A different approach to watershed management has proven successful and will require a “paradigm shift” in the implementation of watershed programs in India. The approach was awarded Best CSR Project (Livelihoods category) at the India CSR Summit held in Mumbai, 27 September. The initiative was a consortium led by ICRISAT and supported by the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program of JSW Group — part of the OP Jindal Group.
Within three years, water harvesting structures captured an additional 18,500 cubic meters with a gross conservation of 25,000 cubic meters rainwater during the rainy season. Groundwater level also increased by 1.5-2.0 meters. With soil test based fertilizer application the overuse of fertilizers was reduced, which meant lower cost of cultivation by 10-15%. The yield of groundnut and maize increased by 19% and 27%, respectively. And many new livelihood options led to an increase in the income of households by US$22 – US$37 per month.
This was achieved in the Bellary district of the state of Karnataka which is a hotspot of water scarcity (less than 700 mm rainfall per annum), land degradation, poor socio-economic conditions, non-inclusive and imbalanced development, resulting in food insecurity and poor nutrition of the people and livestock.
Key to the success of the watershed management included a consortium of various institutions such as research, development, government and civil society, working closely in partnership with the community, which led and guided the process and decision making. Science-backed analysis and interventions were critical to find appropriate and best solutions along with a holistic approach where all issues from the natural resources through to livelihoods and social issues were tackled in unison.
Convergence was also important to leverage existing programs. Various methods for capacity development such as exposure visits, hands-on training, demonstrations, leadership skill development, and communication skills in addition to various watershed activities were undertaken. A total of 3,500 farmers benefitted through the training programs. Good ‘Sites of Learning’ were established as models to encourage scaling up by others.
Other implementing partners included the NGO Pragati Rural Development Society, University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharwad, Government of Karnataka (GoK), Department of Agriculture (DA, GoK), and the Watershed Development Department (GoK) and the District Watershed Development office (DA, GoK).
The initiative covered 7,000 hectares with over 2,000 households in which 1,200 belong to the farming community. All the household are engaged including the landless households. Full community engagement was achieved, even school children have been made aware about protecting the environment and were also provided with vegetable seeds to grow in their backyard, helping improve home nutrition.
Some of the major interventions included:
- Building soil and water conservation structures
- Improved variety of seeds of sorghum, green gram (mung bean), pearl millet, pigeonpea, groundnut and castor
- Soil analysis and micronutrient applications
- Farmers’ participatory varietal evaluation trials for productivity enhancement
- Avenue plantation – to improve green cover and to trap the dust. Agroforestry: Various tree species including horticulture plants (18,100) were planted in the project villages
- Additional income generating activities – vermicomposting and nursery plantations
- Women self-help groups (SHGs) are given prominence along with the landless under livelihood enhancement initiatives like goat rearing, dairying, production of vermicompost, skill development like tailoring, food product preparation, kitchen gardening, and other micro enterprises
- Programs and activities to improve animal health
- Areas like climate change and adaptation strategies were addressed
Policy makers were also sensitized with the approaches adopted in the development of model watersheds.