Equitable sharing of groundwater for sustainable agriculture in AP and Telangana
In erstwhile Andhra Pradesh (now Telangana and Andhra Pradesh), arid to semi-arid weather, deep hard rock aquifers, power and monetary subsidies to farmers and absence of any formal legislation/ social regulation to govern water extraction have resulted in competitive bore-well digging. Such rampant extraction has gravely exacerbated the already stressed groundwater situation in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Much of the discourse around groundwater management for irrigation has been limited to developing more groundwater sources, i.e. digging more bore-wells. At the same time, changing food habits have also prompted farmers to switch to water-intensive crops such as paddy.
Andhra Pradesh suffers from water scarcity as the permissible levels for drawing groundwater are at 40 percent, but the state draws about 58 percent. Changes in the rainfall distribution have led to frequent crop losses in low rainfall areas of the state.
In this context, WASSAN (Watershed Support Services and Activities Network), which is partly supported by Arghyam, engaged with farmers in three districts in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh to create a sustainable model for resource sharing and groundwater management. The project was functional from January 2011 to December 2013.
In Mehbubnagar district, 57 farmers in three villages pooled their 132 acres of land. In Anantapur district, 67 farmers owning 328 acres pooled their groundwater resources and in Ranga Reddy district 18 farmers with 45 acres.
The major partners involved in this project were –
WASSAN: Creation of a sustainable model for resource sharing and groundwater management; bringing farmers together through voluntary compliance.
Arghyam: Providing strategic and financial support towards the initiative.
Farmers/bore-well owners: Agreeing to the linkage of bore-wells through distribution pipes; switching to sustainable and diverse crops (for example, from paddy to groundnut); adoption of micro-irrigation systems such as sprinklers and drips.
They had already been equipped to participate in the development processes of their villages through trainings and discussions held earlier by the foundation. In the case of
the water tank, the women’s collective went door to door and collected INR 6,000 from the community. They also raised a request with the sarpanch (village headman) for a contribution to the cost of the tank from the government fund. This request
led to an allocation of INR 15,000. Sehgal Foundation raised the remaining funds and designed the model for the construction of a water tank. The water tank consists of a bio sand filtration system for water purification and has a storage capacity of 50,000 litres. Construction was completed in two months.
APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
The villages identified in these districts – both with and without access to groundwater – faced an increasingly precarious livelihood situation. WASSAN brought the farmers
together through a system of voluntary compliance and using a shared network of ‘bore-well pooling’ to address access to critical irrigation water, uncertainties in agriculture and seasonal migration.
The interventions included the following broad steps:
(i) Identifying farmers with bore wells was the first step, and then creating a collective of well owners and nonwell- owning farmers. Bore-wells were pooled through a common pipeline network, and it was agreed that water would be shared amongst all.
(ii) Hydrogeology training, the establishment of norms, and capacity-building were necessary to map bore wells, aquifers, and rain-fed areas. Groundwater sharing norms
were devised and put in place along with a system for maintenance and enforcement. Building institutions for conflict resolution and building technical capacities in groundwater measurements was also done during this phase.
(iii) Promotion of soil conservation practices included practices such as crop-residue management, green manure composting and generating adequate biomass.
Trees were introduced for diversification and to reduce evaporation losses. Micro-irrigation systems were promoted as sustainable forms of farming. Farmers were
also encouraged to make better crop choices and switch to more appropriate crops for the region.
(iv) Establishing the bore-well network was done by mapping agricultural land and connecting bore- wells, and then laying pipelines from the network to every field within
the collective, thus assuring critical irrigation to all areas under bore well pooling. This also required the establishment of cost-sharing norms for the network’s maintenance. Farmers agreed to a moratorium on new bore wells for a stipulated period of time.
Each collective was formalised through Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed by each member in the presence of the local Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO ).
Further, each collective set up a bank account that held a common fund for the O&M costs of the bore well network.
Financing and institutional mechanism
Mehbubnagar and Anantapur districts required the total project investment of INR 2.1 lakh (around INR 5,000 per acre) for bore-well pooling. Micro-irrigation sets were provided at subsided costs through the Andhra Pradesh Micro Irrigation Project (APMIP). Seeds were provided from the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) budget and National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) funds were used to construct the water storage structures (pipelines were laid, trenches were dug and the cost of the material was covered by NREGS. For O&M, farmers who owned bore-wells contributed INR 200 per acre annually and non-bore well owners paid around INR 1000 per acre annually.
Arghyam and WASSAN