14) Community watersheds combat drought

The monsoons came late over the semi-arid regions of central India this year. While several farming villages suffered from drought, Kothapally village in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh had water in their wells for drinking and irrigating crops.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and a consortium of partners including international, national, governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) empowered the people of Kothapally to cope with drought for more than nine years through community watersheds.

“Thanks to ICRISAT, water shortage in our village belongs to the past,” says Mohammed Azam, farmer in Kothapally. ”We have enough water, but the villages that did not pick up the innovations are suffering.”

Adds Azam: “The productivity in Kothapally has increased immensely due to the water saving systems but also because of ICRISAT’s improved crop varieties, integrated pest management and the judicious application of fertilizers. I was one of the first farmers to adopt these ideas and today I can send my five grandchildren to good schools in town.”

T Janaiah, another Kothapally farmer, emphasizes: “I have benefited incredibly. Ten years ago our groundwater level was about 300 feet deep and today we are at about 60 feet thanks to the water saving facilities that we built together with our partners from ICRISAT. Even with a late monsoon we have sufficient drinking and irrigation water.”

The community watershed at Kothapally has become a model replicated in many other sites in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam, and now in East and Central Africa.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the use of community watersheds as an entry point for agricultural and rural development, has converged many interventions to improve agricultural productivity and livelihoods of poor farmers.

Dr SP Wani, ICRISAT’s principal scientist on watersheds, said, “Once we found solutions for immediate problems, the farmers became our ambassadors for implementing these interventions.”

The people of Kothapally have embraced many new technologies. The construction of check dams were based on the community needs and executed by the villagers themselves. The introduction of improved varieties and hybrid crops, integrated pest management, the restoration of wastelands together with a continuously growing groundwater level resulted in significant higher yields and greater income for the poor.

Women farmers play a key role in utilizing new technologies. Several women’s self-help groups were trained in vermicomposting. They in turn trained others in neighboring villages. B Lakshmi, 47, from Kothapally, received the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy fellowship for Rural Prosperity in 2007 for training peers in vermicomposting.

Scaling out in Asia

The consortium’s success in Kothapally led to its replication in other Indian states. The state government took the lead in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, while in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, the Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust funded the spread of the program. In select watersheds in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, the Confederation of Indian Industry supported the projects.

The idea also spread to other parts of Asia – China, Thailand and Vietnam. The Asian Development Bank supported watershed projects in these countries, which included introduction of improved crop varieties, rainwater harvesting, rehabilitation of farm ponds, introduction of legumes, vegetables and fruit in the cropping systems, innovative integrated pest management techniques and diversifying cultivation with horticultural crops, and increasing incomes with the rearing of pigs and rabbits.

Into sub-Saharan Africa

A team of researchers from East and Central Africa (ECA) visited India in March 2004 and identified ICRISAT’s watershed experience as a potential solution to many of the challenges being faced in their region. Rwanda took the lead through its agricultural research institute and initiated implementation of pilot sites for the adaptation and demonstration of Indian experiences.

A pilot integrated watershed management project was initiated at Lake Kivu learning sites in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo in 2006 as part of the Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research for sub-Saharan Africa.

Measuring success

An ICRISAT-led consortium undertook a comprehensive assessment of impact of watershed programs in India. The assessment shows that community watershed is a growth engine for development of dryland areas. Watersheds recorded an average benefit to cost ratio of 2 with an internal rate of return of 27%. Only 1% of the watersheds studied showed less than 1 benefit to cost ratio in the country.

In 2007-08, 500 farmers’ participatory action research trials for enhancing water use efficiency were conducted in the states of AP, Rajasthan, MP and Chattisgarh. They demonstrated that crop yields could be doubled with balanced nutrient management along with the use of improved cultivars and suitable landform treatments.

For further information, contact Dr Suhas P Wani at .

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