Creative farmer games teach judicious use of water in agriculture

Participatory aquifer mapping and crop water budgeting to change farmers behavior in
Andhra Pradesh


Anantapur is a particularly water-distressed district in Andhra Pradesh. In 2010-12, 76% of the total area irrigated is serviced by tube wells, an increase from 44% in the period 1998-2001. During the same period, the area irrigated by dug wells declined from 27% to 4% and that by tanks fell from 22% to 15%. During the project phase, more than 80% of the irrigated needs and more than 90% of household needs, including drinking, are met by groundwater alone. Further, groundwater is the most important source of drinking water in Anantapur. The rural population here is almost entirely dependent on groundwater for drinking and other domestic uses. Groundwater governance is thus important to ensure more equitable distribution of groundwater for essential purposes like drinking.

The increasing dependence on groundwater and the corresponding decline of tanks and other forms of communal assets are related. It is within this context that the interventions on groundwater are significant. The project described here aimed to understand how participation in economic field experiments can influence the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour of the participants and their communities with respect to the management of common pool resources, especially groundwater.

The project was conducted over two phases. The first phase was between April-August 2013 and the second phase was between December 2013 and August 2014. It encompassed 28 habitations spread across the mandals of NP Kunta, Gandlapenta and Tanakallumandals of Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh (AP).


• Farmers of Anantapur: They were the principal stakeholders of this project. Care was taken to involve both irrigated and un-irrigated farmers from both, forward castes and Dalit communities, as well as small or marginal farmers.
• Women: No community social behaviour model of groundwater is complete without the perspectives of women, who bore the brunt of the groundwater crisis in Anantapur.
• Small and Marginal Farmers: A majority of farmers did not have tube wells in this region.
• Dalits: The price of groundwater depletion was often paid by marginalized communities, including Dalits and so it was important to engage with Dalits separately.
• Village institutions: Institutions like the Village Development Committees and Watershed Management Committees were involved in identifying the people who
could play the games and for mobilizing people to take part in the discussions that followed the games.
• Tubewell owners: Engaging with this group helped in understanding the difficulties of sharing groundwater.
• IFPRI and ASU: The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Arizona State University (ASU) were instrumental in designing the games, analyzing the findings and coming out with academic report and papers.
• FES: The Foundation for Ecological Security administered the games in the field and undertook the various concomitant surveys. They ensured the quality of the data collected and provided context to understand the findings of the exercise.

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The game was played in each village with two groups – one of men and one of women – of 5 participants each. Each group got to play two games comprising of 10 rounds each (a total of 20 rounds): Each round stood for one cropping season. Since Kharif season in Anantapur was largely driven by rainfall, the focus was on the behavior of the farmer during the Rabi season when the dependence on groundwater or other alternative forms of irrigation was high.

In the first game, participants made decisions individually. In the second game, participants could discuss and arrive at collective decisions on what crops to plant.
If the water level touched 20 units, each farmer was to be penalized one unit of money to indicate purchase of water. If the water levels touched 10 units, the game would end as it is assumed that at this point, the water in the aquifer could not be replenished. At the beginning of each round, the common groundwater resource could be recharged by a fixed quantity of five units.

Each game started with 50 units of water in the common bore well and continued until the water reaches 10 units. The farmers had two crops to choose from: Crop A and Crop B. The former consuming one unit of water and giving two units of remuneration, while the latter consumed three units of water and gave five units of remuneration. Thus, if all the five farmers grew only Crop A, they could maintain water levels for perpetuity and if they chose Crop B, they would exhaust water in four rounds.

At the end of the game, players were paid five times the amount of virtual money earned (50 units of virtual money translated to INR 250 in reality). If every farmer chose Crop B to maximise individual earnings, collective water levels would collapse in no time. If they only chose Crop A to conserve water, earnings would be low. The challenge was to find the ideal mean (in this case, three people sowing Crop A and two sowing Crop B), and to persuade each other to adopt this ideal mean in a way that the earnings were distributed more evenly and water levels were sustained for a longer duration. This process was followed for both men and women.

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Subrat Singh
Foundation for Ecological Security

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