Community-driven management systems offer new options to these semi-arid Gujarat villages

All the structures in these villages were constructed by Shram Daan (voluntary labour)

By Faraz Ahmad
Published: Wednesday 07 December 2022
A community managed check dam constructed on a stream passing through Pransla village. Photo: Faraz Ahmad

As climate change and population growth lead to increased water use, community-driven management systems offer new solutions for sustainable management. Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment documented some success stories of participatory resource management from two districts in Gujarat.

Rajkot and Amreli districts in Gujarat have semi-arid climates with rainfall ranging from 200 millimetres-700 mm. The average annual rainfall in these districts is 700 mm and 736 mm, respectively.

Despite sufficient rainfall, water availability in these regions is heavily impacted as most rainfall is lost due to surface run-off and low water percolation.

Also read: A holistic water management system in urban areas for a sustainable future

A community-driven water management system was able to solve many of the problems faced by the people, especially farmers, of these districts. The farmers were dependent on mono-cropping and rain-fed agriculture for their livelihood. The new system helped them diversify their crops.

“Farmers benefitted from a cement nala bund (CNB) constructed in 2018,” said Ashokbhai N Parmar, a resident of Mota Munjiyasir village in Amreli.

Earlier, we had to construct tube wells of 500-600 feet depth to draw water. Summers further worsened the situation as most of the deeper wells went dry during the season, he added.

Mota Munjiyasir village has a complex hydrogeological structure, mainly comprising hard rock with poor permeability. This rock limits the percolation of water; hence most of the rainfall is lost as surface run-off.

After 2001, shallow aquifers (groundwater-bearing formations) went dry. Almost every well in the region became dry and residents were hardly left with any option other than abandoning the same.

They started exploring deeper aquifers to meet their domestic and agricultural needs. A growing population and increased water demand exaggerated the situation and the water level started declining over the years.

Also read: World Water Day: In Alwar, community-based water management, recharge key to solving crisis

Long ago, a CNB catered to the farmers’ irrigational requirement. But that had been lying dilapidated since 2012.

The communities in the region decided to rejuvenate the CNB. They desilted it and constructed proper embankments. Finally, the CNB was renovated in 2018.

The CNB has helped to harvest run-off water. This facilitated the percolation of the run-off into the sub-surface zones, augmenting groundwater levels and soil moisture

“After the construction of the bund, wells up to a depth of 250-300 feet are sufficient to meet our water requirements,” said Prakash, another villager.

Earlier, we were restricted to cultivating cotton and groundnut and now we have more options like wheat, garlic, black gram and soyabean, he added.

This has benefitted farmers as water availability and levels in their wells increased significantly. The soil moisture has also improved in the nearby land, reducing the need for irrigation.

“Earlier, we used pumps of high-capacity to extract water from tube wells, costing us huge on electricity charges. The water levels has enhanced due to these interventions and now the farmers can rely on pumps with low-capacity. “Now we have more options like wheat, garlic, black gram and soyabean and this has improved our income levels,” said Jantibhai, a villager.

This has improved our income since we are able to save 60-70 per cent money that was spent on electricity. The income from an acre of land has also doubled to Rs 45,000-60,000 from Rs 20,000-25,000, depending on the crop types, he added.

The extra income we generate from agriculture is being invested in buying tractors, cattle and good quality seeds and fertilisers.

Also read: 75 years of people’s power: How these two villages in Chhattisgarh solved their grey water problem

Pransla village in Rajkot district was also grappling with declining water levels and increased salinity in groundwater. Most of the irrigation was dependent on rainfall.

Before 2013, the tube wells were of 200-250 feet deep. The depth increased to 400-450 feet, making the villagers left with no option other than abandoning them. Some 80 per cent of the dug (shallow) wells in the village were abandoned.

A seasonal stream passes through this village. It starts from Jasdan and merges with Bhadar river in the Porbandar district.

Before 2003, the stream flowed for two-three months during monsoon. Most of the stream’s water was lost as run-off. In 2003, seven check dams were constructed on the river, spanning 10 kilometres and covering eight-10 villages.

The check dams have enhanced the sub-surface water levels. This rejuvenated the wells, which went dry in 2000, said Bhupatbhai, a villager.

The quality of water has improved in the last four-five years. There is no report of salinity in groundwater which earlier used to be high earlier, said Sukhabhai Mudubhai, a resident of Pransla village.

This scheme has helped farmers from eight villages.

“Earlier, the productivity of cotton from an acre of land was 15-20 mann per acre (one mann is equal to 20 kilograms). Now, it has increased up to 35-40 mann per acre of land. Similarly, the production has also increased for crops such as wheat, black gram and vegetables,” Mudubhai added.

The villagers have also rejuvenated a pond in order to enhance its water harvesting capacities. The community repaired the pond to increase its water harvesting capacity, which was reduced to half over the years.

Bhupatbhai, a resident of Pransla village, said:

This pond holds water for at least 10 months in the years with normal rainfall compared to four-five months before rejuvenation

Trusts and organisations have financially supported all the water conservation structures in these villages. But it was the community who took ownership right from planning and implementation to operation and maintenance. All these structures were constructed by Shram Daan (voluntary labour).

The villagers also regularly monitored the progress. There are around 200 households in Pransla village. Over the course of six months, seven households contributed daily for Shram Daan.

The beneficiary groups were directly impacted by these interventions, especially farmers whose land is near these interventions. They ensured the sustainability of these structures.

All the structures in these villages are well-maintained; some have been functional since 2003 but are still in good condition. No structures were found to be abandoned.

The community-driven water conservation and harvesting initiatives have improved agriculture by increasing cultivable land with improved moisture-holding capacities and groundwater levels, increasing crop intensity.

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