Community watersheds have come to the rescue of drought affected farmers in southern India says, The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).
The institute along with a consortium of nonprofits have been helping the people of Kothapally in Andhra Pradesh to cope with drought for more than nine years now through community watersheds.
"Thanks to ICRISAT, water shortage in our village belongs to the past," says Mohammed Azam, farmer in Kothapally in Andhra Pradesh. "We have enough water, but the villages that did not pick up the innovations are suffering."
Adds Azam: "The productivity in Kothapally has increased immensely due to the water saving systems but also because of ICRISAT's improved crop varieties, integrated pest management and the judicious application of fertilizers. I was one of the first farmers to adopt these ideas and today I can send my five grandchildren to good schools in town."
T Janaiah, another Kothapally farmer, says, "Ten years ago our groundwater level was about 300 feet deep and today we are at about 60 feet thanks to the water saving facilities that we built together with our partners from ICRISAT. Even with a late monsoon we have sufficient drinking and irrigation water."
Particularly the community watershed enables introduction of a variety of other new technologies. The construction of check dams were based on the community needs and executed by the villagers themselves. The introduction of improved varieties and hybrid crops, integrated pest management, the restoration of wastelands together with a continuously growing groundwater level resulted in significant higher yields and greater income for the poor, it is pointed out.
In a way community watershed could also result in empowerment of women. For women farmers play a key role in utilizing new technologies. Several women's self-help groups were trained in vermicomposting. They in turn trained others in neighboring villages. B Lakshmi, 47, from Kothapally, received the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy fellowship for Rural Prosperity in 2007 for training peers in vermicomposting.
The community watershed at Kothapally has become a model replicated in many other sites in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam, and now in East and Central Africa, points out Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.
While the state governments took the lead in promoting community watershed in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Jharkhand, the Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust funded the spread of the program. In select watersheds in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, the Confederation of Indian Industry supported the projects.
The idea also spread to other parts of Asia - China, Thailand and Vietnam. The Asian Development Bank supported watershed projects in these countries, which included introduction of improved crop varieties, rainwater harvesting, rehabilitation of farm ponds, introduction of legumes, vegetables and fruit in the cropping systems, innovative integrated pest management techniques and diversifying cultivation with horticultural crops, and increasing incomes with the rearing of pigs and rabbits.
A team of researchers from East and Central Africa (ECA) visited India in March 2004 and identified ICRISAT's watershed experience as a potential solution to many of the challenges being faced in their region. Rwanda took the lead through its agricultural research institute and initiated implementation of pilot sites for the adaptation and demonstration of Indian experiences.
A pilot integrated watershed management project was initiated at Lake Kivu learning sites in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo in 2006 as part of the Challenge Program of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research for sub-Saharan Africa, according to an ICRISAT press release.