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Rejuvenated landscape, rejuvenated lives

This is the story of how the people of Kaluchi Thakarwadi changed their destiny: a story of transformation from desert to replenished watershed. Kaluchi Thakarwadi is no longer a tragedy of inhospitable climate and unfortunate circumstances. By rejuvenating their landscape, people have rejuvenated their lives.

Check dams have helped in raising groundwater levels

Check dams have helped in raising groundwater levels

A small, remote settlement, Kaluchi Thakarwadi is lo cated in Parner block of Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra. The village lies in the semi-arid zone in the rain shadow region of the Sahyadri mountains. With unreliable rainfall, the village is known for acute water scarcity leading to recurrent food and fodder shortage. Climate change has further aggravated the situation.The main livelihood of the village comes from agriculture. But only 2 of the 7 hamlets are close enough to the river to be able to use its water for drinking and irrigation. Agriculture in all other hamlets is completely rainfed. Not being able to earn enough from agriculture, farmers migrate for work to sugarcane factories, brick kilns or as agricultural labour on other farms.

This unsettled lifestyle has adversely impacted families, especially the education and health of children.

Needless to say, neither government officials nor development schemes have reached this village. The village didn’t even have a connecting road till 2009. The community comprising of 98 households scattered in 7 hamlets, lacked the resources, access as well as collective power to tackle the problem of water scarcity.

Then, reports of impactful watershed projects came in from neighbouring villages. People of Kaluchi Thakarwadi decided to bring this solution to their village. The Gram Panchayat contacted Shree Hanuman Watershed Vikas Sanstha (SHWVAS), a small NGO working in the area, who in turn contacted Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR). WOTR provided financial and technical help to SHWVAS and watershed development came to Kaluchi Thakarwadi’s parched land.

About WOTR

Since 1993 WOTR has been in the forefront of mobilizing vulnerable communities in semi arid and resource fragile regions to help themselves out of poverty by harvesting rainwater wherever it falls and regenerating the ecosystems they live in, along watershed lines.

The Indo German Watershed Development Program (IGWDP) is a large scale watershed development program that was conceived by Fr. Hermann Bacher and launched in Maharashtra in 1989. In order to progress the IGWDP, WOTR was set up in 1993 with the mandate to rapidly upscale the program, develop a capacity building methodology, develop the necessary training programs and knowledge products, disseminate information widely and engage with the policy establishment, in order to secure an enabling policy framework for country-wide large scale replication. At the time of its founding, WOTR was given a mandate of creating a “people’s movement for watershed development”.

IGWDP is funded by the German Government and involves on the German side the German Bank for Development (KFW) and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ). On the Indian side, it involves NABARD and WOTR, the latter which, even though an NGO, was accorded an official status by the Government of India thus allowing it to receive official development assistance directly.

The Capacity Building Pedagogy developed by WOTR has enabled the IGWDP to grow from only 7 NGOs and approximately 16,000 hectares in 1992 to 76 NGOs covering over 208,031 hectares as on March 2009. In addition, the Capacity Building Phase (CBP) as a prequalification for entering into full implementation has been adopted by all major programs in the country today. Participatory Net Planning (PNP) as a planning, mobilization and project formulation methodology (adapted to local situations) has now been adopted by all major watershed projects in the country.

Some conditions

WOTR’s Wasundhara Watershed Development Program is designed around the belief that the success of any project is dependent on the motivation of the community, its willingness to take ownership and participate in the program.

Watershed development is also considered as a means for socio-economic unity and community development. Hence, WOTR has certain pre-requisites for a programme like this one to work in any village.

The first is voluntary shramdaan, or the labour contribution from every family. This is expected to bring in cohesiveness and commitment among the villagers. As elsewhere, it was initially difficult to convince the people in Kaluchi Thakarwadi of this.

Their financial condition being critical, it was natural for them to think only in terms of their own household and in terms of immediate incomes.

In addition, the high levels of migration had created a scattered, disjointed community, and efforts were needed to get them think of themselves as one cohesive unit. In cases of extreme financial crises, shramdaan is often combined with paid labour in order to ensure that the people’s daily needs are met.

A second pre-requisite is the involvement of all the groups within a community. People here live in remote, dispersed hamlets. Insisting that people from all sections of the village, irrespective of their class, caste or gender, come together and participate, was not accepted easily. It meant breaking years of socio-economic barriers.

Also, initially, women did not come to meetings at all. A number of meetings between the organisation and the villagers were needed to gain their trust. Women slowly started attending meetings and getting actively involved in the program.

The third condition is that the communities had to agree to Kurhad-bandi (ban on tree felling) and Charai-bandi (ban on open grazing in treated areas), which was necessary to protect the ecosystem of the watershed treatment area.

Working together for development

Jagrut Shetkari Purush Bachat Gat (SHG of male members) in village Kachner Tanda-2 proved a path breaking initiative .The men’s SHG has tried beyond the conventional ways of income generation activities to enhance the livelihoods of members.

Jagrut Shetakari Mandal started as an informal group in 2008 with 13 members. All members are from one kin, having close relations with each other. Around 11 members own 18 acres of land all adjacent to one another. The members got together with an idea of pursuing some agriculture related activities for increasing crop production. The group started with monthly savings of Rs.50 and increased to Rs.100. The group was formally registered at the end of 2008 in the Godavari Gramin Bank as ‘Jagrut Shetkari Purush Bachat Gat’.

For the first time, the group received a bank loan of Rs. 13000 (a thousand for each member) and after repaying it within six months, they received a fresh loan of Rs. 26000. The total amount they had at the end of 2010 including interest earned was Rs.82000 saved in their bank account. The group started to plan few income generation activities. In group meetings they discussed various possible activities. During an informal discussion, an elderly member shared that cotton crop in his farm has not yielded well due to lack of water at the required time. He suggested that the group could plan for a dugwell for irrigation. This was the major turning point in the group.

So with the total saving of Rs.82000 at the end of 2010, the group took a loan of Rs. 39000 (Rs.3000 per member) from the Godavari Gramin Bank. Using this amount they increased the depth of old well from 25 feet to 42 feet, and also widened the diameter of well from 12 to 20 feet. The group purchased a new electric motor for pumping water. With increased irrigation, the entire 18 acre land has now access to water in kharif (rainy) season. On rotation and shared basis, these farmers share the water. Presently, water is being diverted for long distance by open flows. Therefore, the members are planning to install a pipeline, drips and sprinklers in the fields to use the water for irrigation efficiently. Most of members expressed their willingness to financially contribute for the pipeline for drinking water in the village. The group is planning to adopt organic farming methods. Jagrut Shetkari Purush Gat has shown how close relatives can come together for a development purpose.

Eshwer Kale
Knowledge Management Unit, Watershed Organisation Trust, Pune E-mail:eshwer.kale@wotr.org.in; www.wotr.org

The programme

The programme started as soon as there was consensus around these pre-requisites. Work began in January 2006.

SHWVAS held various meetings with different sections of the village and with the Gram Sabha. People were made aware of the basic concept of watershed development- the importance, implications and the activities related to it, through training events and meetings.

The culture of participatory development in the village was also demonstrated. Seeing is believing – what finally convinced the villagers to participate in the project was exposure visits to other villages where watershed development had been a success.

Community Based Organizations (CBOs) are a crucial link between the people and the organisation. A Village Development Committee (VDC) and women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) as well as an apex body of SHGs – the Sanyukta Mahila Samiti were formed and trained to address the needs and the interventions of this project.

The Kaluchi Thakarwadi VDC has 15 members, roughly 2 from each of the 7 hamlets. The VDC consisted of members representing all wealth classes. Both men and women were selected from landed as well as from landless families. The members regularly meet to plan, implement and monitor all project activities.

Funds are released directly into the VDC’s bank account who implement all the activities. For example, for construction of the check dam, the VDC identified a local mason, purchased the material themselves and also mobilised local labour for construction. WOTR has only a supervisory role.

Organising women into SHGs was not an easy task in a remote, tribal hamlet like Kaluchi Thakarwadi. But three SHGs have been operating well here. Going beyond merely savings, they have also taken up group vermi composting, setting up hot water chullahs and a flour mill.

The VDC has been empowered enough to directly approach government for access to what is rightly theirs. It successfully identifies the current needs of the community and taps government and other agencies for assistance. The VDC made sure that government subsidies reached the village and installed 15 drip and sprinkler irrigation sets in the village. Manai hamlet even got electricity as a result of consistent efforts by the VDC.

The collective empowerment of the community was reflected in the local governance mechanisms as well. Zumbharbai Ware, the chairperson of the SMS at Kaluchi Thakarwadi, was elected Sarpanch of the Gram Panchayat.

Benefits from soil and water conservation

Watershed treatments are instrumental in containing desertification and replenishing degraded lands. Through various types of treatments, depending on the layout of the land, water is made to percolate into the ground, thus raising groundwater levels. Some of the treatments used are: Continuous Contour Trenches (CCT), Farm bunds, Check dams etc. Around 275 hectares of land have been treated with soil and water conservation measures. The whole village makes voluntary efforts to maintain these treatments.

Farmers have benefitted greatly with the increased level of the groundwater table in the existing wells. Wells that barely filled up in the rainy season now have water throughout the year. Now, a second crop is possible, while earlier, barely one was possible in a year. The check dam has become a sustaining source of drinking water as well as irrigation. This has been most helpful in reducing women’s drudgery in fetching water from far off places.

The most evident result of this program is its positive impact on agriculture and livestock. With improved water conservation, the area under irrigation increased from 2 hectares to 38 hectares. Earlier, while only 6 families had access to irrigation, now around 55 families have this access. Besides bajra, bengal gram, green gram and other pulses, the crop basket expanded to include crops like wheat, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. Access to irrigation has enabled farmers to raise kitchen gardens. The production of crops has significantly improved (See Table 1). Use of organic manures has significantly improved to 60%.

Families have been able to raise more livestock, adding to their income. On an average, around 40-45 litres of milk is being produced in the village. The communities do not depend on the forests for forage but produce them on their lands, thus protecting the forest resources.

Migration has reduced. Now only 20% of the population migrate, that too for a period of 3-4 months, while it was 70% before.

Crop Before the project After the project
(August 2012)
Bajra (per ha) 4-5 quintals 10-12 quintals
Tomatoes (per ha) 12-15 tons 20 tons
Onions (per ha) 15-20 tons 20-25 tons
Kitchen gardens (No.) 0 7
Table 1: Project Impact on Yields


WOTR’s Watershed Development Project designed to rejuvenate parched lands has yielded much more than what was envisaged. There is obvious economic prosperity which can be observed. Majority of the population which was migrating earlier has settled down, with better access to income. People are now able to invest on their homes, their children and their lifestyles. This is visibly evident with the television and telephone reaching Kaluchi Thakarwadi. Now, the people in Kaluchi Thakarwadi, are no more isolated from the larger world.

Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR)

2nd Floor The Forum S.No. 63/2B Padmawati Corner,
Pune Satara road Parvati, Pune – 411009.
E mail: radhika.murthy@wotr.org.in