Water-stressed in India: How bunds helped farmers in Mahoba put drought behind

Construction of bunds helped revive groundwater levels and recharged wells in drought-stricken Bundelkhand district  

By Jitendra
Published: Wednesday 11 March 2020
A woman creates a small bund to restrict flow of rainwater. Source: Flickr

“For the first time in many years, I have been able to successfully cultivate mustard on my field,” said Lakhanlal Prajapati (35), resident of Kulpahar Gramin village of Uttar Pradesh’s Mahoba district.

He credited the success to recently constructed bunds on his field.

Prajapati grew mustard on his 2.5-hectare land in 2019. He is expecting a good yield — around 3.5 tonnes —which would be 75 per cent more than previous year, he claimed.

In the drought-stricken and undulating topography of Bundelkhand — where Mahoba falls — lack of irrigation facilities meant that farmers faced a tough time.

Construction of bunds, however, helped revive groundwater levels and recharged wells in some fields.

“The bund restricted this year’s running rainwater, which percolated into the ground and provided moisture to the soil. This helped us grow Kharif crops,” said Prajapati. His farmland is a slope gully with soil mounds.

According to farmers, a small amount of rainwater spilled over the bund. It helped recharge two wells — thereby improving water storage and groundwater recharge. It also reduced cost of irrigation and crop survival rate.

“Every year, rainwater ran off and eroded the topsoil. This affected my yield,” said Prajapati. He pointed towards his land that experienced consistent runoff because of its slope.

Bund construction among the initiatives by the Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP), implemented by Department of Land Resources of Ministry of Rural Development.

The programme is aimed at restoring ecological balance by harnessing, conserving and developing degraded natural resources such as soil, vegetative cover and water.

The Union government’s Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA) aims to accelerate conservation and borewell recharge activities being carried out under IWMP.

According to Bundelkhand residents, the initiative turned around the lives of small and marginal farmers.

The panchayat, about 40 km west of the district headquarters, is dotted with earthen field bunds, individual field bunds and farm ponds. The region — which earlier witnessed low rainfall and droughts — was replete with kharif crops like wheat and mustard this time.

Other farmers have echoed the need of similar structures on their fields.

“These structures bring water to our dried wells and help us in irrigation,” said Urmila Devi, a farmer. She often came to Prajapati’s well to get water.

She has requested state government intervention on her two-hectare field as well.

On an average, Bundelkhand receives 776 mm of rainfall between June and September and 864 mm annually. However, in 2019, it received 70 per cent deficit rainfall; in 2018, the deficit was 56 per cent.

The district received normal rainfall in 2013 and 2018 in the last nine years.

“2019 is different than previous years. We have integrated various water conservation schemes under different departments,” said RS Goutam, district development officer. He is also the district nodal officer for Central government’s water conservation programmes under Jal Shakti ministry.

Among the objectives of the ministry is to ensure convergence of water-related works of Ministry of Rural Development, Department of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation and the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare.

This integration has placed Mahoba in the top 10 among the 255 most water-stressed districts in the country, claimed Goutam.

“Mahoba was ranked nine in terms of intervention and public participation among 255 water-stressed districts. It happened because of integrated work and public awareness,” he added.

The ministry incentivised water conservation and groundwater recharge practices, launch mass awareness programmes and developed outline for Natural Resources Management (NRM) titled ‘Mission Water Conservation’.

This initiative ensures synergies in Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), IWMP, and Watershed Development Component and Command Area Development & Water Management (CAD&WM). The synergies include common objectives such as water conservation and management, water harvesting, soil and moisture conservation, groundwater recharge, flood protection, land development, among other things.

The Uttar Pradesh government also synergised the horticulture department, drinking water and sanitation department and forest department.

In Mahoba, the district authority prepared a plan for two blocks. The plan pointed out the number of functional and non-functional structures in these blocks. It listed around 175,000 small and medium water conservation structures and 1,301 recharge structures.

It also pointed to around 17,850 non-functional water conservation structures and 2,071 recharge structures that needed restoration.

“The strategy was to conserve functional structures and plan revival of non-functional ones. Annual work under different departments would be carried out at the same time,” said Goutam.

Several awareness campaigns were organised in schools, colleges, self-help groups and police and defense groups as well.

For example, as of March 2019, Kulpahar Gramin panchayat had six projects under MGNREGS — two related to afforestation and four connected to watershed development.

IWMP, state's minor irrigation department, soil conservation unit of agriculture department, and irrigation department have carried out previous sanctioned works.

“Several line departments did not receive funds to start new work this year. But the earlier sanctioned work was finished,” said a senior official who did not wish to be named.

“Some of the new works are only being done in MGNREGS but not in other line departments,” said the official.

Mahoba earned most of its score based on district plans, awareness campaigns and effectiveness of its structures.

It also scored high over reuse and recharge structures. However, it scored less in water conservation and rainwater harvesting, renovation of traditional and other water bodies/ tanks, watershed development and intensive afforestation.

“If you analyse the pattern, Mahoba didn’t get marks in construction of new structures due to lack of funds. However, it earned marks in areas where it didn’t require funds, such as campaigning, planning, etc,” said the official.

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