17) ICRISAT consortium's watershed projects improve farmers' income

The watershed development program of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and consortium of partners is reaching out to the world as a model of integrated genetic and natural resource management (IGNRM). After India, China, Vietnam and Thailand, ICRISAT's watershed development model has recently reached East Africa.

In India, ICRISAT's watershed development model received the official acceptance at the highest level. The President of India, His Excellency APJ Abdul Kalam, has often recommended ICRISAT's innovations for dryland agriculture as a model to be used in the drier areas of the country. The National Commission on Farmers, chaired by the eminent agricultural scientist, Dr M S Swaminathan, recommended an ICRISAT model consortium approach for integrated watershed management to improve rural livelihoods in drought-prone districts throughout India.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the Institute's watershed model has become popular since it brings together as a package for rural development the best of expertise available with ICRISAT and all the consortium partners. “While using the micro watershed as a geographical unit for soil and water conservation and management, the impact is strengthened with improved agronomical practices and diversified income generation activities,” adds Dr Dar.

Dr Suhas P Wani, ICRISAT's Principal Scientist on watersheds, says that the consortium's approach aims to showcase increased incomes for villagers. Once they are convinced that the innovations improve their livelihood security, they become ambassadors to the cause, convincing neighboring villages to practice watershed development technologies.

Strengthening IGNRM

While the activities initiated by ICRISAT and partners started with soil and water conservation, the watersheds became the site for implementing IGNRM. In Kothapally watershed in Andhra Pradesh, India, the package of interventions included introducing broad-bed and furrow cultivation, planting Gliricidia on the bunds for green manure, introducing new crops and cropping systems, innovating with pest management techniques and developing micro-enterprises for additional income generation.

Choosing appropriate cropping sequence and matching crop rotation with the soil profile and changing rainfall patterns helped minimize the impact of drought in Kothapally. A combination of maize-pigeonpea and maize followed by chickpea proved to be most beneficial as these crops could utilize the soil moisture more efficiently.

Moreover, studies showed that soils in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan were deficient in micronutrients such as boron and sulphur. Adding these micronutrients to the soil resulted in 28 to 70% increase in the yields of crops.

In Tad Fa and Wang Chai watersheds in Thailand, and Thanh Ha and Huong Dao watersheds in Vietnam, the package of practices included introduction of improved crop varieties, construction and rehabilitation of farm ponds, introduction of legumes in the cropping systems, contour cultivation on mild slopes, vegetative bunds with vetiver plantation, introduction of innovative integrated pest management (IPM) techniques and diversifying cultivation with horticultural crops.

In China, farmers from Lucheba and Xioaoxincum watersheds have harvested rainwater in underground cisterns and surface tanks, diversified the systems growing high-value vegetables and fruits along with innovative IPM options such as light traps and tobacco waste, and earned additional income from allied activities such as rearing of pigs, rabbits and biogas production. Leujiagh village in Lucheba watershed has become a model biogas village for the country using plant and animal wastes for biogas production, meeting the needs of sanitation and energy self-sufficiency.

Innovative interventions diversity income generation activities

Many innovations are being implemented with success in the watersheds. In Thailand, an innovative IPM technique – mixing molasses with water and storing in open bottles to trap adult moths before they lay their eggs – has practically eliminated the use of chemical pesticides in vegetable crops.

The innovative activities also give income-generating activities to women's' self-help groups (SHG) and landless farmers. In Kothapally, the members of the SHG feed parthenium weed to earthworms, generate valuable vermicompost, and earn about Rs 500 per person per month from its sale. The SHG also produced and sold biopesticide made from neem and Gliricidia plant leaves using earthworms. Catering to the needs of generating biodiesel plantations, the SHG members started a nursery to raise seedlings of Jatropha and Pongamia.

Likewise, the women's SHG in Goverdhanpura in Bundi district of Rajasthan, India has taken to manufacturing washing powder as an income generating activity. They buy the raw materials from Bundi town, mix it into washing powder and sell within the village. The small profit helps run the SHG and give an income to women members.

Through improved yields and income-generating opportunities, the families in the watershed projects have more money in their hands. For instance, in Kothapally, the average income (including livestock and non-farming sources) was Rs 37,240 (US$ 795.56) in 2001. In comparison, the average income in the neighboring non-watershed villages was Rs 29,140 (US$ 622.52). Even in the drought year of 2002, Kothapally farmers got more from crop cultivation when compared to the farmers in the neighboring villages, enabling them to prevent migration from the village.

In the Tad Fa and Wang Chai watersheds in Thailand, there was a 45% increase in farm income. On the whole, the farmers earned an average net income of 45,530 baht (US$ 1194.69) per cropping season.

Scaling up and out

The success of the Kothapally example led to the acceptance of the ICRISAT model by the Government of Andhra Pradesh for scaling up into 150 watersheds through the Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Program, supported by the Department of International Development of the UK Government. Observing this success, the Government of Karnataka has requested ICRISAT to establish pilot watershed sites and scale out through the World Bank-funded Sujala Watershed Project.

With the financial support from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, the ICRISAT-led consortium of partners has implemented watershed projects in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in India. Watershed projects are also being implemented in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu states in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Coca Cola Foundation.

With funding from the Asian Development Bank, ICRISAT's model of watershed development was implemented in selected villages in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam.

Reaching out to East Africa

ICRISAT's watershed research has also become the reason for the South-South cooperation between countries of different continents – Asia and Africa. Considering the long time lags between NRM research and subsequent impact, ICRISAT and the Soil and Water Research Management Network (SWMnet) leveraged benefits by adapting existing knowledge, rather than initiating new research.

Following visits to India by African officials, an MOU between the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) to facilitate long-term collaboration is being prepared.

In the meanwhile, Rwanda has formalized its partnership with ICAR. The government of Rwanda, through its agricultural research institute (ISAR), is working with ICAR to implement pilot sites for the adaptation and demonstration of Indian experiences in integrated management of watersheds. These will also serve as learning sites under SWMnet for the whole sub-region.

Doubly secured

As the monsoon clouds cover the Indian sub-continent, villages that have adopted ICRISAT-led consortium's watershed approach are doubly secured. If the rains are adequate then they will be able to take a higher yield. And if the rains fail, the IGNRM innovations will ensure that their crops will succeed.

For further information, contact Dr Suhas P Wani at s(dot)wani(at)cgiar(dot)org.

© by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.