Farmers in Maharashtra’s drought-prone Marathwada region have made farming remunerative by harvesting rainwater in pond-like pockets in streams, leading to groundwater recharge.
Falling in a rain shadow region, Jalna district in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra is prone to frequent droughts. The villages in Jalna get an annual rainfall of 600 mm to 700 mm, and the villagers grow two crops a year, namely kharif and rabi crops. Papal village in Jafrabad administrative block of Jalna has about 250 households with a population of 1,500.
A few decades ago, the government started supplying electricity to the farmers at a flat tariff. This enabled irrigation of the fields from existing open wells, prompting many villagers to dig wells.
Despite the wells, insufficient rains made farming difficult for the villagers. The villagers then harvested rainwater in streams, through the Doha model. Doha is a water harvesting concept that involves digging streambeds to create pond-like pockets within the streams. It not only facilitates the storage of a large amount of rainwater in streams, but also helps recharge groundwater. This concept has helped farmers in the region reap better benefits from agriculture.
Despite having electricity connections, farmers still had difficulty in irrigation due to unscheduled power cuts.
“This created unnecessary pressure for the farmers, who were already grappling with regular dry spells,” Bhaurav Atapale from Akola Deo village told VillageSquare.in.
About 80 percent farmers in this hamlet had open wells in their fields. However, with scanty rainfall, the wells did not hold water for long. Droughts such as the one in 2012, made the situation worse.
Permeshwer Bobade, a farmer, recalls cultivating cotton and pigeon pea in the kharif season.
“Irrigation was possible only from July to November,” says Bobade.
Whatever crops he decided to grow in the rabi season was at the mercy of rains, despite having a 60 ft deep dug well in his land. His net returns from agriculture did not exceed Rs 25,000 a year.
Four years ago, Dilasa Sanstha, a non-profit organisation working to secure livelihoods of farmers by ensuring water availability, implemented the Doha model.
After implementing this, those who have their agriculture fields near the stream and own a well reported an increase in the water level of their wells. Now, the water level in the wells is sufficient to irrigate till February as against earlier when the wells used to go dry in November or December.
Farmers from three other villages of Jalna district, where Doha model intervention was carried out, also reported an increase in the volume of water available in their wells for irrigating their crops during rabi season.
With Doha, villagers in the vicinity of streams revealed that it has led to a reduction in the number of water tankers bringing potable water, as they now have water in the wells. Assured water availability has helped them enhance their fodder production, thus increasing their livestock.
Now, Bobade says he has modified his agricultural crop portfolio. Last year, he utilised only a fraction of his land for the crops. Except cotton, all crops were primarily for home consumption. However, in the last two years, he has diversified into growing crops for commercial seed production. He has also planted mulberry plants to practice sericulture. He now claims to be earning an annual income of about Rs 3,50,000 from agriculture, including sericulture and commercial seed production. With the assured availability of fodder, he and his wife Vimal have also bought some goats.
Bobade invests a large portion of his income in his children’s education.
“My daughter is studying civil engineering and I want my son to pursue pharmacy so that he can open a medical shop in our area,” he says.
Another farmer from the region, Ankush Bobade, says that his annual income from agriculture has more than doubled and now he earns about Rs 3,50,000. Other farmers in the region have also seen an increase in their agricultural income.
While the benefits are many, the Doha model also has a set of challenges associated with it. One significant challenge is the lack of equity in the distribution of water for irrigation. The Doha intervention only benefits farmers having their agricultural fields near the stream. Farmers staying away from the stream are not able to reap its benefits, if they do not own a well near the stream.
For the said reason, even those farmers who have their fields near the stream, but do not own a well are unable to receive the irrigation benefits. Also, farmers having their fields upstream do not receive much of the benefits. It is the downstream farmers, close to the stream pockets that retain water post monsoon, who have the maximum benefit.
To distribute the benefits of the Doha model equally to the villagers, there is a need for regulation over the use of water, by setting it aside for those staying away from the stream. However, the preliminary requirement for any such provision to work is an understanding among the village community.
The community has to understand that by recharging groundwater, the intervention creates a community asset and not multiple individual assets, and therefore they must manage it collectively. One solution can be the participatory irrigation management through a group of farmers. The group can ensure judicious use of water from these wells and create a means to transport water to the farmers staying away from the stream.
Taking water to the farmers upstream may also require more efforts. Streams that have some water harvesting structure seemed to be more efficient in harvesting and recharging water, compared to those without a structure.
A shallow pond was the most common harvesting structure. Such a structure will also allow the farmer upstream to reap irrigation benefits. A proposal to include such structures in the design advocates for a watershed approach – catching the water where it falls, from ridge to valley – rather than implementing different water harvesting structures in isolation.
Hence, harvesting water through streams is a low-cost, local alternative to larger water harvesting structures. Implementing these measures will ensure irrigation benefits to all, without any rifts.
Disclaimer: This article was first published in VillageSquare.in. The views expressed by the author are his/her own and do not necessarily reflect that of YourStory.