Jhansi, Aug 13 : Lush green fields, orchards of guava trees with branches laden with fruit, rows of groundnut shrubs, vegetables -- Parasai-Sindh region of Bundelkhand is a picture of plenty. But it wasn't always like this.
The transformation of what was once thought to be arid, uncultivable land has taken place, thanks to construction of several check dams that has helped raise the ground water level by two-four metres, compared to earlier.
The rising water level has in turn boosted cropping intensity in the area by 30-50 per cent, especially during the post-monsoon season.
The integrated watershed project, involving rainwater harvesting and water conservation, was launched in the region in 2013, in a joint effort of the Coca-Cola India Foundation (CCIF), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and 'Haritika', an NGO that works with communities to improve livelihoods and quality of life.
The Parasai-Sindh watershed area, comprising three villages -- Parasai, Chhatpur, and Bachhauni, covering nearly 1,250 hectares, was selected for developing a benchmark site for water conservation and rainwater harvesting, in Jhansi district.
Lallu Pal (40), a farmer in the area told IANS "Not just the farm, ponds are filled up now and even the wells. Earlier we did not get wheat to consume, but now we can cultivate it as we have ample water supply and even sell the crop."
Asked how his life has changed after the check dams were built, he said "I now grow peanuts, urad dal and wheat. Earlier the output was around 6-7 quintals but now it has increased to around 9-10 quintals." Pal's five brothers are all into farming.
The eight check dams built in Parasai-Sindh region, on the outskirts of Jhansi, are not just helping the people grow more crops but also get constant water supply.
"Bundelkhand has been facing water stress which impacts the livelihoods in the region. The main occupation of people is agriculture. However, water scarcity due to inadequate rainwater harvesting impacted the growth of Rabi crops, resulting in poor grain development," Rajiv Gupta, Program Manager, Coca-Cola India Foundation, told IANS.
He emphasized how the Integrated Watershed Project has increased water availability and also promoted livestock activities among farmers.
"These interventions have helped farmers increase their income through higher crop yield and more dairy production," added Gupta.
The partnership has led to the development of integrated watershed, including construction of check dams, stop dams and farm ponds.
The Bundelkhand region of central India is one of the hotspots of water scarcity, land degradation, and poor socio-economic status. From 2012 onwards, Coca-Cola India Foundation, ICRISAT along with partners National Research Centre for Agro-Forestry (NRCAF), the district administration and the local community started implementing the watershed interventions in this area.
Watershed committees were set up, which helped in mobilising the community and building rapport among stakeholders. Regular interactions with the community helped build strong trust with each other, which in turn helped in planning and implementation of the watershed activities in target villages.
Other interventions included teaching the people about soil and water conservation practices, how to increase productivity, crop diversification and intensification, tackling pests, among other activities. The village and watershed committees identified locations where different soil and water conservation interventions, such as check dams and gully control structures, could be made. A series of check dams on the main river stream were constructed which helped develop 125,000 m3 of storage capacity.
Komal Yadav's (28) life has changed for the better ever since the watershed development in the area began. With his income going upwards, Yadav has started sending his children to school. "The land area has been the same, but now the cultivable land is more. I have 16 acres of land out of which earlier I was only using 7-8 acres to grow, but now I grow on 12 acres - crops such as black gram, green gram, groundnut. I grow kharif as well as rabi crops. Since my income has increased I have also started keeping more buffaloes."
The Sarpanch (village head) was full of praise for the watershed intervention, as now they get water for drinking and sanitation purposes too.
Wheat yields have increased majorly -- from the earlier 1,500 to 1,800 kg per hectare. Before the watershed intervention, crop failure and poor yields were normal due to the depleted water resources in January-February.
Now with the watershed programme, farmers on an average harvest wheat ranging from 3,500-4,000 kg per hectare. This has made significant improvement in their incomes and lives. Farmers have also shifted from low-water crops to high-value crops that require more water for better income and livelihood.
(Sakshi Chand can be contacted at email@example.com)
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