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Community water resource management: A suitable option for sustainable rural livelihoods

Farming community in Rajha village in Nepal, through effective management of the scarce water resource and good governance mechanisms, have moved towards building sustainable communities.

A woman waters her crop. Photo: Chiranjibi Rijal

A woman waters her crop. Photo: Chiranjibi Rijal

In Gulmi district in the Western Development Region of Nepal, dry season is as long as eight months. About 90% of total annual rainfall is received during four months in the summer season. Rajha village lies in the hilly region of the district and has a sub-tropical climate. There are no additional sources of water except monsoon rainfall.

The village suffers from alternating cycles of excess water and water scarcity. Twelve years back, people used to rely on a single source of spring-water for drinking and household use. Being located away from the village, communities required to walk for an hour to fetch water from this spring. In 2002, the Resunga Drinking Water Supply Scheme, started supplying drinking water through its 16-kilometer length pipeline with scattered distribution outlets. Though the communities got access to safe drinking water, it was not sufficient to meet the domestic and irrigation needs. Therefore, rain-fed subsistence agriculture has been predominant in the area.

In order to cope with the prevailing situation, in 2007, a few community members started harvesting rainwater from rooftops. The water thus collected was used for household needs during the dry season. As the rainwater storage tanks constructed at household level were small, water was not sufficient for irrigation. The community then got together and established an agriculture cooperative, named Nava Durga Agriculture Cooperative, with 35 members. Initially, the cooperative delivered saving and credit services to local groups. Later on, in 2009, the cooperative formed a “Water Management Committee (WMC)”, with nine members.

The WMC with partial external support constructed a plasticlined water storage tank with the storage capacity of 600,000 liters of rainwater. The harvested water was available to 34 households; the water user group (WUG). The storage water was strictly used for income generating activities such as growing off-seasonal vegetables and rearing improved breed of cattle.

Meeting increased water demand

Life has changed with water, for this farmer. Photo: Authors
Life has changed with water, for this farmer. Photo: Authors

The demand for water increased, as the neighboring community also showed interest. The WMC came up with an ambitious water project called “Pakhu Khola Dharapani Lifting Irrigation Project” to meet the increased water demand. The total cost of the project was NRs. 2.9 million (USD 29,000) of which community shared 91% of the total cost, and the rest was supported by the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO)-Gulmi and Gaudakot Village Development Committee (VDC). The WUG was expanded to 63 members covering 70% households of the village and started lifting irrigation in 2010.

The lift irrigation scheme lifts spring water from 190 meters downstream (1,324 meter altitude) and stores water in at collection tank constructed on top of the village (1,514 meter altitude). At the source, a tank of 35,000 liters collects water from two small springs as Pakhu Khola and Dhara Pani with a total discharge of 0.05 liter per second during the dry season. Water from the source is pumped by 17.5 HP submersible motor which lifts water at 1,000 meters horizontal and 190 meters vertical distances.

Two distribution tanks are located at the center of the village which receive water from the main collection tank located at the top of the village. The distribution tank has distribution pipe lines with valves at the bottom from which water is supplied to the individual household tank of 2,000 liters. Water is distributed to members through a separate pipe. Households use collected water to irrigate vegetable fields, for livestock and other domestic uses.

Membership is open to all households in the village. The membership fee is NRs. 10,000 (USD 100) per household, who had already contributed to the project. The fee is NRs. 50,000 (USD 500) for the new household. In addition to membership fee, all the members pay a nominal monthly operational cost that is used for repairs and maintenance and towards costs of electricity bill. As members, each household receives water in a fixed schedule (3 hours a day) through a separate distribution pipeline. The household can store water in the tank of 2,000 liters. It is mandatory that water should be used for income generation activities only. In case of violation, the member has to pay a fine and the water supply is cut off.

Managing water use

The Water Management Committee (WMC) is one of the sub-committees of the cooperative, which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of water supply schemes. The WMC comprises of nine members (5 women and 4 men) including a president, a vice president, a secretary and a treasurer, and five board members. It represents sixty three Water User Groups (WUGs) and guarantees the proper functioning of water supply schemes and ensures that the water source is well managed.

The WMC is also registered in District Water Resources Management Committee (DWRMC), and has by-laws and operational guidelines. The WMC sets rules and regulations in the regular meetings. Generally monthly meetings are held, however, special meetings are also arranged if necessary. The WMC endorses operational decisions, such as operation and distribution schedules, maintenance of the system, recruitment and mobilization of operators and other manpower requirements. However, the general assembly of WUG, which is held twice in a year, decides on water tariff, distribution volume, expansion of the project, and membership fee.

Water harvesting during monsoon season. Photo: Authors
Water harvesting during monsoon season. Photo: Authors

Out of total credit mobilized from cooperative, 85% is issued for women. Women are not only the beneficiaries of the project, they are part of all the management committees, e.g. 55% of WMC members, must be women. Out of 22 farmer groups, more than 50% groups have women in the decisionmaking position.

Besides the Water Management Committee, there are three more sub-committees in the cooperative – Credit Mobilization Committee, Insurance Committee, and Market Management Committee. The Credit Mobilization Committee facilitates savings and provides small credit to farmers. The Market Management Committee is responsible for input and output operations of the agricultural products.

The committee coordinates with agro-input suppliers, and collects and disseminates market information to its members. The cooperative has adopted a collective marketing system of agricultural products. Thus, it has established its own vegetable and milk collection center. The Insurance Committee insures cattle with a premium of NRs. 1,000 (USD 10) per cattle and pays back up to 80% of the total cost of cattle in case of casualty. Also, the cooperative enhances the capacity of farmers by providing skill and vocational development trainings, exposure visits, etc. The cooperative board is responsible for overall management of the cooperative and coordinates with public and private sectors.

Access to water improves livelihood

Women empowerment is one of the major impacts of the water project.

Access to irrigation water is an attractive option for poor farmers in Rajha village to initiate income-generating activities. The most direct outcomes of the irrigation scheme are changes in crop diversity, cropping intensity, and crop yield.

The farming system was typically subsistence and used to be two crop cycles in a year – maize/millet-mustard/beans/ lentils. With the increased access to irrigation water, necessary agro-inputs, credit, and market information, the subsistence farming has been changed to commercial farming. Farmers now follow three crop cycles, such as cucurbits/tomato – Cole crops/tomato – green pea/okra. Currently, there are 63 vegetable farms, 45 improved cattle, two poultry farms, and two pig farms. Due to increased income generating opportunity in the village, migration is reduced.

During field visits, it was observed that some households (about 30%) who had once migrated to India and Middle East have returned to the village and initiated commercial agriculture. Institutional development, such as cooperative and WMC are the positive impacts of water project which has developed linkages with government agencies and private sectors. The community has managed water in an efficient way through better water governance.

The equitable distribution of water supply has benefited all members of the village, including disadvantaged and marginalized people. Women empowerment is one of the major impacts of the water project. With access to water and credit, women are involved in income generation activities and are key decision-makers. Thus, effective management of the scarce water resource has contributed towards sustainable community development by increasing household income, community assets and value, cooperation and good water governance.

Ganesh Dhakal and Chiranjibi Rijal

Ganesh Dhakal
Micro Enterprise Development Coordinator Good Neighbors International – Nepal
Email: gk.dhakal@gmail.com

Chiranjibi Rijal
Ministry of Agricultural Development, Agriculture Management Information System, Kathmandu.
Email: csrijal@gmail.com