A Maharashtra village revives by reviving a tank

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Monday 30 June 2008

A Maharashtra village revives by reviving a tank

In one season, land prices in Dhangharwadi shot up from Rs 6,000-10,000 per acre (0.4 hectare) to Rs 1 lakh per acre. But people in this little village in Maharashtra's Yavatamal district are not thinking of selling their land. For good reason. Seventy hectares (ha) of agricultural land in this village, that barely produced enough grain for three months, has this year yielded profits worth Rs 21 lakh--after supplying Dhangharwadi's granaries with sufficient grain, pulses and onions for a year.

Says farmer Jaggu Kengar "Till two years back we used to buy a kg of onions at a time for domestic consumption, but this year we sent 36 trucks to the market." The reason for this change is deceptively simple. In 2006, Dhangharwadi's residents built two check dams in collaboration with Dilasa, a local ngo, to harness water from a percolation tank close to the village. Revitalizing this tank, lying useless since 1972, cost them Rs 4 lakh.

Forty four ha came under irrigation and there was a spurt in productivity. Rukhmabai Ahire, a resident of the village, says, "The tank was there since we can remember. But the water would just stand there and the monsoon run off would flow away, eroding soil."

The significance Dhangharwadi's success transcends the boundaries of this 100-family village. Dhangharwad is located in drought-prone Yavatmal district, which is best known for the highest number of farmers' suicides in Maharashtra. Dilasa representatives say that Dhangharwadi's success can easily be replicated in the district. "According to government figures, 580 tanks irrigate 25,190 ha in Yavatamal. But our survey shows that the actual irrigated area is not even 1,000 ha," says Madhukar Dhas of the organization. Some of these tanks, he says, are lying unused because of the lack of water transport structures, while others are not even fit to hold water. Dhas says it is possible to bring 25,000 ha--70 per cent of the district's agricultural land-- under irrigation in just one season at a cost of mere Rs 8,000-10,000 per ha by harnessing water from these 580 tanks-- compare this with the irrigation potential of 16 large and medium irrigation projects in the district, that collectively irrigate just 4 to 5 per cent of agricultural land in the district, at an astronomical cost of Rs 1.30 lakh per ha.

The genesis
Most Dhangarwadi residents belong to the sheep-rearing nomadic Dhangar tribal community and own three acres (1.2 ha) on average. The entire population would remain out of the village for nearly nine months of the year, looking for pastures, returning home only during monsoons to cultivate jowar and cotton. "We had erected a mud check dam to catch the run off," says Rukhmabai, but it did not help much. "It could not be used to irrigate more than 2.5 ha, and would collapse during heavy rains." Repeated pleas to the irrigation department went unheeded.

Effective management of 46,000 minor watersheds could drought proof Maharashtra

In 2006, Bhagwan Kengar, who now heads the village water committee, approached Dilasa. With Rs 1 lakh as contribution from the village and support from other agencies, two check dams were constructed to catch the run off from the tank. To avoid the prohibitive cost of pumping water with motor pumps, a local lift irrigation practice was resurrected and a network of fuds, shallow canals, was dug along the contours of the land to bring water to fields.

A flexible system
The fud system, say the villagers, has many advantages. The slight infrastructure involved can be constructed and repaired by the villagers without any assistance. The channels being small and flowing along the contours of the land slow down the speed of water and hence reduce erosion and facilitate percolation of water into the ground.

The results were instantaneous.
Down to Earth  
Channels of prosperity Fuds take the water from the tank to fields;  
In the first crop season that ended in 2007 summer, grain production shot up by 45 tonnes and onion production by 25 tonnes. Villagers were able to diversify into tur, the popular local pulse crop, wheat, onions, bajra and black gram. Yields shot up too. "Earlier we would get about 100-200 kg wheat from an acre, but this year we got about 1,000 kg," says Krishna Rama Adhire, a resident of Dhangharwadi.

This year, soil conservation and water percolation have further enhanced production. Jaggu Kengar proudly shows off his bumper wheat crop. "I got 17 tonnes of onions and my bajra crop is yet to come," he declares. The good yield and abundant biomass, he says, have also enabled farmers to resurrect long-lost traditional soil enrichment practices. "Earlier we had to keep all our wheat straw and tur greens for fodder, but this year many have enough left for mulching land," he says.

This year only one representative from each family went out with the sheep. Women and children have stayed back and as a result school enrolment is expected to rise.

Same old story
While Dhangarwadi prospers, things remain much the same in most parts of the district. No minor irrigation or irrigation tank revival work has been sanctioned under employment guarantee scheme (egs). Some micro-irrigation work such as digging up of small farm ponds, locally known as shetatalis, have been undertaken under the various farmers' packages declared by the government in the wake of a spurt in farmers' suicides, but the results range from frustrating to ridiculous. For instance, in Bothbodan village, where there have been 16 suicides, diesel pumps and pvc pipes were distributed to 25 families last year, but no water harvesting or groundwater recharge structures were created. "The equipment is rusting in our homes because there is no water to pump," says sarpanch Anup Ramchandra Chavan.

Down to Earth  
The wheat output of our lands has gone up five to ten times after the tank was revived.  
Krishna Rama Adhire  
Dhangarwadi resident  
Even in places where work has been sanctioned (not under egs), it is hamstrung by corruption. In January this year, tribal commissioner of Amravati division Sunil Limaye sanctioned Rs 6 lakh for two projects similar to Dhangarwadi in neighbouring Chaparda and Bhurgad, but the funds have not yet come through. Says Dhas, "Officials are demanding a bribe, which we are not ready to pay. But we are in a fix because the villagers have already carried out the work by taking loans from other agencies, and they have to be paid back," he rues.

A fund problem also caused the second phase of the Dhangarwadi project to be delayed by an year. "The project should have been completed in 2007 June. The delay has created much misunderstanding among villager," says Dhas. Executive engineer of the irrigation department S K Dhoble has his reasons. "Reviving the tank is not a labour-intensive activity that fits the egs bill," he says. Water management expert H M Desarda disagrees. "Watershed management involves aforestation, soil conservation, desilting and other labour intensive works. Only construction of harvesting structures involves some machinery. Saying that the work is not labour intensive, shows a partial understanding of the process," he argues.

Desarda says effective management of 46,000 minor watersheds in Maharashtra could drought-proof the state and also eliminate the need for environmentally and socially disruptive big dams. "Even the most drought-prone districts here get a minimum of 250-500 mm of rainfall per year. This is sufficient to meet their basic agricultural requirements," he adds.

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