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The Midas touch

A water-management platform is helping farmers in Gujarat make informed decisions about crop selection and irrigation

Water shortages during Gujarat’s unforgiving summers are not just hard on humans but cattle as well. In Bhavnagar’s Talaja and Amreli’s Rajula regions, well water was so unreliable that growing fodder for milch animals was an issue. Farmers had no way to predict how much or for how long water would be available for irrigation during summer. “It was better to buy expensive fodder from elsewhere than risk the whole crop failing,” says Panchubhai Bhuva from Juni Chhapri village in Talaja.

Technology has come to the rescue of Mr Bhuva and his fellow-farmers in the form of an app and web platform called Midas, or ‘model of interactive decision assistance simulator’. Launched by the Tata Trusts-supported Coastal Salinity Prevention Cell (CSPC) — which addresses the problems of communities affected by increasing salinity ingress in Gujarat’s coastal stretch — Midas is a multi-stakeholder water governance tool that tells farmers how much water is available in the local wells. It also predicts future water availability based on consumption trends.

This information helps farmers take informed and timely decisions about crop selection, farming acreage and micro irrigation. “I have adopted laser and sprinkler irrigation systems to grow fodder on my own land. I save around 50,000 a year now,” says Mr Bhuva. Midas has helped 70 farmers optimise the cultivation of crops.

Villagers from Jalvadar in Bhavnagar district with the Midas app on their smartphones

Developed by Ekatvam Innovations, the Midas platform was piloted by CSPC in July 2021. It is now being used in 20 villages across Talaja and Rajula. More than 110 farmers have downloaded Midas, and CSPC’s encouragement and monetary incentives have motivated 142 farmers to adopt drip-, laser- and sprinkler-irrigation systems that cut water usage by 60-70%.

The tool also allows the community to directly monitor and act on the grave impact of groundwater depletion, a recurring concern caused by the overdrawing of water by villages. “By providing water-balance data in real time, Midas helps achieve participatory water governance in villages,” says Kamlesh Solanki, senior programme manager at CSPC. 

Info advantage

The app integrates information from multiple sources: government and satellite-based surface water data; gradient, runoff, and evaporation data; and rainfall and water usage. The information, entered by CSPC’s trained volunteers, is analysed and sent to farmers in the Gujarati language.

Midas also acts as an advisory platform. Farmers get information on the water-conservation structures — check dams, ponds, etc — they can build, how they can diversify their crops and manage water demand. Whatever Midas — also the name of the mythical Greek king — touches may not turn into gold, but it plays a valuable role in supporting CSPC’s water-security and water-quality projects. “We get feedback about the impact of our programmes and it helps us in decision-making,” says DN Zala, senior programme officer, CSPC.

The challenge for CSPC does not lie in convincing locals of Midas’s utility; rather, it’s low smartphone penetration. To get around this, CSPC relies on local community resource people like Vishal Bhatt. “We share the data and advisories from Midas at village council meetings. We also print out the relevant information and put it at prominent spots in the village,” says Mr Bhatt. 

Having proved its worth, Midas is being gradually scaled up in Bhavnagar, says Mr Solanki, adding, “Our immediate goal is to take the app to 30-40 villages with at least five active farmer-users in each.”

Farmers from Hajipar village in Bhavnagar district at a presentation on Midas