet the emerging needs of the desert economy? What measures do we devise to prepare and adapt value chains for unforeseen disruptions?


  • Dr. Sunil Kaul,Founder and Managing Trustee, The Ant
  • Manoj Mishra, Executive Director, Sahjeevan
  • Ramesh Saran, Secretary, Urmul Trust
  • Dr. B Rath, Senior Technical Expert, National Ranifed Area Authority, Goverment of India

Moderator: Anubha Sood, Senior Program Officer (Alternative Livelihoods Counter Narcotics) at United Nations

Partnerships for Our Deserts

Desert ecosystem might be unique in itself and in its fabric and being but there are socio-economic and ecological similarities with other contexts that could very well be explored for more creative solutions to desert-centric issues. There is a need to adopt the unknown; push our conventional ways of working together. How do we re-imagine convergence and collaborations for deserts? How do we create innovative linkages between individuals, institutions and all players in between – for more focussed interventions in hot and cold deserts of the world? What aligned sectors can partner to best enable such interventions?


  • Anubhuti Patra, In-Country Representative, Malala Fund
  • Sumita Ghosh, Board Member, Urmul Trust and Founder Director Rangsutra Crafts, India
  • Shrashtant Patara, Chief Executive Officer, TARA and IMEDF
  • Partab Shivani, Chief Executive Officer, Thar Education Alliance, Pakistan

Moderator: Prerna Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer,  Urmul Desert Crafts

Highlights of the Manthan

Our country should not fall into the trap of short-term planning. We need to have long term goals to ensure our livelihoods are resilient to withstand crises

– Dr Sunil Kaul,
Founder and Managing Trustee, The Ant

We should learn and collaborate with each other. We work on environmental issues and you work on livelihood issues in the deserts. How can my fight be your fight? And vice versa? Only through intersectionality and solidarity can we reach the solutions sooner.

– Ashish Kothari
Co-founder Kalpavriksh and Coordinator of Vikalp Sangam

We need to ensure the identity of women and every child remains distinct. They need to be accorded with dignity and welfare services only then we can forge a collective identity of the desert

– Dr Rashmi Singh
Special Secretary cum Director, Social Welfare and Women and Child Development, Govt of New Delhi

We have already seen too much tinkering with the biosystems. We are having to deal with climate change as a result. Sustaining the identities of the deserts would ensure biodiversity is retained and sustained.

– Dr Ashok Dalwai
IAS, CEO, National Rainfed Area Authority

The UNFAO India has launched an initiative for revival of traditional pastoral routes in western Rajasthan with National Rainfed Area Authority, GoI and Urmul Trust. Through this model we are building a common facility centre for the pastoralists migrating. This is a small step in building a desert identity. We shall endeavour to strengthen our efforts in the Indian deserts.

– Tomio Shichiri
Food and Agriculture Organisation, United Nations, Representative in India

It is crucial to preserve and exercise the traditional desert knowledge and maintain a balance between the desert of yesterday and today for a sustainable future. Deserts globally should exchange this knowledge for a collective growth

– Meenakshi Batra
Chief Executive Officer, Charities Aid Foundation, India

Our livestock owners find it difficult to demand their rights because their efforts are often disorganised. If they come together to demand accountability from the elected officials then their rights could be delivered.

– Prof (Dr.) & Col. A.K. Gahlot,
Member, Governor’s Advisory Board and Task Force on Hr. Edu. Formed by Governor-Rajasthan

We need to tackle the underlying problems as well. We must not limit ourselves to just focus on developing solutions. For instance, Urmul is working on livelihoods solutions. We must think about the economic, social and environmental underlying problems and ramifications of our solutions. We cannot devise solutions in silos

– Shrashtant Patara
Chief Executive Officer, TARA and IMEDF

It is heartening to see members from our community on the other side of the border. I hope we are able to transcend boundaries and work together for the deserts of both the countries together.

– Partab Rai Shivani
Founder and CEO of Thar Education Alliance, Pakistan

Forum Info


February 13-14, 2021


Urmul Seemant Samiti Campus, Village Bajju, Bikaner


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