Water conservation for enhancing its availability for agriculture in the drylands brings better opportunities for farmers. To attain this a joint project by the Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd (RECL), India in partnership with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) Development Center between 2014 and 2022, has increased the groundwater table by 1.1 m in Anantapur and 1.9 m in Wanaparthy for agricultural purposes.
As part of the partnership, about 1,255 structures such as farm ponds, check dams, borewells recharge, percolation pits etc. were built. Of them, 663 structures were built in Wanaparthy and 592 were built in Anantapur. The increase in storage capacity enhanced the rainwater storage to 2,30,000 m3 thereby recharging the groundwater table. Farm-level low-cost rainwater storage solutions were focussed so that small holders are not excluded from harnessing the benefits due to lack of costly lifting devices. These continued efforts led to increased access and availability to water for small farm holders leading to drought-proofing. This helped in plugging of yield losses by 30-60% and facilitated diversification and intensification of cropping. Taking leads from CRP Dryland Systems and RECL action site in Anantapur, the Government of Andhra Pradesh (where ICRISAT worked as a knowledge partner under Rythu Kosam initiative) scaled-out the construction of around 6,00,000 farm ponds in Andhra Pradesh during 2015 and 2016.
The project also enhanced the on-farm mechanization and infrastructure that led to revenue generation and improved productivity and livelihoods. Eight big farm-machinery custom hiring centres (CHC) were established through Gram- Panchayats. These CHC’s provided machinery for sowing, inter-cultivation, harvesting, and threshing. Self-sustaining models of CHC with revenue generation through rentals were adopted leading to streamlining of farm operations for productivity benefits (10%) and a significant reduction in costs and drudgery. Subsequently, a huge community threshing floor was constructed in Wanaparthy.
A total of 29 composting pits were constructed that enabled recycling of farm wastes for compost preparation in addition to a community wastewater (household) recycling unit at Wanaparthy to use recycled water in fodder production. Tarpaulins and sprayers were facilitated to 115 farmers and 16 cattle-trough were constructed at both sites.
To strengthen the livelihood and resilience of women, 1,050 sheep units were set up of which 600 were established in Wanaparthy and 450 in Anantapur. With the distribution of ram lambs to 469 women increased their income by Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000 every year. Sewing machines were distributed to 1,075 women. Eight animal health camps benefitted more than 650 households by providing mineral mixture, CA supplement, B complex etc. to the cattle, sheep and goats. Backyard poultry support was extended to 464 households. Around 2,200 nutri-gardens were established by women that harvested 10-40 kg of vegetable yield per garden. Change of cattle fodder was introduced through 500 plus demonstrations.
To build the capacity of the farmers in the region for improving rural livelihoods through knowledge sharing and dissemination strategy, 4,700 demonstrations were held on need-based micro-nutrient fertilizers, crop/variety and IPM which led to yield benefits of 10-30% and 20-90% with nutrient plus varieties.
Demonstrations of aerobic and vermicomposting to 500 farmers cut the cost of 25% chemical fertilizers. Soil sampling/analysis was held on 875 farms. Around 110 households supported the establishment of fruit orchards of one to two hectares. In this, five to six fruit saplings of mango, guava, amla (Indian gooseberry) and Jamun (Indian blackberry) were distributed per household. Around 2,200 households planted 20,000 fruit saplings and around 20 farmers at each site switched to vegetable cultivation in larger areas.
Thus, the holistic solutions around community and farm-level rainwater conservation, mechanization on sharing basis, livestock and non-farm activities for women mainstreaming, and need-based efforts for intensification/diversification have effectively addressed the key issues of water scarcity, increasing land degradation and threat of climate change to bring in sustainable system-level productivity improvement, while promoting gender equality in rural development. These project sites are a proof of concept of ‘maximum economic benefit with minimum investment for many farmers’ for out-scaling.