India has approximately 142 million hectares of land under agricultural cultivation.
Of this 60% is rain-fed and consists mostly of small and marginal farms. Given the vagaries of the monsoons, the approximately 400 million Indians who live in these areas, suffer from high food insecurity and largely subsist below the poverty line.
The Irrigated areas, though much better off, suffer from low efficiency of water use, and generally high tail end deprivation (namely projects at the tail end of canals usually get little water).
In Gujarat, which lies in a semi arid zone, 70 % of the area is rain-fed. Rainfall is erratic and ranges from 350-1800 mm of precipitation. Many districts are perennially dry and much of Gujarat suffers from soil degradation, salinity, and high levels of ground water depletion.
Since 2007, the RBS India Foundation, has been working in the Mehsana and Sabarkantha districts of Gujarat, along with our partners DSC, to focus on Watershed development (in the rain-fed areas) and Participatory Irrigation Management (in areas that have access to irrigation), with the aim of improving agricultural productivity and access to drinking water. A total of 150 villages, comprising of 40,000 farmers’ families, in a command area of 38,0000 hectares, have been covered.
The purpose of my visit to Gujarat from March 9 – 24, 2012 was to undertake a first hand Impact Assessment of our projects; to experience life from the perspective of women in some of our project villages; and to document and share the stories of the everyday heroes and heroines that I met.
This is the story of Hari Bhai the hero of Kiyadaar, who by applying the principles of the cooperative movement to the management of water, was a key catalyst for the success of what is now being called the blue revolution in Gujarat.
A farmer with a small un-irrigated plot of land in the village of Kiyadaar, in the Mehsana district of Gujarat, Hari Bhai had first hand experience of how the milk dairy cooperative movement had changed the life of subsistence farmers. Recognised for his integrity and administrative abilities he was elected as the Village head of the Milk cooperative for Kiyadaar.
In 1979, the building of the Dharoi dam on the River Sabarmati, brought the promise of irrigation to Kiyadaar. Unfortunately this remained only a promise. Until 1997, Kiyadaar like many other villages in Mehsana, received no water at all from the irrigation canals of Dharoi. So Hari Bhai, got the villagers together. They studied the canal system and realised that the gradient of the sub canal, to their village was wrong, thus making it impossible for the water to flow towards their village. When entreaties to official departments failed to yield results, the villagers labouring together, first remedied the gradient problem and then repaired the sub canal.
Once the water started reaching the village, they realised that a roster system would be needed to ensure that each farm in the village received its fair share of water. Thus was born the Pani Panchayat of Kiyadar. Villagers agreed the days on which each farm would receive water. They took into account acreage as also the nature of crop each farmer was growing. Penalties were agreed and levied for misuse. Because Governance was local, voluntary and mutually beneficial, the results were excellent.
In 2007, DSC an NGO set up the late Anilbhai Shah, approached our Foundation for support in extending the Kiyadaar model to other villages in the Mehsana district. Hari bhai became mentor and guide to many other villagers and the experience of Kiyadaar became a catalyst for other villages to adopt the same methods.
Soon it became clear that a system of regulation would be required between villages at the head of the canal, along its length and at the tail, to ensure that tail end deprivation did not take place. So a Federation of villages along the Canal was formed, to ensure that all villages along the length of the canal received their fair share of water. Hari Bhai was selected as the Secretary of the Federation of Canal No 2 ( there are 3 main canals from the Dharoi dam).
Clearly this was a win-win situation. Villages and farmers, were getting the benefits of irrigation and so took an interest in maintaining and regulating the usage if water. This reduced the administrative burden on the irrigation dept. So as an incentive, the Govt granted a rebate on the water cess, to every village with a Pani Panchayat ( or WAU), and to all villages that were members of a Canal Federation.
At present the economics of the water in Mehsana are as follows. Every farmer in a WAU village is a member of the cooperative and pays Rs 50 for his/ her share. The WAU collects the water cess from farmers and undertakes maintenance of the canals. For this the WAU receives a rebate of 50% on the water cess (currently Rs 276 for 1 watering of 1 hectare) from the Irrigation Dept, which benefit is shared amongst the farmers of the village.
The Presidents of the village water cooperatives, jointly comprise the General body of the Canal Federation. Every Village cooperative contributes Rs 20/ hectare to the Canal Federation. The Federation in turn undertakes maintenance of the main canal and supervision of water distribution between villages, and pays for Chowkidars and operators. For this they receive a further 20% rebate on the water cess, from the Irrigation Dept, which is shared amongst the member villages.
This sensible system of management has doubled the area irrigated by the Dharoi dam, from 18,000 hectares to 36,000 hectares !
Now the 3 Canal Federations are planning to join together, and form an Apex Federation, and undertake the management of the Dharoi dam itself – a wonderful example of how a small village grass-roots Governance initiative can grow to scale.
Along this journey, we realised that the local capacities that been developed through this self governance process could be used effectively for improving Agricultural productivity, building market linkages, optimising costs and mitigating the risks farmers faced.
So once again using Hari Bhai as a role model, we started spreading the message on the benefits of matters like soil testing, using vermicompost & bio pesticides, setting up Self Help Groups for women to clean, grade, and pack products, using drip irrigation & mulching techniques etc. His presence at a farmers gathering, and his image on a poster, bring immediate recognition and acceptance of these messages.
The outcomes of the past 5 years have been very encouraging. Net income of farmers in the villages covered has risen on an average from Rs 12000 – 17000 per hectare. Costs have declined on average by Rs 2000-3000 per hectare. The usage of chemical fertilisers has reduced by 2100 tonnes, and that of pesticides by 600 litres. Approximately 96000 cum of water has been saved through techniques such as drip irrigation & mulching, and soil testing indicates that in approximately 6000 hectares soil health has significantly improved.
Given these very positive results we have extended the project for a 2nd Phase, which will run through 2015.
Discussing next steps with Hari Bhai, I was deeply impressed by both his humility and his confidence. Speaking in Gujarati, he said gently ” there are songs that say, once upon a time rivers of milk flowed in our country, and our soil yielded gold…if we learn to work cooperatively together, that day will come again”
When one meets people like Hari Bhai, that future seems like a real possibility.