This well had water at the bottom even after
two years of drought.
Narayan Reddy, a
sorghum farmer in the central Indian state of Andhra Pradesh,
pointed out two wells adjoining the fields near his village. “There's still some water in them at the bottom,” he said with
some pride. “If we hadn't built check dams and percolation
tanks, we would have had none.”
Those water management techniques have indeed helped
Reddy's village of Kothapally, which is home to about 1,500
people and lies about two hours away by road from Hyderabad,
the state capital that is considered India's biotechnology
Reddy though had more on his mind than biotechnology
aspirations when IPS met him in early July. “If it doesn't
rain soon we're in trouble,” he said. “It's been two years of
below-average rain and this village at one time had people
migrating away. No rain and that could happen again.” (The
rains however did come later that month).
The women's society pose behind their
The region does not get very much rain at all -
about 760 mm a year, which hardly compares with, say the
Konkan coast in western India, for which 3,500 mm a year is
routine. Even so, the structures the villagers built have
helped recharge the groundwater table around Kothapally.
Inpart, they have been designed according to a water
management model promoted by the International Crop Research Institute for the
Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), which is one of the 16 global
centres of the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
The management of the village's watershed, which began in
June 1999, has increased water levels, expanded green cover
and enhanced productivity of crops, particularly of maize and
sorghum, says ICRISAT.
Spearheaded by the crop research institute and including a
consortium of partners, like the state government's
Drought-Prone Areas Programme and the Rural Livelihood
Programme, and centrally-run bodies like the Central Research
Institute for Dryland Agriculture and the National Remote
Sensing Agency, the Kothapally project has become a model of
Now, Reddy and his neighbours seem used to visitors
descending upon them, displaying varying levels of interest in
the systems and structures of rural Andhra Pradesh.
But it is not really as rural as it seems out there in the
fields of chickpea, maize and pigeonpea. The industries that
surround the state capital - where the farmer's children seek
to make their careers - lie just over the horizon.
One of his sons, Reddy told IPS, has an MBA degree. Of the
rest he said: “They work in Hyderabad and aren't as keen about
farming as I am.” Reddy said they have jobs in the city and
are considering setting up businesses of their own.
Kothapally is blessed with rich black soil but little rain.
It is not a poor village - according to ICRISAT the watershed
programme has increased farmer incomes in the village to about
20,500 rupees (about 445 U.S. dollars) per hectare. The
village children look healthy, are well clad and bright-eyed.
Yet water is a luxury, which is why Reddy uses drip irrigation
too in his fields: “It's worked well, and the government
subsidy makes it affordable.”
Then there's the compost that he feeds his sorghum crop
with. Prepared from farm waste by vermiculture, it costs Reddy
four rupees a kilogramme, but he knows his money is returning
to the village economy - the group of women that maintains the
vermiculture shed say they can save up to 30 rupees a day from
The water management project had initially focused on
implementing soil and water conservation measures and crop
improvement techniques for individual farmers.
An ICRISAT scientist said that when the project group first
spoke to the village residents about trying out their
techniques, Reddy had carefully sized them up, apparently
gauging their sincerity before agreeing to cooperate.
Thereafter, they contributed to build community structures.
Indeed, according to ICRISAT, the Kothapally project is
being replicated in China, Thailand and Vietnam with funding
from the Asian Development Bank.
Narasimha Reddy, resident of the village watershed
association, explained how food production can be dramatically
“Much of our farm area was under cotton cultivation,” he
said. Kothapally and the surrounding regions contain black
soil, where traditionally cotton has been grown. ”But with
this crop there were more expenses and less benefit.” The
village elder also points to lower insecticide use as a cost
“Now we intercrop maize and chickpea, which gives us higher
profit and helps control pests,” he went on. “We use an
extract of the 'neem' seed to spray crops, and have planted a
variety of pigeonpea that is high-yield – where earlier we
harvested 50 kilograms per acre today it is 500 per acre.”
Just as important for the village and the farmers is the
improvement at the catchment level. The more than 100
water-harvesting structures the village has constructed can
capture an extra 15,000 cubic metres of water.
That can make the difference between a good and a bad crop
for many of the village's farmers - or the difference between
a degree and none for a farmer's son.
(Excerpted from a report filed by Rahul Goswami, for
the Inter-Press Service Asia-Pacific, after a visit to
Kothapally on 1 July 2003).