Prosperity in times of drought

By Aparna Shukla and Yoshita Sengupta; Photographs by Manoej Paateel on June 7, 2016 in Food and Water

It’s a happy village, this Wadhona; almost utopian.

Early in the morning, the farmers go to fields, to till, sow, harvest and then return home in the afternoon for lunch, a little rest and then go back post 3 pm, when the sun isn’t as harsh.

In the afternoons and evenings, the men sit and discuss cricket matches, market trends, organic farming, new agricultural techniques and a myriad of other things that have nothing to do with water crisis, drought, rains; issues that plague the region all around them.

The women here neither spend hours waiting in line for water nor do they walk kilometres to fetch water – they have two options, the water that comes to pipelines once in the day or go to the wells or bore wells in their fields and fetch water. Instead, they spend their spare time running self-help groups and running small businesses to supplement the family income.

The farmers at Wadhona village

Wadhona isn’t in a water-rich state with plenty of rain, overflowing rivers and rich alluvial soil. It’s bang in the middle of Marathwada region, in Jalna district, which has less than 10 per cent irrigated land and has been severely drought-hit for over three years.

In the past three years, when the crops across the region have failed leading to suicides, debts, bad loans and unemployment, the farmers in Wadhona, and six neighbouring villages, have seen a phenomenal increase in produce. “Earlier, in one acre I would harvest about two to four quintal of crop. Now, I get about seven to eight quintal. Add to that the second crop that I can harvest, as opposed to earlier where the second crop would depend on the rains,” says 55 year-old Ashok Ganpat Gaude, a resident of Wadhona.

"Earlier, in one acre I would harvest about two to four quintal of crop. Now, I get about seven to eight quintal. Add to that the second crop that I can harvest, as opposed to earlier where the second crop would depend on the rains," says 55 year-old Ashok Ganpat Gaude, a resident of Wadhona.

Ask the villagers how they have managed to be drought-free in a region that received only 480 mm rainfall last year, as opposed the average 700 mm and they, in unison, start listing terms; terms that sound too technical, terms that are too scientific, terms that sound familiar, but completely alien coming from them – water shed development, afforestation, farm bunding, organic farming, vermi-composting, agro-meteorology, farm pond, renewable energy, water budgeting, micro-irrigation, fodder cultivation. There were more terms that we didn’t understand, had never heard of or completely missed out on because we were too stunned to process any more information.

Spend an entire day walking around the entire village and talking to people and you’d slowly start to unravel the secret of Wadhona’s prosperity. It’s a model village, where they have a built a model that’s essentially planned, scientific, eco-friendly, sustainable, self-sustained and one where each element is unique and independent, yet feeds into the larger eco-system.

WATERSHED DEVELOPMENT AND WATER CONSERVATION


Water shed development work carried out to arrest rain water and regenerate ground water

The most important aspect of the model that has led to Wadhona and six other villages around it being drought-free is the work that the villagers have undertaken to arrest and conserve rain water, regenerate ground water and plan water consumption.

“The project is built on a hill, with the first village, Jaydevwadi, on top followed by Wadhona, Vizora, Sunderwadi, Padmavati, Bhorkheda and Vadod Tangda. The main objective of building a water shed, afforestation, making trenches, farm bunding, deepening of nullahs, de-silting etc. is to cut down the speed of rain water flowing down the hill and controlling soil erosion. At each level, at each village, some amount of rain water should be held back or go into the ground,” explains Shashikant Mehetre, who works with the villagers on behalf of WOTR, the NGO that has been implementing the project in the seven villages.

 

“The project is built on a hill, with the first village, Jaydevwadi, on top followed by Wadhona, Vizora, Sunderwadi, Padmavati, Bhorkheda and Vadod Tangda. The main objective of building a water shed, afforestation, making trenches, farm bunding, deepening of nullahs, de-silting etc. is to cut down the speed of rain water flowing down the hill and controlling soil erosion. At each level, at each village, some amount of rain water should be held back or go into the ground,” explains Shashikant Mehetre, who works with the villagers on behalf of WOTR, the NGO that has been implementing the project in the seven villages."

The mammoth task of developing a watershed, de-silting, bunding etc. has also led to massive employment opportunities for the farm workers and labourers and additional income for farmers in the villages.

To conserve and manage water, farmers across the board have irrigated their farms and a lot of them have built farm ponds that can store water to use through the year.

Arun Suresh Gawande, a 26 year-old farmer from Vizora village has built a pond to harvest rain water in his farm. “I spent about Rs. 80, 000 to make the pond and the results are really good. It’s almost the end of summer and I still have half the pond filled with water,” says Arun.

 

“I spent about Rs. 80, 000 to make the pond and the results are really good. It’s almost the end of summer and I still have half the pond filled with water,” says Arun Suresh Gawande, a 26 year-old farmer from Vizori village.

“First year, when the work started, the rain was good. Slowly, the village, much like the rest of the region, started to witness consistent droughts. Because of all the water conservation efforts, our cluster of villages are the only ones in the region that still has ample water, in the wells, in the farm ponds, everywhere. In fact, as opposed to a foot or a foot and a half of water that typically remains in the wells by January, we had close to four to five feet of water this year. When people saw the difference, they started to take interest and even adopt all the other techniques and technologies,” says Israil Gulab Tadvi, a resident of Wadhona.

AGRO-METEOROLOGY

Vizora village shares a solar powered weather station with six neighbouring villages.

The weather station captures local weather data and transmits it every hour to WOTR NGO’s servers in Pune, which is then sent to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) servers.

IMD sends out a village/ area specific three-day forecast back to the WOTR servers.

Weather forecasts from IMD is fed into a software, which already has information on indigenous and traditional agricultural practices and geo-referenced information on crops grown in the specific area and land-related information of the village.

WOTR’s data scientists, using the software, prepare extremely local, crop and farmer specific agro advisories, which is then sent to the villagers in Marathi via SMS.

“The benefits of the weather station are many. We get detailed messages about everything, which helps us plan the harvest, sowing of seeds, stocking of crops etc.,” says Arun, on whose farm the weather station has been installed.

“The accurate information led to residents of nearby villages keeping in touch with us all of last year, to know about the weather situation,” says Tadvi.


WEEKLY WALL PAPERS


For the farmers who do not have access to the phones and SMS facilities, the village has a wall, where very specific crop and land relevant weather information and how to go about farming, harvesting, protecting the farm keeping the forecast in mind is written down.

“I have a two-acre farm and I grow Soya bean. The table (wall paper) has been at the village square for three years. We get information about weather that helps us understand how we can protect our crops. After this table was painted here, I started getting exact information on when it’ll rain. Earlier we would go by our gut and do as we please, which would be a gamble. Now, it’s not risky,” says Haridas Kishan Gawande, a resident of Vizora village.

 

“I have a two-acre farm and I grow Soya bean. The table (wall paper) has been at the village square for three years. We get information about weather that helps us understand how we can protect our crops. After this table was painted here, I started getting exact information on when it’ll rain. Earlier we would go by our gut and do as we please, which would be a gamble. Now, it’s not risky,”says Haridas Kishan Gawande, a resident of Vizora village.

RENEWABLE ENERGY

Community solar lights are a common sight in Wadhona and six other villages that have also adopted the same models and practices as Wadhona. Several farmers in the villages have also set up bio gas plants in their homes. “People used wood to cook food, which is not good for the environment, this on the other hand is fully organic,” explains Arun, who spent Rs. 28,000 to set up the plant.

The procedure to produce bio-gas is very simple, say the villagers. You first dig a three feet by 14 feet pit and fill it with cow dung. Then, you add wet waste like coconut shell, vegetable peel etc. to the pit. It then needs to be sprinkled with water for seven to eight days and then left for three weeks. What’s produced at the end is organic fuel.

SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE, ORGANIC FARMING AND HORTICULTURE

Along with using modern, innovative techniques to supplement agriculture, the farmers in Wadhona and neighbouring villages, implement several farming techniques such as use of indigenous seeds, crop geometry (spaced planting), crop rotation and making vermi-compost pits for organic manure that conserve soil, increase land productivity and enhance harvest in the long run.

Several farmers in the village have also taken to organic farming and five farmers have taken to horticulture, after receiving training from WOTR.

Arun has divided his five and a half acre farm and grows chillies in one acre, soya bean in three acres and pomegranate in 1.5 acres. “I saw a friend of mine grow pomegranate. It doesn’t take too much water and gives good returns. So, I learnt the technique and implemented it,” he says.

“Despite the drought, the yields in the past two years haven’t been too bad. Before these projects started in the village, there was never enough water to harvest a Rabi crop. That, however, hasn’t been a problem since the project was implemented,” Arun adds.

Most farmers in the villages use biodynamic compost, neem seed kernel extract and something they call amrut pani, which is essentially organic pesticide that they can make at home.

“Amrut pani is made by mixing cow dung, water, cow urine, jaggery and keeping it covered for nine to 10 days. Once you spray that on the field, you’ll never need to use to use pesticides again. It has yielded 100 per cent results for all of us,” claims Tadvi. All the other farmers we speak to, agree.

The use of organic compost, manure and pesticides has greatly reduced the application of chemical-based inputs, increased soil productivity over years and reduced the cost of cultivation.

Over and above these techniques and technologies, the seven villages in the region are also starting to embrace other concepts being introduced by WOTR. These include setting up of kitchen gardens, eco-friendly ways of collecting non-biodegradable waste, cultivating economically viable and organic wet fodder for the cattle. The women of the village actively run self-help groups. They have also taken up alternative livelihoods and started small businesses like poultry to supplement the family income. Over 200 plus women from the cluster of seven villages have even come together and registered a Farmer’s producer company that’ll connect the farmers of the region directly to the market and fetch them a fair price for their harvest.


Directors of the Farmer’s Producer Company, registered and run by over 200 women from neighbouring villages

“The farmers can be sceptical. Initially, we all were. It takes one farmer to adopt something new and deliver results. It’s all that’s needed to open the floodgates. Now, every farmers wants to grab all the possible opportunities, adopt all the possible techniques, gain all the possible knowledge,” says Tadvi.

“The farmers can be sceptical. We all were. It takes one farmer to adopt something new and deliver results. It’s all it needs to open the floodgates. Now, every farmers wants grab all the possible opportunities, adopt all the possible techniques, gain all the possible knowledge,” says Israil Gulab Tadvi, a resident of Wadhona.

And he’s right. Ask any farmer in the village what he wants and he’ll just rapidly list out tools, training or equipment that’ll help him increase his land’s productivity in a sustainable way. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the youth in these seven villages have all taken to agriculture as opposed to other drought-hit areas where most of them are looking to migrate or take up odd jobs.

“These developments and techniques have been the great equalizer in the village,” says Gawde.

First published by DNA India



Story Tags: ecological sustainability, agriculture, horticulture, learning, decentralization, producers cooperative, understanding, women empowerment, organic farming

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