Water conservation is at the core of two projects that are benefitting farmers in four districts of Maharashtra
Dependent on rain-fed agriculture in an area where monsoons are far from dependable, and with a family of five to take care of even as his income from farming dwindled year by year, Dinkar Vitthalrao Pund was at a crossroads. “The water situation was very bad and I was constantly faced with the question of whether to continue with farming,” says this resident of Porgavhan village in Maharashtra’s Amravati district.
Then, beginning in 2018, Mr Pund’s circumstances began taking a turn for the better. That happened after he and other farmers in his village got into the flow of Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan (JSA), the Maharashtra government’s ambitious water-conservation initiative. Eliminating water scarcity is the business of the Abhiyan (or campaign), which aims to benefit more than 25,000 drought-prone villages in the state.
JSA is all about instilling in farmers the belief that “every drop of rainwater is owned by me and it should percolate in my land”. Mr Pund and his farmer compatriots embraced this belief, contributing in spades to the building of a cement nala bund — simply put, a structure that holds and harvests water — adjoining the Kasi River, which runs near Porgavhan.
The Tata Trusts, through their Sukhi Baliraja (happy farmer) initiative, joined hands with the Maharashtra government to support JSA from 2017 to 2020 in three districts of the state: Akola, Amravati and Yavatmal. “The Tata Trusts official came to our village in 2018 and spoke to us about sustainable farming and about soil and water conservation,” says Mr Pund. “They brought us farmers together.”
The Trusts team helped form a ‘green revolution’ water-user group and the cement nala bund was constructed shortly thereafter. “We could now store rainwater and this led to an increase in our agricultural output and an improvement in our financial condition,” adds Mr Pund.
The intervention has resulted in more than 22,500 acres of farmland being cropped through water-harvesting and allied methods — including better irrigation, increasing groundwater levels and minimising flood damage — in 21 villages in the project districts, enabling some 700 farmers to enhance their incomes by an average of 17,500 a year.
“Water streams were rejuvenated to enhance water availability for the community and the water-user groups created under the programme helped farmers access government benefits,” says Kiran Petare, a regional manager with the Trusts. “Consequently, local village councils now have funds for the operation and maintenance of built infrastructure. This should ensure the sustainability of the initiative.”
Community participation has been crucial to the wellbeing of the Trusts’ water effort in Maharashtra. In Kolvihir village, also in Amravati district, water-user groups were formed and trained in water conservation. The community has contributed resources to the programme, creating a sense of ownership for running and maintaining shared water infrastructure. “The productivity of the crops I grow — cotton, red gram and sesame seeds — is much better than before,” says Devidas Tayde, a Kolvihir villager.
A second programme in water conservation that the Trusts have been involved with in Maharashtra concerns the rejuvenation of what are called Malgujari tanks, water-harvesting ponds in the eastern Vidarbha region that date back 300 years to the time of the Gond kings. There are about 1,000 such tanks and the majority of them are in a state of disrepair and disuse.
The Trusts, in partnership with the public sector undertaking, Bharat Petroleum Corporation, have repaired and desilted 74 Malgujari tanks in Gadchiroli district. Desilting is the big deal in this project, which was kickstarted in 2019. The soil excavated from the tanks is deposited on their banks and this boosts the soil fertility of surrounding agricultural land.
“Nearly 4,100 households have benefitted from the revival and desilting work and, as a result, farmer incomes are expected to increase by 15,000 per year on average,” says Mr Petare. “This project also opens up other livelihood possibilities, multiple cropping and fisheries among them. The key is having strong community institutions and that’s why we have concentrated on forming and nurturing village water-user groups.”