The Soil's Thirst Quenched

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Micro water harvesting projects have turned around rural life in the water-starved Bundelkhand region

The Patha area in Uttar Pradesh's Chitrakoot district was for long regarded as one of the most water-scarce areas from where stories of thirsty people and animals searching for water in scorching summer have been told time and again. Large tracts of cultivated land remained barren due to lack of water and moisture. A prolonged drought-like situation in recent years had further worsened the situation.

It was against this backdrop that a voluntary organisation — Akhil Bhartiya SamajSeva Sansthaan's (ABSSS) -- promising effort to conserve and harvest rainwater has brought hope to three panchayats and water-shed areas of Manikpur block. These three small projects together has shown the usefulness of small-scale water harvesting projects when implemented and managed properly.

The three projects taken up in Mangavaan, Ittwa and Tikariya Panchayats in the Bundelkhand region were supported by Dorabji Tata Trust, NABARD and the District Rural Development Agency. The projects (two of which are on-going) have so far incurred a total cost of Rs. two crore, out of which Rs. 1.20 crore has been paid to the poorest families in these villages as wages.

The workers were employed in high labour-intensive works like constructing bunds and contour-bunds and contour trenches, creating new water tanks and restoring old ones, checking dams, farm ponds, gully plugs, land-levelling and tree-planting to harvest and conserve rainwater. The broader aim of the projects, taken up on a ridge-to-valley approach, is to slow down and check the rainfall water as it flows down plateau slopes, so that maximum possible water is either conserved or contribute to groundwater recharge. It is a win-win situation as about 60 per cent of the funds directly reached the poorest local families in the form of wage payments and as a result of water and moisture conservation, conditions for short-term as well as long-term improvements in agriculture, animal husbandry and agro-forestry have improved. The water-table in the wells in and around these villages has gone up and there is more greenery.

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Bundelkhand has been facing adverse weather conditions for several years now and the rainfall in the project area has been much below the normal level. However, ABSSS' director Bhagwat Prasad says, “These projects have been planned to provide at least some protection even in low rainfall years.” One such method is System of Rice Intensification (SRI), based on better spacing of plants as well as improved weeding practices. Promotion of organic farming leads to more moisture retention by soil.

Farmers' groups and self-help groups make timely advice and resources available to farmers. Watershed and livelihood committees have been formed which oversee the planning of all work, while transparent functioning ensure that workers are well-informed and satisfied with their payment. All payments are made by cheques, and all entries, whether piece-rate or daily wage payments, are recorded in three copies of a wage-book.

ABSSS' earlier campaign for distribution of land among poorest Koltribals is another contributing factor for the latter's obtaining better benefits. During the course of the Mangavaan watershed project, the area under kharif crop went up from just 3 per cent of the total cultivable area in 2007 to 30 per cent in 2011, while the area under rabi crop went up from 47 per cent to 90 per cent. The production of paddy increased from 6,170 kg to 52,081 kg and that of wheat from 112,610 kg to 495,750 kg. Similarly there were big increases in the production of mustard, gram, sesame and vegetables.

Thousands of trees were planted, but survival rate has been below expectation due to uncontrolled grazing. However, a beautiful 11-acre plantation in Tikariya has emerged as an oasis of greenery with its anvla, mango, guava, bel, lemon and karonda trees.

Despite a few setbacks and many hurdles, on the whole, these projects have brought new hope to an area.

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