Integrated watershed development programme: Partnerships for development

A large scale partnership approach starting in Andhra Pradesh and successfully
diffusing to nine other states

BACKGROUND

Water resource management is one of the most serious of global challenges, intensified by the pressures of climate change. The issue is critical especially for India. Accounting for 17 per cent of the world’s population but just 4 percent of water resources, the country is already under water-stress. About 90 per cent of India’s water consumption goes towards agriculture, dominated by small/ marginal farmers whose only option is rain-fed agriculture. While this can be more than sufficient, it is concentrated over an approximately 12 week period and is often erratic with huge inequalities in geographical distribution. Groundwater, another vital resource, has already reached ‘unsafe’ levels in 31 percent of districts accounting for about 33 percent of land area and 35 percent of India’s population. A programme was conceptualised and implemented with the vulnerable communities in Andhra Pradesh (AP). The project was started in 2001 and initially covered approximately 1,000 ha across 21 villages in AP. By 2015-16, the programme expanded to 2.59 lakh ha in nine other states.
The goal encircled harvesting rainwater, recharging groundwater and managing these conserved resources through empowered community institutions so that water would be available for irrigation to support year- round farming and a more stable agricultural regime.

ROLE OF STAKEHOLDERS

The delivery model mobilised a three-way collaborative partnership between communities, ITC and NGOs, extending to the Government and other players. The community was involved at every stage from strategy formation to implementation. Civil works were undertaken only after consultations with, and approvals/sanctions from village councils. Though ITC provided major funding for the projects, community contribution – both in terms of finance and labour – was a key element in this model.

A number of NGOs implemented the programme in partnership with the local communities. ITC provided strategic direction through its social investment team.
Other stakeholders included the Government departments which were consulted for technical support in engineering, agriculture and animal husbandry. In ITC’s PPS (Public-Private-Partnerships), respective State Governments or NABARD co-funded projects with ITC and the three-way project implementation partnership was extended to include local government bodies. Other players like technical/ professional/ financial/ academic agencies were brought on board as required.

APPROACH & METHODOLOGY

The program interventions were targeted at:

1. Water conservation and soil enrichment by–
• Assisting village communities to implement soil and moisture conservation (SMC) measures and build water harvesting structures to improve water availability for agriculture and to conserve soil, water and nutrients. These measures combined modern techniques with traditional practices, and mostly used simple, low-cost methods/ technologies that were adaptable to local needs and resources so that these could be easily replicated and magnified to other regions. The SMC measures undertaken included field bunding, gully plugs, boulder checks, loose stone check dams, contour bunds and trenches – to regulate water run-off and minimise erosion. Structures that built water storage capacities included percolation/ irrigation/ village tanks, nallah bunds, farm ponds, stop/ check dams, etc.

A good example of revival of a traditional practice has been in the form of tank silt application. Although largely abandoned, tank systems and silt application have multiple benefits. Tanks have the property of being a common resource that support equity, irrigation and groundwater recharge as well as trapping valuable topsoil run-off. Removing silt from tanks and applying in fields is an age-old practice in many areas. Desilting ensures that the tanks maintain optimal water storage capacities, and silt application in fields significantly improved soil fertility and lowers input costs by reducing the need for chemical fertilizers.
• Improving biomass cover through re-vegetation of common and private wastelands and improving productivity of marginal lands.
• Promoting scientific land-use patterns, use of organic fertilizers/ pesticides and simple water-saving technologies, to improve soil health and conserve water.

2. Village-based management of water and other natural resources by–
• Facilitating the formation of robust water user groups (WUGs) and other community-based organizations such as Farmer Self-help Groups.
• Building the community capacity so that they could regulate demand for diverse resources equitably and ultimately manage their resources independently. From bare survival to creation of assets “After we built the water harvesting structures, our farm output increased. Prior to this, we could not grow any crops in the Rabi season. Now 700-800 bighas can be cultivated with wheat and gram in the Rabi season. Income has gone up. There’s more work to be done,” informs Bapulal Banjara WUG Member, Chikli Goel village, Shajapur district, Madhya Pradesh. Not so long ago, Bapulal Banjara and his fellow villagers used to wait for the monsoon to raise their single and only crop of
the year. By January, the village wells used to dry up. Women had to walk miles for water, twice a day. There was little work in the village. Bapulal used to cycle to the nearest town to find work as a daily labourer, earning INR 30-35 a day, barely
able to support his family of seven. Things began to change with ITC’s Watershed Development Project in 2007. Bapulal and other farmers formed a WUG and undertook a range of measures with ITC’s support and training. Life is different now that the wells have water till May, used to irrigate winter crops.

3. Optimising the benefits of water resources created by–
• Integrating sustainable agricultural practices and livestock development programs of ITC to build a more vibrant farm portfolio that included sustainable on- and off-farm livelihoods. The programme adopted a bottom-up participatory approach that prioritised the needs of the communities. This began with the intensive Participatory Rural Appraisals (PRAs) to identify target beneficiaries who were motivated to form WUGs. WUGs were enabled through intensive capacity building and training. The implementation process was highly collaborative, anchored in group meetings, ongoing dialogue between all partners and supported by formal and informal feedback mechanisms.

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By ITC Limited

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